Jobs for the boys

I noticed this story from News Ltd today: http://www.news.com.au/breaking-news/jobs-given-to-labor-mates/story-e6frfkp9-1226625049183

It’s called “36 jobs given to Labor mates” and lists various appointments of 29 named people to different roles. One of the entries on the list is for a job Steve Bracks was “considered” for, and one entry, for Mike Rann, doesn’t list any job at all.

The article linking to the list states “News Limited does not suggest that any of the appointments were made without merit,” but the implication is that each person got their job because of their association (however tenuous some of them are) with Labor.

The list fails to refer to anyone’s qualifications or experience; it just refers to their (real or assumed) ALP connection.

Strikingly, the list fails to refer to any Liberal or National party associates’ appointments, by either Labor or conservative governments.

The argument is a facile one in any event. People with merit and talent should not be ineligible for positions solely because of their political associations. Following the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, some of our domestic laws protect against discrimination on political grounds (here in Queensland, the Anti-Discrimination Act proscribes discrimination on the ground of political belief or activity in various areas).

There is nothing wrong with seeking to retain, in public life, and for the public benefit, the experience and talent of people who have served in our parliaments or other public positions. Most people who have been members of parliament, and especially those who have held ministerial positions, have worked eighty-hour weeks, have rarely had a public holiday to themselves, have been held to higher standards than most members of the community, and have often done so at their own personal cost and at a significant cost to their family life. They tend to be hard working and also to have gained significant knowledge and experience in public matters.

Lazy cynicism about politicians generally, of any persuasion, adds nothing to the coverage of politics in this country and instead legitimates and perpetuates voter disillusionment, and its natural consequence, voter disengagement.

After reading the article, I did some quick googling (or, using the article’s language, I conducted an “investigation”), and found the following persons from the conservative side of politics, each of whom has received one or more appointments, some under Labor governments, and some under conservative governments.

The facts of their appointment and of their political association, of themselves, add nothing to the question of whether they are the right person for the role, and whether they ought to have been appointed.  Each appointment should be considered on its merits. Accordingly, no entry on my list is an endorsement or a criticism of the person or the appointment concerned.

I’m sure there are more, but my list is as follows.

Peter Costello / former Howard government minister / Future Fund Board of Guardians, appted under Labor in 2009 / $96,850 per annum

Peter Costello / former Howard government minister / Qld Government Commission of Audit / $3,300 per day

Alexander Downer / former Howard government minister / UN Envoy to Cyprus, with support of the Rudd government / $?

Alexander Downer / former Howard government minister / joined the Board of Adelaide Symphony Orchestra / $?

Robert Hill / former Howard government minister / Chancellor, University of Adelaide / $?

Robert Hill / former Howard government minister / Chairman, Australian carbon trust, appointed under Rudd / $?

Brendan Nelson/ former Howard government minister / Ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg, the European Union, and NATO, appointed under Rudd / $?

Brendan Nelson/ former Howard government minister / Director, Australian War Memorial, appointed under Gillard / $?

Helen Coonan / former Howard government minister / trustee, Sydney Opera House Trust / $?

Amanda Vanstone / former Howard government minister / Ambassador to Italy, appointed under Rudd / $?

Michael Caltabiano / former president Qld Liberal Party, former Liberal MP and former Liberal Councillor / Director-General, Qld Dept Transport and Main Roads (since ceased) / $462,000 per annum

Chum Darvall / Liberal party donor / appointed chairman of Transgrid by NSW Liberal govt / $?

Roger Massy-Greene / Liberal party donor / appointed to the board of Networks NSW / $?

Dave Edwards / son of former Bjelke-Petersen government deputy premier Sir Llew Edwards / Director-General, Qld Dept of Employment, Economic Devt and Innovation / $462,000 per annum

Various members of the Fair Work Commission / various backgrounds with employer associations and/or Howard government statutory appointments / Commissioner and above appointments to FWC / $various

Daryl Williams / former Howard government minister / considered for various judicial posts

Tim Fischer / former Howard government minister and Deputy PM / Chairman, Tourism Australia, appointed under Howard / $?

Tim Fischer / former Howard government minister and Deputy PM / Ambassador to the Holy See, appointed under Rudd/ $?

John Herron / former Howard government minister / Ambassador to Ireland and the Holy See, appointed under Howard / $?

John Herron / former Howard government minister / Chairman of the Australian National Council on Drugs/ $?

John Herron / former Howard government minister / Chairman of The Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital Foundation / $?

Stimulus via fiscal policy? Seems to have worked here…

So while the world’s major economies have been experimenting with stimulus through monetary policy (see my earlier post, link below) since the GFC, using fiscal policy as stimulus is not as fashionable as the opposite – austerity measures.

Fiscal stimulus seems to have worked in Australia and you’d have to be pretty contrarian to dispute that Labor did a good job of managing us through the wake of the GFC.

So it’s great that the world’s now having a real conversation about whether debt is as bad as it is made out to be, largely thanks to this guy.

Some unconventional concerns for the G24 this weekend

Like a lot of people, I remember where I was when I first heard the news about what came to be called the global financial crisis.

It wasn’t quite a JFK / Moon Landing / Michael Hutchence dying moment in the Australian collective consciousness, but it was pretty hard to ignore the sense of panic.

In October 2008, George W Bush was still the US President, Hawthorn had a couple of weeks before won the AFL grand final, and P!nk was topping our charts singing about her break up.

That was when, months into the building American financial crisis, and on the heels of a US investment bank’s recent collapse, the world’s media reported on a global stock market panic. In its wake, freshly elected President Obama faced double digit unemployment and deflation.  At home, the Australian government had to act quickly to stimulate our economy.

It’s unsurprising that nearly five years later, the world’s leaders are still dealing with the GFC’s fallout. We might not have the same feeling of panic – perhaps because of the time that has passed, or possibly because the Australian government’s stimulus cushioned us from the effects of the crisis so well. But for people across the world in both emerging and advanced economies, the GFC is still of daily significance. And it’s important to us, because other countries’ actions – including in monetary and fiscal policy – affect our economy.

At the moment, the World Bank and IMF are holding their spring meetings, in Washington DC. The G20 will also be meeting. And the G24 – a group of developing countries – met yesterday (Australian time).

One of the G24’s hot topics is “unconventional monetary policy”. That’s because from late 2008 the US Federal Reserve – nicknamed ‘the Fed’ – decided it could no longer do only what it had always done: it would have to experiment. The consequences of its experiments are an issue of keen concern, including for developing nations.

The Fed’s job is to keep a lid on unemployment and inflation, while managing interest rates. Like our own Reserve Bank, it traditionally does so by taking steps to manage interest rates. But after the GFC hit, the Fed decided to try some unconventional things, like changing the way it handled public relations, and the unprecedented step of buying hundreds of billions of dollars of assets. These were attempts at stimulating the economy using monetary policy.

Other major economies undertook their own ‘unconventional monetary policy’ measures. The effects have been felt across the world. And earlier this month, the Bank of Japan announced it would buy assets worth tens of trillions of yen.

In the communiqué issued yesterday, after their meeting, the G24 spoke of their concern about ‘the fragility and pace of global recovery’ because of protracted difficulties and uncertainties in ‘advanced economies’ including the US. And they asked richer countries to think about how their own domestic policy might affect developing nations.

“We call on [advanced economies] to take into account the negative spillover effects on [emerging economies and developing countries] of prolonged unconventional monetary policies, including on inflation and the volatility of capital flows and commodity prices,” their communiqué said.

They were repeating a sentiment expressed by developing countries in the years since the Fed bought its first massive block of assets.

University of California, Berkeley Professor and economist Barry Eichengreen has explained why Brazilian finance Minister Guido Mantega once referred to the Fed’s experiments as ‘currency wars’:

“Mantega’s implied criticism was that the unconventional monetary policies of the Federal Reserve to ward off deflation and stimulate a depressed economy were beggar thy neighbor,” Eichengreen said, in a paper on the topic earlier this year.

“They unleashed a tsunami of capital flows toward emerging markets, resulting in inflation, currency appreciation, loss of competitiveness and worrisome upward pressure on asset prices,” he said.

But Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda yesterday said Japan’s recent announcement was purely for domestic reasons.

“It is absolutely not aimed at weakening the yen,” he said.

Japan is Australia’s second largest export market. Their move seems likely to be good news for us.

But as part of an international community, we ought to also care about how the big economies’ central banks’ “unconventional” moves might affect poorer countries.