Policy Snapshots

Mates or merit? Appointments to public sector boards in Australia

In June critics cried foul over the appointment of Keith Windschuttle to the ABC Board. This skirmish, however, fell short of the public scandals that prompted governments in the UK and Canada to reform their public sector board appointment processes. Meredith Edwards' comparative assessment is the third paper in a series about corporate governance in Australia, all available here. Edwards summarises the principles enshrined in the UK's Code of Practice governing ministerial appointments to public boards – ministerial responsibility, merit, independent scrutiny, equal opportunities, probity, openness and transparency, and proportionality. Edwards offers three general models of reform to enhance transparency and independence, noting that it need not take a public crisis of confidence to begin a process that protects the integrity of public institutions.

Climate change: clean energy booms and an emissions trading scheme?

Clean energy booms

This week the Climate Institute released a paper that describes an 'escalating global clean energy boom' akin to the 'dotcom' boom of the previous decade. The paper provides snapshots into growing clean energy sectors – grid-connected solar PV, wind power and biofuels – and market trends. The Climate Institute warns that Australia risks missing out as it reduces its clean energy industry, output, investment and jobs in the sector, while the US, India and China embrace the opportunity: 'Asian clean energy markets are being captured by American companies, as well as Europeans.'

Costing carbon constraint: the case for an emissions trading scheme

The state and territory governments' National Emissions Trading Taskforce has released their possible design for a national emissions trading scheme (NETS) for discussion. The necessary transition to a 'carbon constrained future' will come at a cost, the paper notes, and NETS offers a 'practical, flexible, relatively low cost' way of achieving emission reductions. A scheme could be in place by 2010 and would work by: capping emissions for a given period; the issuing of permits, the price of which is to be set by the market; applying and enforcing penalties for non-compliance; and participants trading permits among themselves.

In an earlier position paper considering emissions trading, green groups advised that emissions trading should be part of a more comprehensive response to climate change, and argued that an essential feature of any scheme be that permits are auctioned not allocated, so as to avoid rewarding polluters.

While militating against the cost of going green is a central concern of the NETS discussion paper, we note that the US-based Climate Group's second Profits Up, Carbon Down report (2005), shows that 'huge savings have been made from companies' efforts to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and by becoming more energy efficient'. And in this report, the Climate Group considers leading public and private sector efforts in Australia to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The report sets out the targets and achievements of 16 governments, councils, universities and corporations, as at 2005.

Location, location, location: house prices and public schools

Not all public schools are created equal, say researchers Ian Davidhoff and Andrew Leigh, and parents know it. Davidhoff and Leigh's study, summarised in this article and available in full here, compares house prices in Canberra suburbs, differentiated only by high school zoning boundaries. They conclude that 'parents are willing to pay $13,000 extra to secure access to a house assigned to a better public school'. That might mean that 'not only can poor families not afford access to private schools, they are often locked out of the best public schools'.

Mental health service study: good news

The authors of this study use data collected between 2000-2005 to provide some cautious conclusions about adults who come into contact with Australia's public sector mental health services: they do get better. This is as we would hope, of course. The report's authors advise that more detailed research is needed, and that the improvements cannot be interpreted as causal, but they hope their positive findings will inform further service and program development to support high quality care. A note to readers: this report aggregates cases by numbers; it's not interview-based.

Indigenous economic development: causes and solutions

Indigenous policy since the 1970s is widely seen to have failed, with the evidence lying in welfare dependence, substance abuse and family violence. But do the policy prescriptions fit the descriptions? In this Australian Review of Public Affairs paper Anthony Smith questions what a law and order approach has to do with economic development, and provides a more complex historic basis for understanding depressed Indigenous economic and social conditions.

Indentured labour circa 2006

The exploitation of vulnerable workers under Australia's 457 visa scheme has been highlighted in recent weeks with reports of inadequately trained Chinese construction workers in western Sydney, not covered by workers compensation insurance, and the Melbourne printing company which used 'four Chinese men like indentured labourers'. Last week on the Centre for Policy Development Bob Kinnaird took up the issue, recommending changes to the 457 visa scheme to protect both local and temporary workers. Further afield this disturbing report from Focus on the Global South highlights the cases of Filipino migrant workers – mostly women – in Lebanon, who escaped employers as well as bombs during the recent war.

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