Showing posts with label corruption. Show all posts
Showing posts with label corruption. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

It's the rich wot get to complain and the poor wot get infected

If you’re anything like me, you’re getting mighty tired of lockdowns. I miss being able get out of the house whenever I choose, I miss going to restaurants and – my favourite vice – going to movies. That bad, huh? You’re right, I don’t have much to complain about. I don’t envy those having to school their kids while working at home – although I do miss seeing my grandkids in the flesh.

If you think I need reminding of how easy I’m doing it compared with a lot of others, you’re probably right. But I suspect that’s true of many of us, even those of us doing it just a tiny bit tougher than me.

Apart from those with kids to mind, the first hardship dividing line is between those of us easily able to work from home and those not. This probably means those still on their usual pay and those reliant on some kind of government support.

Even those unable to work from home but “fortunate” to work in an essential industry probably pay the price of running a much higher risk of getting the virus. And that without anyone doing enough to help them get jabbed.

Another divide would be between those in secure employment, with proper annual and sick leave entitlements, and the third of workers in “precarious” employment, most of whom are casuals rather than in the “gig economy”.

Having so many workers without entitlement to sick leave has been a burden for those involved and for the rest of us, namely an increased risk of being infected by someone who, needing the money, keeps working when they shouldn’t.

But though the dividing lines are different in a pandemic, the greatest divide of all is unchanged. As the old song says, it’s the same the whole world over, it’s the rich wot gets the pleasure, it’s the poor wot gets the blame.

Any amount of research confirms what the medicos call “the social gradient” – the well-off tend to be in much better health than those near the bottom. They’re less likely to be overweight (I must be an exception) and less likely to smoke.

The Mitchell Institute at Victoria University has just issued the second edition of its “health tracker by socio-economic status”. It finds that the 10 million Australians living in the 40 per cent of communities with lower and lowest socio-economic status have much higher rates of preventable cardio-vascular diseases, cancer, diabetes or chronic respiratory diseases than others in the population.

Why then should we be surprised to learn that, though Sydney’s outbreak of the Delta variant seems to have started in the better-off eastern suburbs, it soon migrated to the outer south west, where it finds a lot more business?

Last week the welfare peak body, the Australian Council of Social Service, issued a joint research report on Work, Income and Health Inequality, with academics at the University of NSW.

ACOSS boss Dr Cassandra Goldie says “the pandemic has exposed the stark inequalities that impact our health across the country. People on the lowest incomes, and with insecure work and housing, have been at greatest risk throughout the COVID crisis. Now, they are the same people who are at risk of missing out in the vaccine rollout”.

Then there’s the question of trust. Social trust works through social norms of behaviour, such as willingness to co-operate with strangers and willingness to follow government rules. As in other rich countries, our trust in governments has declined over the years. Last year it seemed to lift, as many of us believed we could trust our leaders – particularly the premiers – to save us from the pandemic.

Whether that confidence survives this year’s missteps we’ll have to see. But the economic historian Dr Tony Ward, of Melbourne University, reminds us of a significant finding in this year’s World Happiness Report: in general, the higher a country’s level of social trust, the lower its COVID-19 death rate.

Stay with me. An experiment by the American behavioural economist Alain Cohn and colleagues in Switzerland involved “losing” 17,000 wallets in 355 cities across 40 countries and seeing how many of them were returned to their supposed owners.

The rate of wallet return was about 80 per cent in the Scandinavian countries and New Zealand, just under 70 per cent in Australia, less than 60 per cent in the US and less than 30 per cent in Mexico.

Ward did his own study and found that two-thirds of the difference between countries could be explained by their degree of inequality of income. The greater the inequality, the less trust. When he added survey data on people’s perceptions of corruption, his apparent ability to explain the differences in trust rose from 68 per cent to 82 per cent.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian and her minions tell us the virus is raging in certain “LGAs of concern” because people aren’t doing as they’ve been asked. Maybe their lack of co-operation reflects a lack of trust in the benevolence of those higher up the income ladder. Inequality doesn’t come problem-free.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Political corruption: with so much smoke, there must be fire

How easy is it for the rich and powerful to buy favourable treatment from our politicians? Honest answer: we just don’t know. What we do know is that we’ve become increasing distrustful of our pollies and doubtful of their honesty.

Polling conducted this year by Griffith University and Transparency International Australia found that 85 per cent of respondents believe at least some federal Members of Parliament are corrupt. This is up 9 points just since 2016. It includes 18 per cent who believe most or all federal politicians are corrupt.

Fully 62 per cent of respondents believe officials or politicians use their positions to benefit themselves or their family, while 56 per cent believe officials or politicians favour businesses and individuals in return for political donations or support.

I can’t prove it, but I doubt it’s nearly that bad. Cases of money in paper bags changing hands would be few and far between. Such personal corruption as exists would usually be more subtle: hospitality in corporate boxes at sporting events and sponsored international travel.

Plus the risk that senior politicians and bureaucrats go easy on interest groups in the hope that, when they retire or leave the parliament, those groups will show their gratitude by giving them a cushy job.

But it’s institutional, not personal, corruption that’s the bigger problem. Businesses, unions and others give money to political parties in the hope of gaining access to decision makers and influence over their decisions.

Both sides of politics play this corrupting game because they’re locked in a kind of arms race to raise the most money for advertising at the next election campaign.

It’s so blatant that both sides hold fundraising dinners where they make no bones about people paying big bucks to sit at the same table as a cabinet minister.

It’s said half of all money spent on advertising is wasted, and I suspect it’s the same with political donations. They didn’t buy you what you were hoping for. It’s this half the pollies use to tell themselves they’re not doing anything dishonourable.

It’s the other half that’s the worry – the half that does buy access and influence. (This is what concerns me as an economic journalist. The prevalence of “rent-seeking”, as economists call it, has a pernicious effect on economic policy and thus the economic welfare of Australians.)

On Monday, the Grattan Institute released a painstaking and comprehensive examination by Danielle Wood and Kate Griffiths of what evidence is available on attempts to buy access and influence.

The report reminds us that federal politicians are much more reluctant than their state counterparts to be more active and open about their relations with donors and lobbyists.

They’ve long refused to follow the states in establishing an anti-corruption commission, wanting us to believe the states may suffer corruption, but the feds are pure as the driven snow. Clearly, we don’t.

The feds have resisted making ministers’ diaries public, so we can see who they’re meeting with, even though the NSW and Queensland governments now do so.

The federal register of lobbyists is a bad joke. It lists people working for lobbying firms, but not lobbyists working directly for businesses, unions or community groups, nor the lobbyists working for peak industry or union associations.

The report finds there are about 500 lobbyists on the register, whereas a further 1755 sponsored security passes have been issued. These allow the holders to move freely around Parliament House. May we know who these people are and who they represent? No.

The report finds that more than a quarter of federal ministers have gone on to work for a lobbying firm, industry body or special interest group since 1990. (Former Labor minsters rarely return to the labour movement because business pays much higher salaries.)

Federal ministers are supposed to wait until 18 months after they cease being ministers before lobbying on any issue they were involved in. For ministerial advisers and senior public servants the waiting time is 12 months.

But many fail to observe the rule – including Ian Macfarlane, Andrew Robb, Bruce Billson, Martin Ferguson – and there’s no penalty.

Rules about making political donations public are much improved in some states, but worst at the federal level. Parties spent $368 million over the two financial years spanning the 2016 federal election, with roughly a third of that coming from government grants rather than donations.

There’s a high threshold for donations to be reportable, and no requirement for parties to add up multiple below-threshold donations from the same source. And delays of a year or two before donations are made public.

The report finds that about 40 per cent of the money parties received had no identifiable source. Of the declared donations, just 5 per cent of donors contributed more than half.

By far the biggest share of declared federal donations comes from highly regulated industries – mining, property construction, gambling, finance, media and telcos – then unions.

This appalling record on federal disclosure, accountability and transparency tells us the public’s perception that our politicians are dishonest is of the politicians' own making.

They do tout for donations. They could agree to end the election advertising war by imposing limits on donations and no longer have to prostitute themselves.

When both sides finally decide there’s not much glory in being in a despised and distrusted occupation, nor much joy in basing policy decisions on rewarding the most generous vested interests, they know where to start in restoring their reputation.
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