Monday, February 21, 2022

21 February, 2022

‘Grey corruption’ cuts our living standards, so it’s a shame they shelved the integrity commission

What Danielle Wood says below is broadly correct but she is the Chief executive of the Grattan Institute, a Leftist outfit, so she can be expected not to see the elephant in the room. She doesn't seem to have thought at all about WHY corruption happens. And the elephant is constant Leftist attacks on business, mostly in the name of the environment.

Defence against Greenie attacks is often difficult and most of those attacked will inevitably take any recourse to defend themselves -- in forms that can sometimes be identified as "corruption".

It would be much easier for businesses to keep on the ethical "strait and narrow" if they were more often allowed to just get on with business. It won't happen, of course

A week ago, the government very quietly announced it would not deliver on its promise for a federal integrity commission in this term of Parliament. This came just a fortnight after Transparency International announced Australia had tumbled down the international league table for its corruption perceptions index.

Bad news for government integrity, certainly. But also bad news for the economy.

The uncomfortable truth is that clean government matters for living standards.

Decades of economic research have illuminated the relationship between government corruption and economic stagnation. It has also identified the reason corruption is such a handbrake on growth.

First, corruption increases the uncertainty around investment decisions. How much will I have to bribe someone to get a licence to operate? Is the government going to be giving a leg-up to my competitors? This uncertainty depresses the level of private business investment and wastes entrepreneurial talent. Why take a punt in the market when there are better returns to be had ingratiating yourself with the government?

Second, corruption influences the level and type of government spending. Tax breaks for mates, and/or channelling government money into projects to benefit friends and benefactors, means less for worthy projects and core spending such as health and education which improves the lives of everyday citizens and the productive capacity of the economy.

Third, corruption means more red tape and regulation. The more complex the operating environment, the more incumbent firms can extract economic rents, often without raising attention. The proliferation of regulation dulls economic dynamism by creating impediments to innovation and new entrants.

Finally, corruption can erode some forms of what economists call “civic” or “social capital” – essentially the trust between fellow citizens. A country where suspicion and distrust is rife is a country where it is harder for firms to reach mutually beneficial deals.

If you think that these concerns only apply in “really” corrupt countries – ones where bags of money change hands to get things done – think again.

The insidious impacts of “grey corruption” – governments exercising their powers to favour private interests or political interests over the national interest – can chill economic activity through exactly the same channels.

This means we can boost Australians’ living standards by sweeping a broom through the areas where grey corruption typically flourishes.

Greater controls on pork-barrelling – the misuse of taxpayers’ money for political advantage – would be a good starting point. Examples are thick on the ground of federal and state governments directing infrastructure dollars, or grants schemes, or defence projects, with an eye to the seat margin rather than the size of benefit to the country. Redeploying the billions of dollars spent on these projects each year to ones that deliver better value for money would be an immediate boost to living standards.

Another area ripe for disinfectant is the role of money in Australian politics. The federal government lags much of the developed world, and its state government counterparts, in rules to reduce the risk of donor influence. There are currently no limits on how much money can flow to federal political candidates or parties. The transparency regime for donations is so inadequate that we can’t even be sure who the biggest donors are.

Grattan Institute analysis shows the sectors with the most to gain or lose from government decisions – mining, property and construction, gambling – tend to donate much more than we would expect given the size of their contribution to the economy. This means that Australians are living with permanently heightened risk that government decisions – including in big, economically sensitive areas like tax, housing, and climate policy – will be skewed to favour donors over the national interest.

Capping campaign expenditure and moving to best-practice disclosure requirements would lift an impediment to better policy-making.

Another priority should be safeguarding our important institutions from political interference. This means making sure that independent institutions – courts and tribunals, but also important economic institutions including the Reserve Bank, ASIC, and the ACCC – can pursue their mandates fearlessly. One step would be to ensure appointments to these types of institutions are made on merit rather than gifted to political mates, which forthcoming Grattan’s research suggests is becoming more common. For example, about 21 per cent of current members of the Administrative Appeal Tribunal have a direct political affiliation. The proportion of new members appointed to the AAT with a political affiliation increased from less than 8 per cent in 2014-15 to 32 per cent in 2018-19.

Ultimately, making sure than the best-qualified people occupy these important roles, free to make decisions without political baggage, would help Australians to retain confidence in the rule of law and independent economic decision-making. These are central foundations of Australia’s long-run economic prosperity.

Fixing the rules of the game in each of these areas would make a difference. But a federal integrity commission is also needed, to make sure governments are playing by these rules. It must be empowered to investigate significant maladministration – these types of grey corruption – and not just criminal conduct.

Australian governments are rightly looking for a way to build a stronger, more dynamic economy in the wake of COVID-19. Cleaning up their conduct, to put the public interest at the centre of all government decision-making, would be an excellent place to start.


Attention NSW government: you do not ‘own’ our children

Last weekend I received a notice from Service NSW, which commenced as follows:

"Hello – Being together in a classroom is the most effective way for students to learn and grow. Since COVID-19 remains a relatively mild illness for most children, we’re committed to return to school safely in 2022. We will support this through the following measures."

Did you notice the phrase, ‘Covid remains a relatively mild illness for most children?’ It is refreshing to see such honesty at the start of a government communication. However, it appears that the meaning of their description does ‘not compute’ in their thinking and subsequent actions. Why? Because the rest of the advice to parents is the government responding to something much more harmful than a ‘mild illness’.

They recommend vaccinations for children as young as five! The link explains that: ‘Evidence shows vaccination offers excellent protection against Covid in children.’ This is the same virus that is described by Service NSW as a ‘relatively mild illness’! They also insist that all schools now distribute and check RATs twice a week, completed by parents. This is from the theatre of the absurd because it is illegal in New South Wales to teach and work in a school unless you are double vaccinated. In other words, the government wants children to be vaccinated from a mild illness while they engage with adults who are vaccinated to keep the illness mild for them.

Yet the state tells parents what they must do and tries to ‘guilt’ them into an unnecessary vaccination.

The state does not own our children. We, the parents do, in a stewardship sense. Parents are to train children into civility (which they may or may not keep when independent), and they are to invite them into being a constructive part of humanity (and beyond). But this government approach should not surprise us – it is a line of thinking that has been developing for the last thirty years or so in the West.

Increasingly, the state has been telling those who are minors under the law that they need not inform their parents about important issues, like going to the doctors to receive contraception, or seeking counselling about their deepest concerns. Currently, the same avoidance of involving parents can include seeking to transition how they express their sexuality, or having an abortion.

In these acts we see a breach of a basic principle of life – if we are given responsibility for moral commitments, we need the freedom to act accordingly. But this right in Australia is being progressively eroded for parents. Children are told that they can seek advice and take life-changing action, but parents are still responsible for stewarding them for their development. While fulfilling this responsibility, they have less and less any input over critical aspects of their lives. This is abhorrent.

This latest episode with Covid is just as miserable. Most children are not at risk, but parents are not only told what the state insists on doing, they are also given the responsibility to do the state’s work. Parents do not get to decide whether to subject their children to two RATs a week and they have to administer it.

Given the rise in our ‘dob-in’ culture at the moment, our leaders seem blind to what is going to happen when they keep asking for child vaccination even when their own advice notes the risk as mild. Children will be uninvited to social gatherings when it is found out that they are not vaccinated. Some teachers – like some doctors have done – will start to distinguish between students in subtle but clear ways (after all, some will be most interested in keeping themselves ‘absolutely’ safe, as if that is even possible). Parents will be the ones who will have the responsibility of cleaning up this mess because the state has intruded yet again.

I once had a young person who had been in long-term foster care (for which he was ultimately grateful) express that he knew that his other friend who had been adopted was better off. When I asked ‘why’, he said that once you are in a family they (normally) do not give up on you, even when you make poor choices.

Our government leaders work in reverse. They intrude into families, take over their rightful decision-making, create social and relational messes that make us less human in how we relate, and then expect parents to clean up while paying even more taxes so that they can keep interfering!

This pressure comes from all kinds of political benches.

Have you ever noticed that these benches are filled with what Peter Rieff called those of the ‘anti-culture’ movement – leaders so focussed on self as the main moral criteria, that they cannot sustain ways of encouraging more humane life together? Of course, one of the great ironies is that these folk are the ones who will statistically die out. Why? Because they have so few children. Perhaps there is some truth in social evolution after all, and the survival of the fittest will see those genuinely committed to families and children being the ones who are shown to be most ready to populate civil societies.

In a similar vein, perhaps state ownership of children will also work against the survival of politicians, once it is called out for what it is. For example, when Democrat Terry McAuliffe made the following claim, ‘I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,’ it brought to a head this issue of who is primarily responsible for children. In that voting context, parents reasserted their opinion strongly.

Apart from a Federal Education Minister (who is currently stood aside) and Mark Latham in state parliament, the rest of our leaders seem content with the anti-culture of so-called therapeutic safetyism and emotivism, which exerts more authority over our children whilst deflecting responsibility from themselves. The Teachers Union seems to have bought into safetyism, as has the Association of Independent Schools. Their disregard for parents is a major neglect of the civic responsibility which adheres to their roles.

Such leaders are only successful because they live as though they own our children. It’s time to call it for what it is – a lie encased in ‘keeping people safe at all costs’ while taking authority to themselves which is not due to them. A society where children belong to the state is horrible and chilling in so many ways – is that what Australia is becoming?


Disability problems

The elevation of Dylan Alcott to Australian of the Year is a great win for the disability sector, but threatens to entrench disability as another hostile arm of identity politics.

Alcott’s first major statement was to insist on further funding for the NDIS, a program whose costs are approaching thirty billion dollars a year. The Budget will include a further $13.2 billion for the NDIS between 2021 and 2024. Some government estimates fear it has the potential to dwarf Medicare by 2030 at its current rate of growth.

What disability advocates have no answer for is the ever-burgeoning net that the term disability captures, especially where it overlaps with mental health. I assess such applications regularly for those suffering serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia.

Unfortunately, the market for disability is not terribly different to any other. If people get paid to be classified as disabled, demand will only increase.

But the growth in funding is trending away from physical disabilities like Alcott’s, who suffered a surgically induced spinal injury as a baby, towards behavioural disturbance, intellectual retardation and chronic mental illness.

Those diagnosed with autism for example have quadrupled in the last twenty years and represent the fastest growing segment of NDIS applicants.

The breadth of symptoms in autism is large, incorporating everything from people missing social cues, being easily overwhelmed by sensory stimuli such as loud noises to preferring repetition and routine. Many of these symptoms overlap with other disorders such as ADHD, social anxiety or conduct problems that do not readily attract extra support.

This can lead to considerable pressures upon clinicians to place people suffering from an undifferentiated mix of cognitive, mood or behavioural disturbance into the autism category in order to attract funding. There is a broad spectrum of variation in the level of severity and dysfunction among autism sufferers, hence the ever growing label of ‘high-functioning’.

If is often preferable to retain the therapeutic alliance by fitting patients into the already malleable psychiatric categories. Health workers have little incentive to constrain costs when payments are uncapped and not tied to their own departments.

This was touched upon by former minister for disability Linda Reynolds who said the scheme was ‘too reliant on the empathy of public servants’. Reynolds ultimately failed in her attempt to bring greater discipline and objectivity to the process in the form of independent assessments. Meanwhile the cost blowout in uncapped NDIS payments continues unchecked and blends into an expensive synthesis with broader advocacy for mental health funding.

The definition of disability has steadily shifted in recent decades to its current idea of a long-term functional disorder that limits an ability to fulfil social roles. The concept is evolving, combining perspectives from both human rights and medicine. Like other civil rights movements, its aim to give dignity to historically marginalised groups is laudable.

But in line with its parallels to other movements in identity politics, such as race and gender, are accusations of able-ism. The undercurrent of this term is that disabilities like autism are not disorders but differences. Activists like Greta Thunberg referred to her diagnosed autism as a superpower giving her a black and white outlook that her supporters interpreted as moral clarity.

The political implication of the neurodiversity movement is that if only society could be more accommodating, those with disabilities such as autism could live relatively normal lives. There is a significant contradiction in such pronouncements given those with serious illnesses like schizophrenia or brain injury require sophisticated treatments, especially when acutely unwell.

Nobody will question that those with disabilities deserve the necessary support, understanding and accommodations to help live meaningful lives.

But the huge growth in NDIS funding is helping to entrench the notion of disability as an attractive identity, over and above the world of insecure work. This is especially true in a world created by explosive identity politics where the public proclamation of pain helps allow the extraction of privilege.

This is the silent undercurrent of our low unemployment figures, so pronounced during the pandemic where employers cannot find locals to fill jobs. A significant portion of locals who probably could work, have given up doing so. Find me someone delivering food via an algorithm who is an Australian citizen?

Even before the NDIS was enshrined, there had been a steady shift from looking for work to being placed on the disability pension, a tripling in the decade to 2013 when the Gillard government tightened the guidelines. Unfortunately very few people shift back from the disability support pension once approved, less than five per cent. This rise has been dominated by an increase in mental health claims, away from the more common historical reason of bad backs. The changes in disability pension payments are a sensitive indicator of the economy’s shift from manufacturing to services.

While not all recipients of the disability pension receive NDIS, the majority do. One of the supporting claims from the Productivity Commission’s original assessment of the benefits of the NDIS scheme was the potential to shift disabled people into more work. However this has occurred only in rare cases.

I see it in my patients who are long-term unemployed, struggling for confidence and see themselves as too old to retrain in alternative sectors. For those who coined the catchy phrase, ‘don’t dis my ability’, in such groups the ‘dis’ often wins over the ‘ability’, especially when the financial rewards are more immediate.

Recent winners of the Australian of the Year award such as Rosie Batty or Grace Tame became fiercely partisan cultural warriors throughout their term and simplistically cast anyone from the conservative side of politics as a villain.

Alcott can make an especially useful contribution if he can communicate the growing loosening of the term disability. He may then avoid his advocacy for the disabled descending into ever greater demands for further funding the sinkhole the NDIS has become.


Queensland house ad infuriates hundreds of Reddit users

This is a very unsophisticated comment. Such blocks of land are called "battleaxe" blocks and are well-known in Queensland. Apartment blocks often have them. My house is built on one and I have never had any problems with it -- but it is handy for setting up a long table for summer evening dinner parties

image from

An ad for a four-bedroom house in Queensland has infuriated homeowners and tenants, with hundreds taking to Reddit to rant about councils and lament the state of the Australian property market.

An aerial shot of the home — located in Logan and positioned on a 3258 sqm block — was shared to the forum site.

At first glance, it looks like your average block of land — but on closer inspection, has an L-shaped “private yard” that wraps around the neighbouring home on one side, and very little space between the neighbouring house on the other side.

Many pointed out the narrow-looking home and odd shaped yard were likely the result of one person buying a single, large block of land and then dividing it into two or three.

“I imagine the weird block shape was due to an owner dividing one larger block into two, rather than anyone who was in a position to build row houses,” commented one user.

Another wrote that they “used to live in a house where the owner sold off part of the backyard (original block was over 1000 sqm so we still had a yard)”.

“Developer next door built three units on his resulting L shaped block. Then I discovered selling off your yard was not uncommon here,” they went on.

“To access the back you have to go THROUGH the current house which makes it impractical to build or sell afterwards. The block on the left would be a better proposition for that.”




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