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Monday 31 August 2015

Where are the voices against corruption?

With but a few hours to go before we find out Dyson Heydon's verdict on himself, what more can be said?  Everyone has been at it over the past few weeks.

In all the outrage about possible 'perception of apprehended bias' by the Royal Commissioner much of the commentariat has lost focus. As a result I feel a need to re-iterate what I believe are the core issues and why a change in commissioner at this time would not be in our common interest.
  • The TURC was set up to find Union corruption and it has succeeded. Several Union officials have already been charged and some 60 specific complaints against unionists are now under investigation with many likely to lead to charges. The TURC under DH has uncovered extensive criminality in many of our largest Unions.
  • The corrupt practices of their officials has had substantial impact on Union members. In cases where member funds have been misappropriated (HSU, CFMEU), members have no doubt borne the costs through membership fees. But even worse, in those cases where through 'sweetheart deals' Union(AWU) leaders negotiated away their members' benefits, members lost income. It is clearly not in members' interests to have corrupt Union officials. 
  • It has been argued by some, that the TURC was not necessary since 'criminal acts' by Union officials would have been picked up by existing law enforcement agencies. However the fact is that there has been no action by existing law enforcement bodies despite these offences stretching back over decades.
  • The Union movement has been trying to sabotage the TURC even before it started,  initially calling it a witch-hunt then more recently attacking the Royal Commissioner. Doesn't the Union movement and the ACTU want to eliminate corruption in its ranks? Where are the voices of the honest Union leaders who don't want corruption in their organisations? 
  • Similarly, ALP elected representatives in both state and federal governments, who always claim they are on the side of the workers, have joined if not preceded Unions' calls of 'witch-hunt' and bias. Aren't ALP MPs on the workers' side? I know of only one ALP ex parliamentarian, who has spoken out in favour of the TURC, and Martin Ferguson should be applauded for it. Nevertheless it begs the question why haven't we heard any current ALP MPs admonishing corrupt Union leaders and supporting the work of the TURC? 
  • Had the ALP taken an anti-corruption stance they would have earned the respect of the electorate and indeed the Unions' members. By not supporting the TURC, by calling for its commissioner to recuse himself, by calling for the TURC to be disbanded the ALP are siding with corrupt officials, against Unions' members and against the best interest of all Australians.
  • So too our media. While they see themselves as the objective last stand in the defence of truth, our collective media seem to have fallen far short of this ideal. Except for a handful of 'Right' leaning commentators the media have failed to stand in support of Union members and against Union corruption.
  • An attack on the 'umpire' during a game is unforgivable in any sport. Legitimate questions of bias can be, and often are, raised after the game is over when judgement is made in a objective manner. The attacks on DH should have been raised after the commission had completed its work. There would have been no downside in this, as DH's rulings are only the first step in the process and will always be tested in either parliament or in a court of law (see post 4 reasons why DH should stay).

No matter which way the decision by DH the tactic of attacking a serving Royal Commssioner while the commission is active will have consequences, including; -
  • As a direct result of the perceived success of the 'mass-media-outrage' tactic the commentariat, comprising mass media, social media, politicians and vested interests (Unions in this case), are more polarised than ever and more willing not to look objectively at any issue if it goes against their leanings. 
  • No Royal Commission into any matter which has a political implication will be able to do its work without loud open claims of bias. This tactic has been shown to work and therefore will be used again. This will be true even if DH stays. The laws related to criticism of Royal Commissioners has to be enforced to prevent this happening in future.
  • If DH leaves and a new RC is appointed, expect to hear the claims of bias again and again.

Copyright(C)2015 Grappy's Soap Box, all rights reserved

Tuesday 25 August 2015

Seeking a fair GHG reduction target - Part 1:The problem

As we approach the next critical Climate Change conference in Paris, the focus on countries' Greenhouse Gas reduction targets is intensifying. Countries are starting to position themselves by releasing their 'commitments' well ahead of the conference. No doubt these are the starting positions as the real work will be at the conference and the final positions will be achieved by some sort of compromise. So too interest groups are honing their best arguments to encourage greater commitments or indeed to lower the targets to minimse costs to jobs and the economy as a whole.

CC more challenging than any other in history

Unlike many global problems CC is especially problematic, I believe this stems from just four fundamental reasons; -

  1. CC affects every country but the impact is not borne equally by all countries. Smaller Pacific islands face CC catastrophe while land-locked countries in temperate zones will have little direct impact. For example compare the Maldives to Switzerland.
  2. The successful achievement of a global reduction target is totally dependent on the largest emitters. If China and US don't play ball, efforts by the rest of the world come to naught.
  3. The costs of reducing GHG emissions also varies by country. For developed countries it may represent a few percentage points off their GDP, whereas for developing countries, like India and China, it can mean a large proportion of their population remains in poverty for a longer period.
  4. CC is a zero sum game. If the total GHG reduction is sufficient to meet the agreed target (limiting global temperature rise to less than 2C degrees), then if one country commits more towards the mitigation then another country can commit less without affecting the outcome. This effectively rewards laggards.
These factors make the task of addressing CC more challenging than any other global problem in history.

Nevertheless the world has united around the problem and progress is being made. The most significant success has been the establishment of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the reasonably effective cooperation between all the key emitters. It is far from perfect, but given the factors noted above, that is not surprising.

Seeking consensus on GHG reduction targets

There has been and continues to be disagreement between nations as to how much they should commit given their relative contribution to the problem and /or their high costs of mitigation. There have been arguments about the rate at which mitigation should occur and there have been calls for compensation to be paid by the developed countries, that have caused the problem (to date), to the developing countries.

A range of 'measures' of GHG emissions have been developed to 'objectify' the arguments. These have been used to rank countries and gauge their success in meeting past commitments.

However given the number of factors which determine any country's GHG  emissions, currently there is no objective way to set reduction targets. Ideally, a formula can be developed that takes into account all the relevant elements such as GHG emission rate, GDP, stage of development, and so on, and uses these to generate a Fair Reduction Target(FRT). To be an FRT, it must be seen to be equitable and therefore acceptable to each country and to the global community.

My objective in this series of posts is to explore how such a FRT formula can be developed.

In my next post I will look at the structure of reduction target statements, the various measures currently used in comparing and ranking countries, and the validly of these measures in determining a country's contribution to CC.

Copyright(C)2015 Grappy's Soap Box, all rights reserved

Monday 24 August 2015

On fair-minded lay observers..

'Fair minded lay observers' seem to have popped into our milieu of late. What the heck are they?

Can we find one?

Is a parking cop fair minded when he books me while I am standing next to the yellow Maserati which has been parked for just 1 hour in a no-parking zone?  Or is he simply picking on me because of my pink hair and tattoos, or indeed my Maserati?

Ok perhaps an extreme example. Try this.

What would a fair-minded lay observer say about a Human Rights Commission president who postponed a review of 'children in detention' when the numbers were rising rapidly under a Labour Government, till after a change of government when the numbers were falling rapidly?

No? No that one? Ok lets try again.

What would a fair minded lay observer think of a Union lawyer arguing a Royal Commissioner recuse himself because "he is guilty of apprehended bias" after his Union has been exposed as corrupt with many of its members already facing criminal charges?

I guess you can see where I am going with this, but bear with me.

The argument over 'apprehended bias' by Dyson Heydon in his role as TURC commissioner has taken centre stage.

The term was new to me till recently. So I have had to do some quick Googling.  There are of course many references, all rather legalese.  Apprehended Bias is the criterion used to determine whether a judge has sufficient impartiality to rule on a matter.

The NSW judicial commission provides this definition; -

"The test for determining whether a judge should disqualify himself or herself by reason of apprehended bias is “whether a fair-minded lay observer might reasonably apprehend that the judge might not bring an impartial and unprejudiced mind to the resolution of the question the judge is required to decide”Judicial Commission of New South Wales

And to further clarify; - 

" the apprehension of bias must be a reasonable one, held by reasonable and right minded persons, applying themselves to the question and obtaining thereon the required information. . . . [The] test is "what would an informed person, viewing the matter realistically and practically and having thought the matter through conclude." ( Source Reasonable apprehension of Bias )

With the TURC, the decision is up to Dyson Heydon (DH) and we will know his decision in due course.

I have already recorded my position vis-a-vis the justice of this attack but would like to add some points specifically addressing the Apprehended Bias attack. (4 reasons why Dyson Heydon should stay)

  • The claims of Apprehended Bias are disingenuous
  • The claimants have evident bias themselves
  • Some of the claimants arguments do not support Apprehended bias

The claims of Apprehended Bias are disingenuous. 

The Unions raising the claim do so not because they believe DH will be not be impartial. They use it as a convenient argument in order to ;
  • weaken the TURC by eliminating an effective commissioner
  • deflect attention from the corruption already exposed and prevent more being exposed
  • taint the work of the TURC and thereby mitigate the findings of the commission against them
  • minimise the political damage to both the Union movement and the ALP by their association with corrupt practices
  • generally obfuscate, throw enough mud so some will stick.

The claimants have evident bias themselves

The ACTU, the AWU and the CFMEU through their solicitors each made claims of apprehended bias against DH. How seriously should we gauge their claims of AB. Do they meet the criteria of being fair-minded lay observers?

Certainly not! The CFMEU has been implicated in wide-spread corrupt practices with many of its members likely to face criminal charges. So too the AWU with two ex Union organisers to face criminal charges, and exposure of suspect Union deals which disadvantage workers. The ACTU represents all the unions and therefore has an overarching self interest to minimise the political damage caused by the exposure of corrupt practices.

So none of the claimants are fair minded lay observers. They are clearly biased in their claims, so we should treat them with suspicion.

Some of the claimants arguments do not support Apprehended bias

I guess this last of my points is the most important. While we will generally accept that the Unions have a vested interest in discrediting the TURC and will use any argument that serves that purpose, are they arguing something they don't believe? That is a lot harder to prove. 

Indeed it is and I don't claim to have foolproof evidence but at least sufficient 'smoke' to suggest there is a 'fire'. 

Reproduced below is the reported testimony of Mr Newlinds the barrister for the ACTU at the TURC arguing the case for Apprehended Bias; - 

11.03am: Now, Mr Newlinds focuses on Justice Heydon’s reputation: “We know that you’re the Honourable Dyson Heydon. When I say we, I mean the lawyers in this room, and we know that you have particular skills as a lawyer and as a judge and for that matter as an academic.”
He goes on to make the interesting point that, while the “hypothetical bystander” may not know about Heydon’s “razor sharp mind” or “mind like a steel trap”, they would bear in mind Mr Heydon’s resume.
He says: “We know that you’re a man with a reputation for having a razor sharp mind, to use another cliche, a mind like a steel trap. I think my learned friend is correct in saying that the hypothetical bystander that this matter must be judged by, he or she doesn’t know that ... They do know that you were appointed to the High Court, that you were appointed to the COA of NSW, then to the HC of A and served for the best part of a decade, I think, and that the executive branch of government has seen you as a person appropriate to carry out this very important, difficult and fact intensive inquiry. (source The Australian )

Paraphrasing , Mr Newlinds argues that those in the legal fraternity respect DH 's ability to weigh arguments and come to impartial rulings, but that the lay observer does not know this and therefore may see him as being biased.

In other words, Mr Newlinds argues solicitors like himself accept that DH is impartial, but despite this DH is guilty of Apprehended bias as a lay observer would not have this insiders' knowledge.

However returning to the clarification of how to apply the 'apprehended bias' criterion; -

" the apprehension of bias must be a reasonable one, held by reasonable and right minded persons, applying themselves to the question and obtaining thereon the required information." ( Source Reasonable apprehension of Bias )
So the lay observer must also acquaint themselves with those in the industry and therefore would come to the same conclusion as Mr Newlinds has, that DH will indeed be impartial.

Mr Newlinds has, perhaps inadvertently, presented a cogent argument for dismissing the Apprehended Bias claim against DH.

Copyright(C)2015 Grappy's Soap Box, all rights reserved

Wednesday 19 August 2015

4 reasons why Dyson Heydon should stay as TURC commissioner

Fresh from the successful scalp of Bronwyn Bishop the Media/ALP pack are at it again. This time the target is Dyson Heydon, the ex High court judge now leading the Trade Union Royal Commission(TURC). Universally acclaimed as a man of integrity he is now being hounded out of office. The next few days will prove whether this mass attack is successful.

But irrespective of the outcome, is this attack reasonable? Would his removal be just and in the best interests of our country or would it reward and thereby encourage and legitimize such unseemly political tactics as the new normal in Australia's political discourse.

Much has been said and written on this so I am sure everyone is familiar with the core facts. I will restrict my comments to make just four points.
  1. There is no 'Perception of bias'
  2. A political leaning does not disqualify DH from fulfilling his role
  3. There is no down-side in keeping DH in his role 
  4. There is a serious downside in removing him from his role

There is no 'perception of bias'

There is no evidence that DH has exhibited any bias at all. In fact no one is arguing that he has or even that he is likely to. All argument is that there is a 'perception of bias'.
ALP and many in the media argue that 'perception of bias' is a sufficient criterion for his removal.
However the loudest calls come from those who do not apply this rule universally. The case of Gillian Triggs comes immediately to mind. In that case the argument was not even about a perception of bias but what was argued to have been demonstrated bias. Those who argued that Triggs should remain in her job but today argue that Heydon be removed are doing so for reasons other than potential 'perception of bias'.

ALP MPs are simply arguing out of self interest trying to stop the TURC as they see it as politically damaging given their close Union allegiance. Their colours were shown even before Dyson Heydon was appointed to his role, labeling the TURC as political witch-hunt, and they have not let up ever since. Their calls are certainly tainted.
As for the journos, they should explain their different stance themselves. It certainly looks like they are simply exposing their own political leanings.

Calls from those who are themselves biased must be dismissed.

A political leaning does not disqualify DH from fulfilling his role

A vast majority of thinking Australians have a political leaning. They vote in elections for one of the parties and they carry their leanings into their work and their private lives. So too do lawyers, police, teachers, judges and even royal commissioners. Why would we expect any judge not to have a political leaning?. 

Every day Judges, especially High Court judges are expected to rule on matters which may have some political impact. Yet we trust our judges, especially our High Court judges to make their rulings impartially, dependent only on the evidence presented and in accord with the laws of the land.

So why should anyone expect DH not to have a political leaning? Such leanings cannot rule him out as royal commissioner. Indeed if it did then no person could serve as a royal commissioner as no one is free of such leanings.
 Moreover, past High Court judges and Royal Commissioners have remained in their roles even after they presented speeches at party events. This is not even the case with DH, as he withdrew from the event.

There is no downside in keeping DH in place

There is no downside in keeping DH in his role because the TURC is the first step in a process which will have thorough parliamentary and legal scrutiny.

The TURC is gathering evidence on Union Corruption. The evidence will form the basis of a report, which will result in many Union officials facing criminal charges. Some have already been charged and some thirty have been named, who are likely to face charges. The evidence against individuals will be revisited in a court of law, where it will be weighed and considered. 

The final report of the TURC will no doubt make a series of recommendations regarding the introduction of new laws around Union governance.  The recommendations will also be weighed and considered by the government and will be debated by parliament.

So DH can continue to fulfill his role as TURC commissioner, irrespective of perceived or even actual leanings, without invalidating any of its findings.

There is a serious downside in removing him from is role

At the same time there is considerable and serious downside if DH does not continue to lead the TURC. 

You don't have to go past the hysterical calls for his resignation from the ALP to gauge the success of the commission to date. The TURC has brought to light corruption at the highest levels of many Unions (AWU, CFMEU, HSU etc.) and has named some thirty individuals who will in all likelihood face charges. No doubt much more is to come. 

It has been acknowledged by most commentators that DH has done an exemplary job to date.  While it has been argued that a new commissioner could be appointed, inevitably there would be a loss of momentum and who knows if the new commissioner would have the same level of success that DH has already demonstrated.

A further downside of removing DH from his role, would be to reward the 'shock and awe tactics' of the Media/ALP alliance. This contemptible political tactic is a new unwelcome entry into our social order. It works by confecting outrage over some issue, in this case the cancellation of a planned talk, and amplifying it through a compliant media into a political storm. Rewarding such tactics only encourages their use and debases our political and social discourse, and therefore should be strongly resisted. 

Finally, the removal of a high respected ex High Court judge without a 'just' cause would tarnish the exemplary record of a respected Australian. This is simply unethical.

Copyright(C)2015 Grappy's Soap Box, all rights reserved


Monday 17 August 2015

Apropos CC

I just came across the paper   National Contributions to Global Warming  published admittedly a year ago by researchers at Concordia University in Canada. I am not sure why it has hit the news recently. Perhaps with the release of Australia reduction target, commentators have gone back for some material.

Irrespective, I found the paper most informative. In some ways it highlights one of the concerns I have had about the misleading claims by many CC advocates trying to amplify Australia's contribution to global warming, no doubt in order to pressure the government to increase their reduction target.

This paper puts things into perspective and I recommend anyone trying to gain a complete picture to read the paper.

For the present let me just reproduce Figure 3 from the paper.

This picture encapsulates the relative contributions of each country to climate change in the period from 1900 to 2005. In particular note the following;-
  • Europe is by far the greatest contributor to global warming over this period and should therefore make the largest cuts in their emissions.
  • US and India are in the next group. USA should make significant cuts and India needs the power infrastructure to enable quality of life to improve yet reduce its GHG emissions.
  • Australia and Canada are the lowest contributors to CC. Consequently on an equity basis their reduction target should be the lowest. 
  • While China had minimal contribution for much of the period, its GHG emissions over the past 20 years have grown and continue to grow at a great rate.
  • My calculations indicate that Canada and Australia are net absorbers of Greenhouse Gases. Australia and Canada are helping to mitigate the impact of the large polluters of Europe US and China. (See post Is Australia one of the worst net emitters?)

What is a fair reduction target?

As we approach the Paris CC conference the focus is on reduction targets. How much reduction will each country target over the coming 10-15 years. It is in this context that the 'commentariat' is banding about a variety of CC measures, emphasising those which best support their case. Look at 'per capita' figures, or look at 'today's gross emissions'.

But is there an indisputable 'fair' target for a country? While I guess 'indisputable' is a rather ambitious aim, I suggest the following two principles.

1. A country's reduction target should take into account that country's contribution to CC to date.
2. Over time each country has to totally mitigate their own GHG net emissions.  

These principles eliminate the oft cited disputes between developed countries and developing countries, by providing an equitable weighting on the clean-up load on those who contributed most to the problem.

Moreover they can be used to derive a 'fair' target for any year. But I will leave that calculation for another day.

Perhaps these 'fairness' principles could make agreement at the Paris conference more likely.

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Friday 14 August 2015

Credo on Climate Change

With the recent release of the reduction target Australia will be taking to the Paris conference, Climate Change policies have once again taken centre stage. It has been some time since I posted on this and some comments are overdue (see earlier posts  Is Australia good for the environment?Is the world warming to climate change?,  Is Australia one of the world's worst emitters?).

Climate Change (CC) is a sea of issues and opinions with many areas complex and technical. In this post I want to summarise some of the key issues and my current position on these. I emphasise 'current', as it is very likely my position will evolve over time in line with evolving technology and CC science.
  • Most media has naively divided all CC opinions into just two camps. Those with a thorough acceptance of all facets of CC, the 'CC advocates', and those who totally disagree with the science, the predictions, and the models. These are disdainfully labelled as 'CC deniers'. However I believe the vast majority of people don't fall into these two neat categories. 
  • On a 'balance of probabilities' I believe in man-made climate change and that the world needs to take action.
  • While I believe in science, and the basic motivation of scientists to analyse and report honestly. I also believe in people's fallibility, including scientists'. I don't believe the 'science is settled'
  • I don't believe our current CC models are correct. They do not take into account many factors which influence our climate eg cloud distributions, the existence and distribution of ocean-bed heating through volcanic action, and the complex cyclical activity of the sun. We don't fully understand all the factors which influence our climate, nor the rate at which such factors interplay to generate future global temperatures or indeed climatic disruption.
  • Although the models may not be correct and the science may not be settled any reasonable society must minimise risks when such risks have been identified. Hence my acceptance of the need for action.
  • Irrespective of one's position on CC, in the long term no society will survive if it does not replenish all the resources it uses to grow and flourish. This argument alone is sufficient to validate all actions for changing from a use-it-once-and-discard-it society. Indeed sustainability should be the driver for our actions.
  • The costs of changing to renewables today is high. Moreover via increases in the price of fossil fuels these costs will be felt by the poorest communities. Similarly taxes on fossil fuels will punish the countries who can afford it least.
  • The costs associated with changing to a sustainable planet are a strongly dependent on the technologies we can employ. Technological change is rapid and investment in CC mitigation and renewables is larger than at any time in our history. There is a very high probability that within the next 20 years new transformative technologies will emerge. As a consequence the cost of changing to renewables will be dramatically lower in the future.
  •  We need to maintain and increase our investment in research targeting sustainable fuel generation technologies These include;- solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, nuclear, and clean coal/biomass/waste recycling. (The last of these is a process which can breakdown organic materials, (biomass, plastics and coal) to generate a clean Hydrogen based fuel with all carbon dioxide captured for industrial use. )
  • To be seen as fair the costs of CC action should be borne by ALL nations. The proportion of cost borne by each country must take into account their current net emission rate, the net emissions that they have contributed to date. It should also take into account the impact of carbon taxes on their economies.   
  • There are too many different measures used to rank countries with respect to their GHG (Greenhouse Gas) emissions. Most references are to Gross Emission or Gross Emission Per Capita. However a country is not responsible for per capita emissions but for total emissions. Moreover Gross Emissions do not take into account the absorption of GHG through existing forests, nor do they consider the GHG imported or exported via the manufacture of goods.  As a result the common measures used to rank countries with respect to GHG emissions are misleading. 
  • Australia as a net absorber of GHG helping to absorb the 'carbon pollution' produced by the rest of the world and yet is demonised for a high Per Capita emission rate.
  • All ranking of countries' performance should be uniformly based on total net emissions. Anything else is purely to push an agenda.
  • As for Australia. Australia should commit to the same proportion of GDP cost as all other countries.
  • The two degree global warming target set by the CC community is misleading, as we don't have the science to make that prediction. Nevertheless it serves the purpose of setting a benchmark which can be reviewed as CC models become more realistic.  However, while the 2 degree increase is OK for the end of the century, our target for 2030 should not try achieve it via a straight line. Since the cost of the change to renewables will be lower in the future, we should have a less ambitious target today. We can change the rate of change to renewables in 2030 when we can see what has been achieved in the next 15 years.
  • I understand and accept the tendency to push for instant and decisive action when a global problem has been identified. I also accept the tendency of advocates to exaggerate when facing an apathetic and slow moving populace. Despite this, disproportionate spending on CC action today will cause dislocation and disruption in developed countries and prevent developing countries from reaching the standard of living that developed countries enjoy

I guess many of these will require some more in depth coverage in the future.

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Monday 10 August 2015

Education spending scores "F"

The recent Naplan review results has highlighted the disconnect between education expenditure and educational outcomes. Too often poor outcomes generate simplistic impulses to 'throw money at the problem'. Indeed the reaction to the recent poor results, by many politicians and commentators was to criticise governments for not spending enough.

But after increasing educational spending by some 40% over the last decade with no improvement in outcomes, one is forgiven for refusing such demands and taking a more considered approach.

Indeed this is not a new revelation.  Simply looking at world rankings shows little correlation between spending and outcomes. The table below shows the top 20 countries plus the US ranked by Educational Outcome together with the ranking of their relative expenditure.

Educational Outcomes vs Spending

Country Outcome Rank(1) Expenditure Rank(2)
1. Singapore 1 21
2. Hong Kong 2 18
3. South Korea 3 11
4. Japan (joint) 4 19
4. Taiwan (joint) 5 n/a
6. Finland 6 3
7. Estonia 7 15
8. Switzerland 8 10
9. Netherlands 9 8
10. Canada 10 12
11. Poland 11 14
12. Vietnam 12 9
13. Germany 13 17
14. Australia 14 16
15. Ireland 15 13
16. Belgium 16 2
17. New Zealand 17 1
18. Slovenia 18 4
19. Austria 19 7
20. United Kingdom 20 5
28. United States  28 6

1. Outcome rank from http://www.bbc.com/news/business-32608772 and is for Science and Maths skills at age 15
2. Expenditure rank is the relative ranking of the top 20 outcome countries plus US and is based on % GDP spend on education taken from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_spending_on_education_(%25_of_GDP)

The table shows no apparent correlation between educational expenditure and educational outcome. Indeed the top relative Expenditure country, New Zealand, only achieved a 17th ranking on Outcome. At the same time the lowest country with the lowest relative expenditure, Singapore, achieved the top ranking on Outcome. Yes, this is a relatively simplistic set of figures with many limitations, and I am not concluding that Expenditure has no influence on Outcome.

However it is clear that expenditure is not the single key factor in achieving good educational outcomes. Moreover knee-jerk calls for increased investment are naive. They only serve to deflect focus from doing what is really required, to identify the many factors that can lead to better outcomes and to take progressive actions to achieve this objective.

If expenditure is not the key factor what is?

Educational outcomes are the result of the complex interaction of a wide range of factors. These include, in order of priority, the skills of the student, the support of the parents, the skills of the teachers and the resources available to 'oil' the education process. Greater educational expenditure may attract better teachers or indeed better training for teachers, and can provide more resources but they come to naught with poorly motivated students due to negative parental support or for students with poor underlying skills.

I would suggest there is an even more important factor which has contributed to the clear dominance of Asian nations in the Outcome rankings. It is the value given to education by the society. Societies that respect, encourage and value education generate better educational outcomes for lower investment.

"Aye, there is the rub". We all determine the value and respect we give to education. A society which values film-stars and sportsmen more than engineers or educators, will continue to generate more great sportsmen and popular film-stars and mediocrity elsewhere.

What can we do?
There are many micro actions we can take to improve outcomes especially in regions and sub-groups which are performing particularly poorly. Many of these will require additional resources and increased expenditure, perhaps re-directed from sub-groups where performance is above average.  These are likely over time to raise the poorest performers.

But for all groups, be they above, at or below average, the lowest cost improvement will come from changing our attitudes. While social change is no doubt difficult and takes time, we could re-direct some money to raising the standing of education in our society.

There are many ways that the values of a society can be slowly moulded. The key ingredient is positive feedback. Quite simply provide recognition to those who have contributed to high educational outcomes; - teachers, students and parents.

For example; -
  • Provide better recognition to successful teachers by publicly awarding a medal or certificate and /or paying a bonus to those who generate better outcomes. Could start at the best performing and most improved schools under Naplan.
  • Provide better recognition to best performing students, not just at the HSC level but even earlier. The recent Spelling Bee reality show is an example. I prefer the team approach with schools competing against each other as was the "Its academic" TV show of the 1970s(?). With the current spate of reality shows it could be very successful and run in prime time. 
  • Provide recognition to the parents of high performance students. Recognition could be a certificate or even a driver's licence with a gold star. Their child's results are to some extent the results of their support and encouragement. So make this public. This would no doubt have an influence on all parents! 
  • With all the recognition to our sports stars and movie stars why not recognise those who have used their education to improve our society; our Doctors, Engineers and educators with annual awards.
Most importantly for maximum impact this recognition should be broadcast as widely as possible. Ideally award ceremonies should be televised on free-to-air television at prime time. If the commercial stations don't want it, what is more appropriate than our public broadcaster, our ABC.

These are just a few ideas that came to mind, and I am sure there are many more out there. 

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Friday 7 August 2015

Footnotes - on MP expense rorts

  • The term 'Entitlements' as Malcolm Turnbull and others have noted, is a complete misnomer that seems to have set the manner in which MPs feel entitled to drain the public purse. Drop the name 'Entitlements', call it what it is 'Expenses'.
  • It may be acceptable for longer trips for MPs but business class travel for the children of MPs is definitely out of kilter with community expectations 
  • Occasional trips by family to Canberra to spend time with their MP seems legitimate, but trips by MPs family around Australia are also out of kilter with expectations
  • The community will accept greater leniency for travel expenses given MPs workload and role in our community but MPs have shown they cannot be trusted when rules are so 'open-ended'
  • Enterprises often provide executives with an expense allowance. Why not do the same for MPs. Within some defined limits the MP can decide where to use the allowance but never above the limit. The allowance should cover ALL claims by MPs for re-imbursement, ie study tours. The allowance should vary by status back-bencher, minister, etc., and be generous but not unreasonable. I suggest something in the order of 10-15% of their salary may be a guide.
  • Contrary to many voices in the media I believe expenses related to party fundraisers should NOT be eligible for claims. The parties can pay these expenses themselves, if they want their MPs to attend.
  • Despite some specious arguments to the contrary, it is not difficult to differentiate between a fund-raiser and a public meeting. It is ALWAYS a fund raiser if the money collected goes to a political party.
  • We should not have to wait for 6 months to get this sorted out. It seems like a delaying tactic, hoping the controversy will die down. An interim report and actions should be available before the end of the year.
  • Having experienced the venom from the electorate the pollies and some 'friends' are now trying to put the issue 'back in the box'. Watch for specious arguments about the difficult working hours, the disruption to family life and all the other hardships our poor MPs suffer. Before you accept any of this gumph, apply Joe Hockey's 'smell' test. How does the MPs role compare to other workers in our society; ambulance drivers, nurses, defence forces, and what benefits do they enjoy?

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Wednesday 5 August 2015

What constitutes 'reasonable' MP travel claims?

What constitutes 'reasonable' travel claims?
MP will be reimbursed for travel expenses when directly connected with their role as a member of parliament

Actual costs incurred for air or road travel subject to; -
- travel by most direct route
- travel at lowest cost
- travel with approved carrier
- Business class (but not first class)

Actual out of pocket costs with supporting receipts subject to a per day limit of $1000, or $700 per day if claimed on a per diem basis when no receipts are required

Spouse/partner/family can accompany but any additional costs to be paid by MP
Where only a part of a trip is claimable as being a necessary part of MPs role, the reimbursement for carrier costs will be pro-rated for the proportion of travel which is claimable. The out-of-pocket costs will be for those full days which qualify as claimable

Any claims which would breach these rules must be submitted and pre-approved in writing

The above is a reprint from my earlier post Conflict of Interest and is only intended to demonstrate how a simple set of rules can set defined limits on the size and scope of MP travel claims.

However the clause 'directly connected with their role as a member of parliament' is open to some interpretation. So further work is required to clearly define what constitutes 'legitimate' MP travel.

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Monday 3 August 2015

Media all-in scalps Bishop

After an exhausting couple of weeks with media at full throttle, we have movement.
The speaker has resigned and our PM has announced a review into the so called 'Entitlements' of our MPs. This is progress.

Winners and losers

The ALP are no doubt very happy. They have distracted focus from their leaders problems with the TURC,. They have distracted focus and media scrutiny of their policy turn-backs at their national conference. They have managed to dislodge an entrenched political opponent from the high office of speaker. All without too much damage notice given by the media to their own MPs indiscretions.
Not bad in political terms. Perhaps in the 'dirty tricks office' they are even sharing a champers celebrating a well executed and successful project. With the media in full control at the whim of the puppeteers. But this is just conjecture, since I have heard mention of this possibility but scarcely.

As for the media, they seem to have had a hey day with an All-in frenzy, outrage, interviews, social media trending nicely. I often recall when my six year old started playing soccer in the under-six team. The players invariably formed a single heap around the ball and moved as one across the field.. That seems to reflect the way our mass media seems to always focus on a single topic to the exclusion of many with far greater consequence. The entitlements saga indeed had this focus. And without due analysis the focus seemed to be only on Bishop with other significant rorters left on the whole ignored. Yes her rort was exceptional, and she failed to show contrition, at least until it was too late. But of course many a Labour MP had dipped into the trough and should have had more attention, but if that were the case Bishop scalp would not have been gained. This seemed to be the media's focus. In the last few days most bulletins leading stories was of some commentator asking for Bishop to leave. SO I guess the media are also happy they have a scalp.

As for the Liberals, well they, lose, lose. They have lost the positive momentum they had following Shorten's appearance the TURC and the ALP conference, and they have lost their speaker. Admittedly this is a mixed blessing. Bishop has been a tough but partisan operator and while she remained as speaker the integrity of the parliament was in question.

Could the Libs have handled this better? Certainly! Earlier action would have helped retain momentum. Other tactics may have been face-saving and may have even left the speaker in place. But lets face it, Bishop had damaged herself by both her inexcusable claims and her stance once they were exposed. She has simply faced the consequences.

So we the public are winners. Yes, many others of the ALP (and Libs) have avoided the consequences of their prior 'rorting'. And, yes, some were equally, if not more, egregious than Bishop's. And, yes, it would have been better if the media had spent more time on that aspect of the expense affair.  But, Bishop's forced departure has set an example a precedent.Future miscreants will be held to a similar standard, I hope.

Review must be robust

As for the future, we will have a review of 'entitlements'. That sounds great, but I have concerns. Already, just one day after the review was announced, several MPs have tried to deflect its focus. I heard one declare that the system is not the problem, it was how MPs abused it. Or that the problem with the system is that it has high running costs. Or even to claim the issue with Bishop was not her travel claims but her role as a speaker. So the vested interest of MPs faced with possible loss of 'entitlements' is already evident. No doubt we will hear many more counter arguments as the review approaches some concrete suggestions on how to clamp down on the looseness of the current system.

Don't expect the MPs to create a tight system, as it is to their personal disadvantage. But perhaps this is where the media can earn its crust. The scalp of a speaker was not the main game, although it did seem that way. The underlying aim is to bring integrity into the MP entitlement system. This will only be achieved if the proposed review can introduce clearly defined tests of legitimacy and accountability for all MP expense claims.  (See my previous post titled "Conflict of Interest" for further suggestions as to what constitutes legitimacy and accountability.)

Alas, I fear, this is not the last we have heard of this topic

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