Reviewing the Commission of Audit’s opening night

I played my little part in the political theatre that was the Commission of Audit, with about 15 seconds on ABC Lateline. I’m pleased to see that other reviewers agreed with me in dismissing this tired remake of the 1988 and 1996 hits as stale and derivative. Attempts to gin up a bit of excitement by introducing the minimum wage as a new villain wnet nowhere, and reviving the golden oldie (last performed by Malcolm Fraser in the 1970s) of returning income tax powers to the states fell flat. And of course, a supposed audit of the public finances with tax expenditures cut out of the show is like Hamlet without the Prince. About the only thing to be thankful for is that they toned down the Hockey-Abbott melodrama of a debt crisis and budget emergency, preferring instead some dark murmurs about ominous long term trends.

I give it one star.

42 thoughts on “Reviewing the Commission of Audit’s opening night

  1. To elaborate a little, it seems to me that such “Commissions of Audit” are corrupting on a number of grounds. The corrupting influence exists, aside from the cost which can be seen as a pay off for political allies, is institutional. Surely, it is the job of the Public Service to provide impartial expert advice. If a wider investigation is believed to be necessary, then that is the task of parliamentary committees, which among other things would reduce the cost. It is hard to see how this commission, its recommendations and expense, can be justified. If it is purely an ideological and political exercise, and one that will be “forgotten” in the pre-election budget, why should the taxpayers have to foot the bill? At the very least, it is an example of duplication and waste.

  2. @Wendy

    And in any event, those with chronic conditions, whose GP visits push up the averages, are supposedly to be shielded from being forced to bear the brunt of the copayment. Unless the plan is to discourage them from visiting GPs it is hard to see the salience of Shepherd’s remark about how ‘crook’ ‘we’ are.

    One might note too, that given that many therapeutic goods are subsidised on the PBS it’s little wonder that the recommendation of a professional is required. Again, because he is an arrogant and ignorant fool, Shepherd misses that.

    Maybe he’s hoping that people won’t merely stop visiting GPs but stopping ordering heavily subsidised therapeutic goods, and perhaps die earlier and save the regime of the day on pension payments, senior health services and nursing homes.

    It’s hard, even for me, to put into words the revulsion I bear towards this political exercise.

  3. Tony Shepherd of course has made a career out of exploiting public sector spending. He has been one of the most influential champions of public/private partnership arrangements to the benefit of the Transfield group of companies where he was employed. Presumably having seen how easy it is to extract taxpayer money for private profit in various defence and infrastructure contracts, he assumes everyone else is doing it too and it needs to stop. Being a long-term Transfield employee, he’s probably convinced that people should depend on family support and private patronage, not government welfare (read up on the Belgiorno Nettis dynasty if you don’t know what I mean).

    The idea that Shepherd was any kind of independent auditor is ridiculous. Sadly, Labor’s latest bunch of leaders seem committed to the same tired “whatever you do don’t upset business” mentality that Hawke pioneered and refuse to call this stuff for the revolutionary economic power grab that it represents. All we get from Shorten and company is tedious nitpicking about whether Abbott is going to break some election promise or other (as if everyone’s forgotten Labor’s recent track record in that regard).

  4. There is so much wrong with what the CoA said. Two things OTOH:

    1) The figure for average medical visits per annum is skewed upwards by young children, the elderly and the chronically ill. The problem with having some kind of levy on doctor’s visits (as with all social services) is that those who need it the most have the least ability to pay.

    2) Retirement age. Again, those that need it the most (the ill and those in manual labour) are the most effected while those with white-collar careers would have greater opportunity to work through or have early retirement anyway. People from lower socioeconomic groups (those more likely to need the pension) suffer from greater rates of all kinds of disease as compared to upper SES groups. Also, this has got to affect the labour market and the prospects for young people entering the labour force.

  5. Paul Krugman in Thursday’s NYT: “people whose real goal is dismantling the social safety net have found promoting deficit panic an effective way to push their agenda”.

    And never let it be said the Australian right is slow to ape its ideological inspirations across the Pacific.

  6. Transfield under Shepherd was (and still is) woeful.

    Guys like Shepherd do well when things are good, they live in their own bubble of success and believe their own rhetoric. This has been Abbotts problem too, he believed his own nonsense about the carbon tax, about telling the truth, about economic issues and now when it’s time to deliver he can’t. I am surprised at just how light weight he is, watching last nights Kitchen Cabinet rerun I saw a man desirous of power and a big boy who likes his crumble.

  7. David Allen at 20 above

    Life expectancy has improved across the board in Australia across socieconomic groups and the rural urban divide. Not much difference in the percentage decline in mortality rates. (In measuring changes in life expectancy one looks at changes in age-standaridised mortality rates not changes in LE per se).

  8. There were many aspects of the COA that deserved criticism. One that has been insufficiently pilloried is intergenerational equity. The proposed changes really were massively to the benefit of baby boomers, and against later generations. Why pick 1965 as a cutoff date for pensions at 65? I was born before that date yet got a free tertiary education thanks to Whitlam.

    Those born later have paid more and received much less. They have also not been in a position to take advantage of lucrative tax breaks for super top-ups.

    I wonder how many in Cabinet were born after 1965, and what they think of it. Silly me, Chris Pyne has been in parliament long enough to still get an over generous defined benefit super fund. He does not need to care.

    This COA is not so much “screw the poor” as “screw the young”. It is symptomatic of the aged and obsolete political culture that produces members on both sides.

  9. I always got the impression* people like Tony Shepherd sincerely believed the magic pudding narrative that PPPs and BOOTs and all the rest would let governments build infrastructure for the masses, produce nice risk-free income streams for the contractors, and still save taxpayers money because competition! Self-interest is a powerful shaper of ideology. It never seemed to occur to them that a market in which there were only 2 or 3 possible contractors (sometimes only 1), in an industry notorious for price-fixing, wasn’t exactly the perfectly competitive arrangement envisaged by old Adam Smith. So it’s no surprise that he would enthusiastically apply the efficient markets hypothesis as a political cure-all.

    *I worked for years for an employer association comprising the Transfields, Leightons, Abigroups etc of this world.

  10. Socrates

    Apparently Joe Hockey makes the cut off date for shielding by little ,ore than a temporal whisker.

  11. @Fran Barlow

    Teacher in today’s Melbourne Hun said: “It’s very tough on people who’ve spent a long time working…Even from my perspective, I love what I do – but I really don’t think I would want to be in the classroom at 70. We have other places we want to go, other places we want to see, other experiences we want to get out of life.”

    Peter Whiteford gives academic backup to this point of view at Inside Story “Work till you drop” including this:

    It has been argued that if Australia lifts the pension age to seventy, Australians will have some of the oldest workers in the world. According to the most recent edition of the OECD’s Pensions at a Glance, seventeen out of the thirty-four OECD countries have legislated for increases in pension ages above sixty-five. Only Iceland and Norway are currently at sixty-seven, but Australia, Denmark, Germany and the United States have plans to match them, and Britain has announced an increase to sixty-eight.

    If retirement age moves from 65 to 70, and life expectancy is 80 years, then 1/3 of the post retirement time to do what you want is lost; sounds significant to me.

  12. @John Goss
    Yes LE has increased across the board – but that’s not what David Allan was asking. He wants to know if LE at mature ages has increased as much for lower SES as for higher SES.

    It’s an interesting question, and an important one of you’re thinking about pension ages. Right up until the late 1980s increases in LE in Australia were mostly driven by falling mortality rates in the young (with two big components – infant mortality and accidents for young men). Since then it’s been mostly driven by the old living longer. How that affects the SES divide in adult LE (always large) I don’t know.

    Of course pension age would be better linked to DALY, not LE, as I’ve often argued before, and even DALY doesn’t fully capture what you need to know. The CoA got that one very wrong but then so have lots of people, even supposed experts.

  13. This theme of reviewing the CoA (my previous comment, in moderation, included a link to a ‘review’ of the CoA on Croakey), raises the question of whether we can think of the Abbott government in general as a form of performance art.

    There was a discussion recently on Crooked Timber about the role of patrons in art – it is possible to think of the Abbott government (and certainly of Tony Abbott) as enacting a performance, sponsored by Rupert Murdoch et al

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