Tuesday, February 28, 2012

National bourgeoisie must accept workers' leadership

The online Business Spectator has today published a piece that highlights the imperialist domination and control of Australia’s economy.

It does so from a national bourgeois perspective.

Nevertheless it highlights matters that are of critical importance to the anti-imperialist socialist movement. In particular it highlights how US imperialism has manoeuvred itself into an incredibly privileged position with respect to its imperialist competitors and the local capitalist victims of its takeovers (investment targets).

The author, Christopher Tipler, cannot even contemplate a role for us, as the citizens of this country and the creators of its wealth, to provide a solution to the problem that he raises.

Instead, he says that the “answer may be provided by one of the international think tanks working in this field”.

This is consistent with his stand in support of Australian manufacturing. He correctly raises the issue of foreign domination of the economy and its responsibility for the “potentially terminal illness” of Australian manufacturing, but sees the answer in growing capacity among small and medium enterprises and cites the Bavarian “Mittelstand approach of constant innovation, of doing things faster and smarter than competitors” (see http://corpusrios.com/cms-blog-entries/a-german-cure-for-our-dutch-disease.phps ) . This is a little bit like the laying on of hands, a miracle cure that would enable the terminally ill small and medium national bourgeoisie to turn the clock back and regain its youthful vigour.

Tipler must make a study of the reality of state power and let us who work for a living give the lead through mass political struggle and revolutionary activity so that in a socialist, anti-imperialist state manufacturing can be given the protection and support that we need it to have.


Sailing adrift towards productivity
Christopher J Tipler, Management Insights
Published 6:10 AM, 29 Feb 2012 Last update 6:10 AM, 29 Feb 2012

As a strategic adviser I have always believed in the importance of knowing where you are going, or at least where you want to go. This, of course, reflects the fact that businesses exist for a purpose; an over-arching goal is inherent in their makeup. So planning to reach this goal becomes critically important.

Perhaps it is an inappropriate bias, but I tend to assume the same principles should apply at the macro-economic level; that collectively we should have some idea of where we want to go and broadly how we will get there. I suspect I am not alone – that most Australians, if asked, would say that we should know, and hopefully do know, what sort of country we want to be and what sort of economy we need. In this we are deceived as current, long-standing policy settings are completely silent on goals and antithetical to them. This situation is untenable.

At the highest level of population and land use, our governments have refused to be prescriptive; we have no consensus on how many of us should be here, where we should be living or what we should be doing. The implication is that there is no ‘should’. Our approach to economic and industry policy confirms that we are not interested in defining scope and scale dimensions.

The touchstone of economic policy since the mid-1980s has been efficiency, or productivity, to the exclusion of just about anything else. The Productivity Commission which, along with Treasury, is the peak economic policy group, declares ‘productivity isn’t everything, but in the long run it is almost everything’. There is a near-pathological commitment to deregulation, structural adjustment and trade liberalisation so that local and global market forces can determine outcomes. The Productivity Commission believes, for example, that ‘a country gains most of all from reducing its own trade barriers, regardless of what other countries do’.

In all of this there is no hint of a goal, for one obvious reason – the pursuit of goals may well be inconsistent with the pursuit of efficiency. Yet anyone with a strategic orientation understands that efficiency without a goal is of very limited effect. To create a condition of effective intent you must define, and reconcile, both capability and ambition. We must do things right but we must also do the right things. In this more strategic view, efficiency may be necessary but it is not sufficient.

It is important to appreciate the implications of an almost exclusive emphasis on open market principles. An economy is made up of many markets – places where things are bought and sold – and large numbers of buyers and sellers for these things (including international participants). To set these forces loose in a small economy is like tossing a dinghy into a swirling ocean. Who knows where it will go or what will happen to it? The little craft may be inherently seaworthy but it can be swept to somewhere that we never envisaged, or swamped by large waves. Is that what we want?

We might have more influence over our boat’s journey if we decided who could own and sail the craft, but we have eschewed even that. There are almost no effective controls over foreign ownership of enterprises and real estate in Australia. Under current FIRB guidelines a foreign person or entity can buy a business with a value of up to $244 million without the need to gain approval from anyone. If you are American, the threshold is $1.06 billion. Yes, you read these figures correctly - $244 million and $1.06 billion. In the past, even where approval has been required, it has almost invariably been given (rare exceptions relate to the exercise of ‘national interest’ provisions).

We do not know what the level of foreign investment in Australia is, or how rapidly it is growing, as the ABS no longer publishes statistics on this topic. We know that in critical sectors such as manufacturing it has increased substantially. In general, there is very strong interest in buying Australian assets, particularly from Asian investors. The problem here is that overseas-owned companies will always work to an international agenda that may be inconsistent with Australia’s interests.

To top it off, we provide a powerful incentive for our entrepreneurs to sell out, often to international buyers, as only 50 per cent of a capital gain is taxed as income. The ‘smart’ money cashes in to take advantage of this while it can. This is a bizarre anomaly in our tax system.
In combination, the ‘let it rip’ policy trio of efficiency for its own sake, encouragement of overseas ownership and low capital gains taxes is leading Australia into very dangerous waters. In these waters, with no sense of direction, we are a small and vulnerable ship.

Our economic policy settings represent a failure of both imagination and common sense. We must now create a strategic context for policy by balancing capability with ambition; moving from the ‘necessity’ of efficiency to the ‘sufficiency’ of vision and control. This process starts by defining potential scenarios for Australia and testing them through widespread consultation. Answering the question ‘who should do this?’ is not easy. The answer may be provided by one of the international think tanks working in this field.

Christopher J Tipler is a Melbourne-based management advisor and author of Corpus RIOS – The how and what of business strategy. His web site corpusrios.com contains more material on this and related topics.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Catholic education office lobbies against fairness

(Two views, above, of the Caritas College junior covered area, which won the top award in the 2011 SA Architecture Awards.)

The OECD, hardly a left-wing think-tank, has today issued a report on Equity and Quality in Education. It notes that across OECD countries, the highest performing education systems combine quality with equity. In relation to “choice” it observes that “Providing full parental choice can result in segregating students by ability, socio economic background and generate greater inequities across education systems”.

The release of this report is quite timely given that proponents of school choice in Australia are cranking up their engines in anticipation of the release of the review into the funding of schools led by David Gonski.

One such proponent is the Catholic Education Office.

A few days ago, Caritas College, a Catholic R-12 school in Port Augusta, sent home a letter to parents urging them to “become aware of the funding situation for Catholic schools”. It stated that, on average across Australia, CEO schools received a net income of $10,008 per student compared to a net income per student of $11,132 in government schools. It was silent on the fact that, on average across Australia, other private schools had a net income per student of $13,700.

The Caritas letter (I suspect it is a form letter being sent out by many Catholic schools) states that “Catholic schools have a commitment to supporting all families – no matter what their economic or social circumstances”.

“Suffer the little children of the poor and the marginalised to come unto our Catholic schools”?
I think not.

Before we get onto Caritas, the recent study by Richard Teese mentioned in a previous post, claims that “Private non-Catholic schools are found in low social status areas, but their intakes vary in different ways from the complexion of the area. This is also true of Catholic schools.” He provides summary figures for primary school enrolments across the whole of the nation that show that for the ten years 1996-2006, the percentages of students from the two lowest SES quartiles remained static at 14% and 16% respectively, but that the two highest quartiles rose from 16% to 18% and 21% to 22% respectively (Teese, p.32). Some good Catholic marketing there!

In the secondary sector, there were small increases in the Catholic share of each of the SES quartiles, but the proportions are revealing: from the lowest to highest, in 2006, the Catholic share was 13%, 16%. 19% and 24% respectively. In other words, the Catholic enrol nearly twice as many wealthy students as they do poor students.

Moving from the general to the particular, Teese provides a detailed study of schools in a number of low SES communities in Western Australia and Victoria and concludes that “As socio-economic status rises, an increasing share of enrolments is found in the Catholic school, and conversely as SES declines, an increasing share is found in the public schools (Teese, p. 45)”.

With that background, let’s look at Port Augusta.

Port Augusta is a large regional town with many unemployed and low wage families. It has significant Aboriginal and LBOTE communities and these attract additional funding, so the figures below are not representative of the Australian average. Nevertheless, they raise questions about the social integrity and political agenda of the Catholic school lobby.

Based on student data for 2009, Caritas had a student profile against the SES quartiles (lowest to highest 25% segments of the population) of 61%, 27%, 12 %, and 1%. (For 2010 the figures were 13%, 36%, 29% and 22%!)

This compares with public secondary school and primary schools as follows:

Pt Augusta Secondary School: 83%, 16%, 1%, 0%.

Augusta Pk PS: 97%, 1%, 1%, 0%.

Willsden PS: 92%, 8%, 0%, 0%.

Caritas College, in a community with a large Aboriginal population, had only 5% Indigenous students. It had only 1% of students from a Language Background Other Than English (LBOTE).

Pt Augusta Secondary School had a 36% Indigenous intake, and 24% LBOTE students.

Augusta Pk Primary had a 50% Indigenous intake, and 46% LBOTE students.

Willsden Primary had a 62% Indigenous intake and 83% LBOTE.

(Above, students at Port Augusta Secondary School).

Remember Caritas’s self-serving and sanctimonious claim about Catholic schools serving “all families – no matter what their economic or social circumstances”?

Excluding parent fees and other private sources of income, and on the basis of financial data for 2009, Caritas received government recurrent funding of $8580 per student.

Aggregating the funding for the three government schools to produce a comparable R-12 profile, these schools received government recurrent funding of $13,112 per student.

Whereas the government schools were able to raise some hundreds of dollars per student in fees and other income, Caritas raised an additional $2698 per student for a total net per student income of $11,279.

That is still below the funding received by government schools for the students they cater for in Port Augusta. Perhaps Caritas might have advised its parents that if they wanted more government funds for their children then they should enrol them in the government sector. But in a town like Pt Augusta, white flight is a one-way street.

Instead of bashing government schools for the funding they receive for the "heavier lifting" required to meet minimum standards for disadvantaged students, the Catholic lobby would be better advised to call on its parents to query why other private schools, most of which serve the higher end of the SES profile, should receive even more recurrent funding per student than those in both the Catholic and government systems.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Responding to Kevin Donnelly

Yesterday, Dr Kevin Donnelly placed a piece defending the inequitable schools funding model on OnLine Opinion. His purpose was to undermine the credibility of a research paper by Prof. Richard Teese commissioned by all State (except NSW) and Territory Departments of Education for the Gonski Review of Schools Funding. The Teese paper calls a spade a spade. It is very good. The commissioning governments tried to keep it under wraps but it was leaked to the media. The link to Donnelly’s article is here: http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=13203 .
The link to Teese’s paper is here: http://www.aeufederal.org.au/Publications/2012/RTeesereport2012.pdf

Donnelly is a prominent conservative academic much beloved of the Murdoch media and often sought for comment by radio and TV personalities.

I responded to Donnelly’s piece as follows:

I wish to thank Kevin for reminding us that facts should not get in the way of a good story.

I’m not referring to his quotation of that old saying, but to the rest of his article.

Donnelly cites OECD research that “proves” that “Australia is one of the most egalitarian countries in the world”. Note that “in the world” includes the A-Z of the world’s poorest countries, from Albania to Zimbabwe. But let’s look at child poverty across the OECD. In Australia 14% of children live below the poverty line (2008 OECD figures), compared to rates like 3.7% (Denmark) 5.4% (Finland) and 7% (France). In fact (if you don’t mind my saying that Kevin), 24 out of the 34 OECD countries had a lower rate of child poverty than Australia.

Donnelly argues that it is “also the case” that the “current socioeconomic status (SES) model of funding” (through which private schools receive Federal recurrent funds) “is based on need”. Yes, and mothers’ milk comes from mothers. So what? Is Donnelly seriously going to challenge the fact that public schools do the heavy lifting, that as a system, public education has a much larger proportion of socially and educationally disadvantaged students than either of the Catholic and “independent” systems? So why should the cost of educating these students benefit non-government schools?

Even if it could be argued that the Average Government School Recurrent Cost is a fair basis for funding non-government schools, how can he defend the “funding maintained” provision that ensures that no private school will lose funding even if the fact is that they should?

Opposition education spokesperson Christopher Pyne’s seat of Sturt is an example. Nine out of the 14 private and Catholic schools in the Sturt electorate have “funding maintained” status in respect of their recurrent funding from the Commonwealth. For example, St Ignatius College was entitled to receive 56.2% of the Average Government Student Recurrent Cost (AGSRC) in 2008, and is maintained at that level despite the 2009-12 entitlement being only 36.2% of AGSRC. On average, there is a difference of 10.7 percentage points between what these schools’ current real share of AGSRC should be, and the percentage at which they are being maintained by the Commonwealth Government’s unfair funding formula.

Donnelly says that “Australian research also proves that socioeconomic background is not the most influential determinant of educational success or failure…” What research? The speciousness of Donnelly’s fact here is immediately obvious when one looks at this qualifying comment: “…equally as important are factors like student ability and motivation, teacher effectiveness, school climate and the quality of the curriculum”. Only a person with a Doctorate would have the insight to disassociate socioeconomic background from student ability and motivation, and those in-school factors that are determined by where and in what community a school is sited.

Another “fact” cited by Donnelly “is that most of the growth in (private school) enrolments over the last 20 years or so has been in low fee-paying non-denominational schools serving less affluent communities.” Yet the Teese study of changes in enrolment shares over the two decades 1986-2006 demonstrates “that the greatest increase in the proportion of students attending private (including Catholic) schools has occurred in high SES localities, while no increase at all has been registered in low SES localities”.

Donnelly writes that “state and federal governments spend millions every year on programs designed to strengthen educational outcomes, especially in literacy and numeracy, for under-performing and at-risk groups of students.” Here he unwittingly endorses one of Teese’s observations, namely that the government funding of choice, by moving more highly achieving students out of the public and into the private system, creates the need for extra funding to address the resultant increase in low achievement in the public system. Research by the NSW and SA education department, and by Teese in Victoria, shows that low SES students do better in schools where there are higher SES students than in schools where there are concentrations of low SES students.

So, to paraphrase Donnelly, who would have believed that the good Doctor would be at it again, trying to justify educational inequality and privilege?

Posted by mike-servethepeople, Monday, 6 February 2012 1:38:44 PM

(Great cartoons by Simon Kneebone, Adelaide).

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Expose the fact of death at work and act to prevent it!

When media personality Molly Meldrum fell from a height at home and was hospitalised with head injuries radio, press and TV covered the story like ants on a chop bone.

Some publicity was to be expected, but this was saturation coverage. The impact of his fall on Meldrum was one thing, but we had to “share” its impact on fans, friends and family, as well as reviewing his status, interests and lifestyle.

Molly’s injuries were severe and unfortunate, but he has lived to tell the tale, unlike another pre-Christmas accident victim, a member of the CFMEU employed by Alinta Energy at the Leigh Creek coalfields.

This death at work was virtually ignored by the media.

It’s not that there wasn’t a story: this comrade had a family, including children, and friends, and their grief was all the more poignant for his death having occurred the day before Christmas.

But the capitalist press gets no mileage for the class it serves by publicising death and injury at work. Rather than appearing as stories in the press, these incidents are “disappeared”. At most there is a passing reference to an “industrial accident that claimed a man’s life”, but no exploring the circumstances, no use of the power of the press to tell the human story involved so as to pressure the capitalist class and its managers to clean up their act and stop killing workers.

The Leigh Creek man was operating a 30-year old hydraulic excavator. The machine operates 24 hours a day, so compared to a machine operating on an eight-hour shift, its effective working age was around 100 years.

Safework SA has yet to deliver a report on the state of the machine, but it would be a safe bet to say that they had not inspected it, or had not done so recently.

That was the case with the metal borer that caught and killed young Daniel Madeley in 2004. It had never been inspected. Even as late as 2010, and despite having discovered that there were 78 workplaces which operated borers in SA, the SafeWork SA inspectors had only managed to visit seven.

At Leigh Creek, a turbine on the excavator overheated and burst, spilling hot oil onto the operator who was then immolated. Suffering severe burns, he was airlifted to Adelaide, but died in hospital.

Five days before, a 58 year old man was killed at a stockfeed manufacturing business at Kapunda when he was hit by a large shuttle used to transport hay bales across the site.

The press treated this tragedy in the same way – with indifference.

The working class is not expendable. The life of each working person is precious.

The requirement for safety at work is a set of understood safe operating procedures that take priority over production for profit.

And the foundation of safe operating procedures around machinery is regular and thorough maintenance and repair despite what this may mean in terms of capital costs and interruptions to production.

No more deaths at work!