archive: September 2020

29 September 2020

The University of New England’s Michael William Blissenden has a proposal for more effectively penalising corporate crooks — hit them in the franking credits: “Westpac’s record A$1.3 billion fine for breaching anti-money-laundering laws … didn’t bother the market. Westpac’s share price ended the week 7% higher. … If the biggest fine in Australian corporate history doesn’t make a difference to a company’s share price, it’s hard to see how that fine serves as a deterrent. … What doesn’t matter to investors won’t matter much to the board either. There could be a way, though, to use the tax system to give corporate fines more bite, by making shareholders feel more of the pain. … Franking credits on dividends allow shareholders to cut their tax bills… Where a company has not followed the rules relating to franking credits, the tax office can debit the company’s franking account, leaving less to distribute to shareholders as tax credits.  A similar mechanism could be used to impose fines. Instead of the company writing a cheque, the government would debit the value of the fine from the bank’s franking account. This would directly affect the bank’s capacity to ‘impute’ tax it has paid on profits. Though the same amount of money imposed as a fine might have little impact on a company’s operations or profits, the loss of franking credits is something shareholders are likely to notice.”

Catherine Ford: “[H]ow is it that city golf courses are only for golfers? A golf course in a large city is an anomaly, after all, and one whose clubbish exclusivity is — I think — hard to justify. If you consider that the average nine-hole golf course occupies roughly 30 hectares of coveted empty land and requires considerable resources to function — abundant water and specialist maintenance teams — while pleasing only a few dozen people brandishing sticks outside a weekend, that is quite a proposition. Thirty tastefully landscaped, publicly owned hectares in an urban area, enjoyed by only a tiny proportion of the population, is an astonishing and significant ‘private’ oasis. In this modern world, and pandemic-informed moment, it seems only sensible and fair to maximise the use of a course by opening it up to any in need of its benefits. By this, I mean long-term shared use for all, beyond lockdowns. A golf course — by the nature of the game — is used only intermittently, by small groups of people, many of whom are only free on weekends. … On many days it is completely devoid of people. Why, I wonder, can’t we find a way for it be shared — officially, that is, by clearly demarcating golfing and non-golfing days to ensure people’s safety — to satisfy everyone, both those who golf and those who do not?”

23 September 2020

Tim Dunlop on Morrison’s shamelessly partisan covid response: “So in setting up responses such as JobSeeker and JobKeeper, the government has been able to pick and choose the way such funds are deployed, and, knock me over with a feather, but what do we find? The Arts Sector, higher education, and childcare have all been singled out for either receiving nothing, or having what assistance they did receive withdrawn early. The blatantly ideological and ‘mates rates’ aspect of all this is perfectly illustrated by how the government has responded to the high ed sector. Not only were universities made ineligible for JobKeeper payments, the government changed the legislation four times to make sure they received nothing. But — just in case their intent wasn’t obvious enough — they have nonetheless made payments available to four private universities. … Far from being ‘non-ideological’ as some journalists bizarrely claim, Morrison is as ideological as any prime minister we have had, and he is being aided and abetted by the cover provided by the pandemic to shake things up; by a weakened opposition, who, perhaps unsurprisingly, still haven’t got their mojo back after the last federal election defeat; and by a media industry that has moved increasingly to the right.”

22 September 2020

A peer reviewed study has found a link between unionisation and lower coronavirus death rates in aged care: “[W]e used cross-sectional regression analysis to examine the association between the presence of health care worker unions and COVID-19 mortality rates in 355 nursing homes in New York State. Health care worker unions were associated with a 1.29 percentage point mortality reduction, which represents a 30% relative decrease in the COVID-19 mortality rate compared to facilities without health care worker unions. Unions were also associated with greater access to PPE, one mechanism that may link unions to lower COVID-19 mortality rates.” The study’s coauthors said the results “reflect what experts already knew to be true in normal times; that when health care workers have better pay and more control over the conditions of their workplaces, patient outcomes are better”, and “The benefits of labor unions were not just for health care workers or even just for nursing home residents… they’re for everyone. The fact that unions were associated with lower COVID-19 infection and death rates in the epicenter of the pandemic … really speaks to the broader societal benefits of labor unions.”

Jeff Sparrow: “In these difficult conditions, progressives need to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. The Andrews government remains entirely correct to take action on Covid. Campaigns like ‘Give Dan the Boot’ appeal primarily to fantasists who imagine the virus as a UN plot and to free market fanatics prepared to sacrifice public health for the sake of profit. But that doesn’t mean the left should remain indifferent to, say, police using incitement charges to arrest people simply for posting on Facebook. … The defence of basic liberties matters in the midst of a pandemic in part because the precedents being set now will have implications long into the future. In New South Wales, for instance, the relatively low numbers of infections means thousands can attend NRL matches while casinos and pubs continue to trade. Yet police have been using public health legislation to arrest student protesters, even as activists assiduously wear masks and remain in small, socially-distant groups. … [A] health emergency does not change fundamental principles. … If Covid has shown us anything, it’s that Australia need more doctors, more nurses and more scientists, not an intensified repression.” (Bear in mind that while ‘progressives’ like Daniel Andrews crack down on protest, Britain’s Conservative government has protected freedom of assembly.)

16 September 2020

The Australian Law Reform Commission’s report on corporate criminal prosecutions is scathing: “[P]rosecutions of corporations, relative to individuals, are extremely rare, even in heavily regulated sectors where corporations are most active. Corporations are most often prosecuted for relatively minor regulatory offences. Smaller corporations are more likely to be prosecuted than larger corporations. Prosecutors withdraw a significantly higher number of charges against corporations than they withdraw against individuals for corporate crimes. This suggests that existing laws present real difficulties for prosecuting corporations. … There is concern that the paucity of corporate criminal prosecutions, and regulators’ frequent reliance on civil penalty provisions, have led to a mindset that the penalties imposed are little more than a cost of doing business. It should be a criminal offence for a corporation to engage in a system of conduct, or a pattern of behaviour, that leads to breaches of civil penalty provisions.” Some of the recommendations look interesting — like broader sentencing options including community service, banning companies from particular activities, or even dissolving the business — but the ALRC wimped out on recommendations [$] that would close the loophole used by executives to shield themselves from liability.

Paul Jay: “[I]n this pandemic moment, there is the most obvious thing public sector workers, private sector worker unions should be doing, and that’s organizing the unemployed. You don’t get any dues out of it. You do it for the class. And it’s it’s I think maybe the most important thing right now that would change the dynamic of the relationship of what has been seen as privileged workers versus unprivileged workers and the growing numbers in the millions of unemployed workers. It’s like the 1930s. And there’s no short term fix to that. You know, they can try reopening the economy. There’s going to be significantly high unemployment for years to come. Now is the time for mass organizing of the unemployed. And that gets at … the link between the organized workers and the community because unemployed workers in their millions, it’s their families. It’s their cousins, their relatives. … [T]he whole working class community now is affected by unemployment.” (Support the Australian Unemployed Workers Union.)

David Roth: “It is unclear what rich people are for. In the most generous interpretation, the rich are here on earth for the same ineffably profound reasons that other people are: to create and aspire, to love and be loved, to live and die and eat the sandwiches of their choosing. But the ways in which extreme wealth continues to warp and diminish and generally impoverish the world raise the existential stakes significantly on the question. The people who have the most also tend to demand the most, and on a level that ordinary people can’t or won’t demand things. The rich fund institutions and armies of credentialed factotums to recast their greed and dull, atavistic desires as valid ideologies, and politicians spin all that corny dross into policies, and it all piles up downstream from there. It chokes, it floods. Some rich people also collect art, to be fair, although that’s mostly because art is currently the most expensive thing a person can collect.”

15 September 2020

Greg Jericho (click through for charts!): “what we should not be doing is following the suggestions of the more unhinged libertarian groups among us who suggest we need to sack more public servants to ‘share out the pain’. Clearly the private sector has been hit harder than the public sector. But that always happens in a recession. The bureau of statistics estimates that in the June quarter private sector jobs fell 6% below where they were a year earlier, while public sector jobs were down just 0.5% … And yet suggestions that this makes it seem like the public sector is largely avoiding the recession is a bizarre way to look at the economy. Firstly it takes a twisted kind of logic to think a government should purposefully hurt public sector workers just because those in the private sector are suffering. It also has a rather blinkered view of the role of public servants. In reality most public sector work is ongoing — it needs to be done regardless of the economy. Police, healthcare workers, teachers and yes, even ‘bureaucrats’, don’t stop having work to do because unemployment rises. … And importantly the public sector works as a stabiliser in a struggling economy. Wishing it to shrink just because the private sector is shrinking is to wish for less economic activity and public services at a time when both are desperately needed.

Scott Morrison’s gas industry council has produced the expected result — a massive boondoggle for an environmentally damaging industry that even the free market no longer supports. The spurious link to the Covid recovery is a desperate fig leaf designed to deflect criticism of this terrible plan. Ketan Joshi nails it: “Let’s be blunt. In any other universe, recovering from one public health crisis by worsening another would spark immediate backlash. An ‘asbestos led recovery’ would be career-ending; as would a ‘tobacco led recovery’ or a ‘AK-47 led recovery’. But fossil fuels have locked their harm so deeply into our lives that we have become desensitised to this incredible, radical significance of proposing to hurt humans as a pathway to helping them. What is happening here is simultaneously deadly and ludicrous.”

(Meanwhile, the progressive Andrews government is hitching itself to a prison led recovery…)