When it comes to extraction industries, Australia is world class. From mining, to energy to rent, Australians punch above their weight.
In the domestic competition, in the rent extractions division, there is a real battle going on this year. Whichever group wins the 2017 Australian Rent Seekers Gold Medal, will definitely be deserving. The competition this year has been particularly tough. But this year, the competition has also gotten rough.
Where once the rent seeker would plead their case directly with the government using the magic words of fairness, investment and social justice, given the increasing political difficulty of bilking citizens with more and more taxes, the rent seekers are now making starting to make a case that their tax dollar grab is more virtuous than the other rent seeker’s grab.
This year’s finalists are the usual who’s who of Australian rent seeking:
- the medical industrial complex represented by the AMA and the Pharmacy Guild;
- the association of mendicant states with perennial contenders South Australia and Tasmania;
- the hot air coalition which brings together wind and solar energy generators; and
- the education social investment warriors, with the education unions, the childcare sector and the universities seeking to clip everyone’s tax dollar.
The competition has been tight, notwithstanding that these bodies are congenitally anti-competition, but one rent seeker has surged ahead. Perhaps with the Queen’s birthday honours coming, there is a hope that an award for Services in Efficient and Egregious Tax Dollar Extraction might be on offer.
Dr Michael Spence AC, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Sydney, please step up to the podium.
It is possible that Dr Spence has not been following the news because he received his AC in 2017 for leadership of the tertiary education sector, to the advancement of equitable access to educational opportunities, to developing strategic programs focused on multidisciplinary research, and to the Anglican Church of Australia. Does not Dr Spence AC realize that Australian Knighthoods are not currently available.
Anyway … writing for the Australian this week, Dr Spence, for a doctor he is, seeks
to make his case against the Commonwealth Government’s plan to take:
$2.8 billion in public funding from Australia’s universities during the next four years.
I have not read the specific proposal in the budget papers, but let us accept at face value that this assertion is correct.
Using the standards from the Rend Seekers Playbook, Dr Spence has suggested that any decline in tax payer generosity to the University Sector will wash directly and entirely into increased fees for students.
God forbid any of the funding impact be borne by the folk employed by the Universities, including a possible trimming of Dr Spence’s own $1.4 million annual salary – which has increased by more than 60% since 2010. You’d think Dr Spence worked for Australia Post or NBN for those kinds of dollars. How can it be that while university funding has supposedly declined, his salary has increased by an average of 10% per annum? The judges awarded bonus points for this.
It is also apparently and completely unacceptable that staff receive less than their current 17% superannuation when the rest of us Pay As You Go slobs receive 9.25%. Or perhaps the 5 months of fully paid maternity leave.
And then there is of course the perpetually increasing ratio of academics and administrators to students. This is what is called anti-productivity; delivering less for more. A strategy apparently borrowed from the schools sector. But when it comes to rent seeking, it is clear that mirrors are for others.
Dr Spence also suggests that:
Since the early 1990s, 3.5 million Australian jobs have been created in fields that require high-level qualifications and skills.
Dr Spence also says that:
Australia’s future prosperity depends on our ability to strengthen our entire education system, from childcare, through schools and the vocational education and training sector, to our universities.
Way to put a word in for your rent seeking comrades, but perhaps, being the academic he is, Dr Spence might explain the correlation between ever increasing government funding and strengthening our entire education system.
Dr Spence closes his article with this:
Anyone who wants Australia to remain prosperous should consider closely what the government’s higher education reforms will mean for themselves, their families and friends.
On this, he seems absolutely correct. We should consider closely what the government’s higher education reforms will mean. Perhaps, like they just did with the banks, the Government should start with a prior vetting of senior university management and directors immediately followed by a Royal Commission into the spending and management of the tertiary education sector.
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