Trade Minister Dan Tehan (Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

We don’t need no education (funding)

Hey, remember how Education Minister Dan Tehan recently announced that all those uni courses in dumb subjects like humanities and social sciences were getting fee hikes as part of a way to encourage students to study more job-ready things like engineering and medicine and not-being-an-actor? 

At the time there was a lot of outrage of the “typical Liberal hatred for the creative classes, man” stripe, which acted as a neat distraction from the larger question of whether changing the affordability of courses actually changed student enrolments whatsoever. Up until now, at least, when we can give a definitive answer: nup!

More specifically, the COVID-19 inquiry heard on Tuesday that that plan of using price signals to change people’s uni course choices was based on [checks notes] nothing.

No modelling, no evidence, just the idea that students would go for heavy HECS debt rather than slightly heavier HECS debt — despite that not being evident from previous examples. 

The Education Department deputy secretary of higher education Rob Heferen admitted that course prices had produced “pretty muted” changes in enrolments, which is a bit like describing a patient’s condition as “pretty stable” after they’d died on the operating theatre. 

But he did confirm four times that it was “a question of policy”, suggesting that someone in the department had read The Secret and was absolutely goddamn determined to make their fervently-held wishes manifest in reality.

That students aren’t flipping from social sciences to engineering because of a minor and difficult-to-quantify difference in their eventual HECS debt was confirmed by National Tertiary Education Union national research officer Terri MacDonald, who described the silliness of a government wanting “to send price signals within a system built to ignore price signals”.

So at least we’re making important changes to tertiary education funding based on Dan Tehan’s unsupported hunches. It’s just a question of policy!

Foot, meet bullet

Things have gone from bad to badderer for the SA state government, led by premier Steven “stop hitting yourself” Marshall. Earlier this week he had the somewhat embarrassing experience of three of his frontbench, plus the leader of the party in the upper house, resigning over a raft of expense scandals (plus government whip Adrian Pederick stepping down on Thursday).

And that was bad enough, but the way Marshall replaced his fallen ministers was a masterclass in how to skilfully administer a self-inflicted wound. Despite the primacy of the conservative right faction in the parliamentary Liberals, Marshall elevated several moderate first-term MPs along with the speaker of the house Vincent Tarzia. 

There was criticism of the decision on several grounds, from the lack of conservative representation to the fact that the new Marshall frontbench has as many women as it does men named David. However, any suspicion that Marshall’s choices would cause a very avoidable factional war to break out was eliminated when a story immediately emerged of Tarzia overseeing a 2020 pre-election party room document of pork barrelling — sorry, of a “wishlist” of infrastructure programmes — which was leaked to InDaily.

So say what you will about the SA Liberals: they don’t dilly-dally when there’s a civil war to embark upon.

Who’s the Boss(ku)?

Politics is in a colourful state in Malaysia with former prime minister Najib Razak getting a 12-year sentence and a RM$210 million fine (which is just over AU$69 million) over corruption charges.

He was found guilty on all seven charges in his first of five trials, including abuse of power, money laundering and criminal breach of trust, after millions of ringgit were transferred from the now-insolvent sovereign wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) to his personal accounts — although he has indicated that he’s planning to appeal the verdict and that, if anything, he’s only guilty of naively trusting 1MDB too much.

And haven’t we all felt that way about the strategic development companies we love? 

And this is electorally tricksy for current Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, whose Perikatan Nasional government is reliant on Razak’s party United Malays National Organisation, which has been rumoured to be considering getting him to run again in the event of a not-guilty verdict — hoping to capitalise on the passions of right-leaning voters certain that this has all been a witch hunt. Where have we heard that before?

Slushwatch!

It’s sometimes hard to work out what the most egregiously insulting thing was about the federal government’s use of the Community Development Grants Program in the lead up to the 2019 election.

Was it the opaque selection process which deliberately bypassed the public service’s scrutiny? Was it how 70% of the money was spent in Coalition-held seats? Or was it the way that grants were sometimes announced before the surprised applicants were encouraged to apply? It’s hard not to feel spoiled for choice.

But there’s a new front runner. Analysis by Jommy Tee at Michael West Media of documents tabled by the senate back in June has determined that, of the 205 grants announced ahead of the election, seven projects have been completed, 34 have contracts and are in various states of action and 82 are being assessed.

And those 82? They’re stalled as insufficient information exists from applicants. Wasn’t… wasn’t that part of the application? You know, it’s considered good form to at least have some excuse for asking the deputy PM to OK you free public money.

And it’s not even a shock that there are spending commitments in place for 82 projects which currently consist of a shrug. This is apparently remarkably common: Tee was able to find plenty of “zombie projects” back to the 2013 election which are unlikely to ever happen, but for whom money has been allocated. What’s more, said grants won’t expire until 2026.  

And presumably that windfall will be celebrated as another example of superior economic management. Win!

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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