What does the term ‘genuine consultation’ mean? FWC on UWA change proposal illustrates low standards of accountability in Australian universities

When Associate Professor Martin Forsey was presented with a proposal for change at his workplace that lacked a logical argument and contained flawed data he bought a case to the Fair Work Commission, arguing that such a flawed proposal could not be used as the basis of the ‘genuine consultation’ about structural reform required under his enterprise agreement.

However, in its judgement released last week, the Fair Work Commission found that the university was under no obligation to provide data, let alone accurate data, in order to justify its proposal, and that because staff had been given the opportunity to respond to the proposal, UWA had clearly fulfilled its remit to provide ‘genuine consultation’.

The term ‘genuine consultation’ was included in the EBA and the use of the term ‘genuine’ seems to imply that consultation will extend beyond a cursory or deceitful representation of the justification for change.

But in this case, the Fair Work Commission argued that ‘genuine consultation’ had taken place on the following grounds:

  • UWA provided a written proposal detailing the nature of the change, the underlying rationale for the change and the impact of the change on employees.

Fact check. The Social Science Proposal for Change did outline that the rationale for the change was to ‘improve budget sustainability, increase student load growth and improve student experience’, it also outlined that in order to achieve these goals, some majors would be eliminated, some turned into ‘teaching focused’ majors, and some rendered as ‘research flagships’. What was not in the proposal was any logical claim or connection between the nature of the changes made and the intended goals of the changes.

Logically the proposal read like ‘in order to have more bananas, we’re going to plant some apples’.

This was particularly concerning for staff as many of the changes seemed to undermine the ability for the school to achieve the stated goal – for instance – rewarding inefficient disciplines with ‘research flagship’ status while punishing efficient ones with high teaching loads actually discourages efficiency and student load growth.

In place of any rational justification for the changes, the proposal simply contained some carefully selected tables of data that selectively represented the achievements of disciplines in external research funding and Staff/Student Ratio (note – not in efficiency or student outcomes). It also selectively mentioned the decline in enrolments in Antrop and Sociology. All of these tables and use of data contained flaws and misrepresentations.

  • UWA provided the opportunity to meet and confer on the Proposal and any alternative proposals.

Fact check. The Head of School and a HR representative met with every discipline after the proposal was released. In these meetings my discipline was explicitly told that the only way to provide feedback on the proposal was via a school administered email address. When it was revealed that the Head of School would be vetting all feedback staff questioned the fairness of this process but were asked ‘to trust’ that management would consider all feedback. While the Head of School did offer to meet again to discuss the impact of the proposed changes, she made it clear that such meetings could not be used to discuss the proposal’s merits.

  • Genuine consideration given to matters raised

Fact check. The FWC uses the the inclusion of an indigenous anthropology major as evidence that ‘genuine consideration’ was given to matters raised. More than 390 pieces of feedback were received in response to the proposal. As a result of an FOI request we can now see that one of them suggested that indigenous anthropology might be necessary (presumably to secure more research funding from mining companies). The rest of the feedback questioned the logic behind the proposal, and most illustrated that the proposal would not achieve its rationale. This included a joint submission from all school disciplines that rejected the proposal based upon clear inequity and faulty logic.

The vast majority of feedback (over 380 carefully written and argued documents) was simply rejected, or went unconsidered, and at hastily called town hall meeting the Head of School announced the ‘revised’ proposal would be enstated with no further alteration beyond the inclusion of a possible anthropology major.

This was the first time staff had heard that all their efforts to point out the logical flaws in the proposal and come up with alternatives were being ignored and dismissed. So following the presentation the ‘town hall’ was opened up to questions.

As I had to use video conferencing to attend at such late notice (the meeting was announced less than 24 hours before it was held) I typed in my question that went to the heart of the faulty logic behind the proposal:

‘How does punishing the most efficient discipline in the school with the best student outcomes with higher teaching loads encourage other disciplines to achieve efficiency and improve student outcomes?’

The Head of School started to read this aloud, but then stopped and skipped to the next question without answering it, before becoming flustered, shutting down the meeting and attempting to leave. The question remained unanswered and the ‘consultation’ was over. So I sent an email to SDVC Biggs who simply responded that ‘he didn’t see it that way’ without any argument, logic or rejoinder. I then sent an email to the VC  asking the same question and am yet to receive a response. I emailed the VC again about a month ago, restating my question – and again – I’m still yet to receive a response.

And this is supposed to be ‘genuine consultation’?

This FWC judgement sidestepped the complaint that there was no rationale provided in the proposal aside from the faulty data. Feedback on the proposal was collated only by the proposal’s author and the vast majority of it, including a joint submission from all school staff, was never responded to, or addressed. Of 391 pieces of feedback to the proposal, almost all of which was entirely critical of the lack of clear and justifiable rationale behind the changes, one largely cosmetic change was taken on board and used by the university and the FWC as evidence that the consultation was ‘genuine’.

The corruption and cronyism at UWA goes way beyond this case but the fact that the management of a PUBLIC university is hiding behind such low levels of legitimacy and accountability to me suggests that the university is losing its integrity and will soon be consigned to become the ethics-free corporate training college that the Morrison government most desperately wants it to be.

Discussion of our responses to the proposal have been redacted. This is what they should have said.

This is just a rant about the recent proposal

The university’s investment in Media and Communication has always been weak, and the staff in that discipline have been asked to carry excess teaching loads to support two offshore programs as well as their UG and PG programs – which are among the most successful and efficient in the university despite this lack of investment. The proposal for change does not recognise and reward this success but punishes it. And that makes no sense whatsoever, which is why I suspect that sections of this response document that deal with Media and Communication are redacted.

Despite being the most understaffed and junior discipline in the school (at around 35 SSR and a staffing profile composed mostly of Level Bs at the time of this proposal) Media and Communication staff have also taught into non-synchronous offerings in Singapore and Hong Kong since the discipline was established (from 2006-2015 and 2006-present respectively). This has meant that discipline staff have been relied upon to deliver an excessive amount of teaching. In my own case I delivered 36 extra units offshore on top of an always overloaded teaching load at Crawley. Other staff would have delivered more than this. As well as the second largest UG major in the School, our 5 or 6 staff also deliver the large and profitable PG Masters in Strategic Communication.

As a result of this ‘teaching intensive’ workload, defined by the university, Media and Communication staff have ‘relatively underperformed’ in terms of attracting external research funding. Of course, low research performance has previously been used as an excuse to deliver these staff higher teaching loads, prevent career advancement and, in the case of one staff member who has been serving the discipline with distinction since 2009, as a justification for no permanent contract. These conditions have created a ‘vicious cycle’ undermining research in the discipline group.

As a further result of being so short staffed there is a heavy requirement for ‘service’ within the discipline – personally I’ve spent 6 of my 11 years as Level B in discipline chair/Major Coordinator roles, which is a significant amount of leadership of the second largest major in the school for a Level B. Beyond that, being a small discipline with a lot of students means that things like supervision, dissertation marking, marketing and promotion, event attendance and general pastoral care fall to a very small selection of people. Delivering a major to 200 EFTSLs with 5 or 6 staff presents major challenges to the ability for staff to concentrate on their grant applications. Every hand is needed all the time and there is no flexibility to arrange teaching schedules to block out some research time as there simply aren’t the staff to take up the slack. But we have soldiered on for our students.

In response to this issue the discipline has submitted repeated business cases to the university for extra staff. These have always been rejected on the basis of the school’s SSR being too low. It has been galling, in this respect, to see continual appointments made in other, less understaffed disciplines. But we have soldiered on for the sake of the school and our colleagues.

Let’s be clear about this – the Media and Communication staff have always produced a significant profit for UWA. We have always carried the heaviest teaching loads in the school, we have always delivered courses in the most efficient structure (8 unit majors) and we have been successful at everything we’ve been asked to do. We are NOT the source of the budget deficit and we continually have the best student outcomes in the state, if not Australia.

And as the discipline within the school with the most junior staff and the highest staff/student ratio, we lost a Level D appointment at the end of 2019. The university’s refusal to backfill this position in the most understaffed discipline in the school is emblematic of the lack of investment in our discipline. This level D was the closest thing we ever had to a ‘research appointment’ and of course, in a discipline defined by the need for more staff, the loss of that position definitively impacted our ‘externally funded research’ figure used in the proposal. The fact that this refusal to fund us was then used to compile evidence that Media and Communication wasn’t performing in externally funded research exemplifies the fact that university leadership had already decided to defund our research by early 2020. And yet I’m sure consultation on the proposal was ‘genuine’.

This decision flies in the face of the fact that despite these structural impediments, we have a discipline made up of highly respected and productive researchers. In my own case I have supervised 8 PhDs to completion, I have a H index of 7, and I am a CI on more than $400,000 of grants. I have four articles published this year, with another 2 due out before Christmas and another 2 currently under review. I lead a team of international researchers on game studies and we have been extremely close to securing those ‘large external funds’, our project will be successful in getting these funds – just maybe not at UWA Social Sciences. My performance outstrips most other Level B academics in the school and has been achieved in a situation of structural disadvantage and immense service load – and yet I am to lose my teaching/research balance without any substantive justification. My research covers issues such as fake news, democracy, online radicalisation and COVID communication, which apparently lies beyond the purview of our school’s ‘vision’.

The university has treated Media and Communication as a cash cow and refused to fund our area in a way appropriate to the growth of our discipline and the requirements of our students. University management is now using their own failure to manage effectively as a justification for undermining the future of the Media and Communication discipline. This doesn’t just fail to acknowledge and reward our good faith and excellent performance, it also enshrines a culture of punishing efficiency and commitment to students.

Do we care about what we share? A proposal for dealing with the proliferation of false information by creating a public platform

Excited to see my latest article come out: ‘Do we care about what we share? A proposal for dealing with the proliferation of false information by creating a public platform’ (publicly available here: https://griffithlawjournal.org/…/gjlhd/article/view/1214)
This is a huge topic for me that returns both to the subject of my PhD (how can democracy survive and flourish in the digital age?) and what I think is the most pressing and fundamental issue of our times: How can we generate more transparency and accountability around decision making, and how can we start to celebrate positive contributions to the public good as a marker of identity and public esteem?
Answer: We could develop a ‘public platform’ under the auspices of public broadcasting legislation, to provide a place for ‘truth-telling’ and the establishment of (and dispute over) shared truths.
This article contains my basic description of how we might use digital technology to do this based on insights from democratic theory. The proposal ends up looking like a wikileaks mixed with reddit, mixed with facebook, with contributions and identities judged by their ability to make a positive public contribution over time.
As a piece of scholarship it is imperfect but boy is it important, as unless we develop something like this ‘public platform’ for debating public issues and establishing public truths, the powers that govern us will continue to use evasion and misinformation to set people against each other, while they make decisions that suit their own interests, largely free of scrutiny.
The article was inspired by Facebook’s banning of Australian news services during a pandemic and bushfire season and my own work on misinformation around the COVID vaccines. It became clear to me that we can’t fight misinformation without first determining how we arrive at ‘truth’ in a way that is acceptable to everyone. The role that existing social networks (and governments, and media networks) currently play in determining truth is clearly problematic. Our public broadcasting system is already mandated to (independently) inform and educate and it does a valiant job (and is the most trustworthy source of public information in Australia); but the broadcasting system needs to move into the era of many-to-many communication – and this is how it could do that.
The article doesn’t acknowledge a lot of work already done around these areas by people such as Tim Van Gelder https://timvangelder.com/, who has long been interested in these issues alongside me, and side steps a host of other academic objections to make this basic point:
Corporate governance structures abuse public naivete and reward themselves with inequity. The public needs to fight back with demands of transparency and accountability. And for the first time in history we do have the technological capacity to facilitate this in a way that can re-engage us with caring about the things we share.

Public interest research is what people won’t pay you for, everything else is advertising.

I’m thrilled to have had Sarah Ison cover how the proposed changes to UWA’s Social Science program are going to impact my public interest research. However, the article also over-represented some blatant mis-direction from a ‘UWA spokeswoman’ that I had rebutted with Sarah.

I suspect that West Australian editors have decided to protect the interests of UWA (a major advertiser in that paper) and cut much of the story. So, I’m taking to the interwebs, where people can – at least for the moment – speak freely, to rebut the empty claim that research in areas such as ‘health, social care, the environment and media and communications – would “continue to be developed and supported through nationally competitive resaerch grants and industry funding”‘.

That statement is misguided and specious. The proposal suggests that our research and teaching contracts will be replaced with teaching focus. There is no actual statement in the proposal about supporting existing or future research projects for teaching focused academics; even in the event of successfully gaining nationally competitive research grants and industry funding. So what they are saying here isn’t even clearly ‘true’ or part of the proposed change. The only statement in the proposal is that we ‘will continue to have access to research time in line with workload allocation for activities, including, where relevant, for the supervision of HDR students’. That is an incredibly vague statement that does not even match what they have said above. It means I ‘might’ be given 5 hours a week to supervise the research of my 6 PhD students, it certainly does not spell out that if I won a grant I’d be able to buy out of teaching.  If that were the case, they might have mentioned it in the proposal (they didn’t).

But even beyond that, what they are doing is making grant success impossible for teaching ‘focused’ academics, particularly in Media and Communications which, along with Asian Studies are the ONLY disciplines to lose all research positions. I’ll explain why:

Gaining nationally competitive research grants and industry funding depends heavily on a criteria called ‘research environment’ – meaning ‘is your research taking place in an environment that actively supports and adds value to your research’. If the university does not foster research in our area we will forever be structurally disadvantaged in that category and unlikely to succeed in those grants.

Also note that when writing these grants, budgeting for teaching relief is shunned and requires ‘significant justification’ (see https://www.science.org.au/news-and-events/newsletters/emcr-pathways-newsletter/emcr-pathways-issue-5/behind-closed-doors) – precisely because the review panel don’t expect teaching focused academics to be in a strong enough research environment to get these grants. Being ‘teaching focused’ is a red flag that you are not in a strong research environment.

Simply writing up a nationally competitive research grant generally takes more than 100 hours of work just to do the writing (recommended time: at least 6 weeks) – and then only around 15-20% of grants are ever successful. Grant success is a product of time investment in the writing plus a wealth of work on previously published research to prove your research strength (which is most commonly understood in the form of ‘previous grant success’). I will need to spend my entire annual leave writing an application that is almost bound to fail because of the impoverished research environment the university is creating for us as a ‘teaching focused discipline’.

So they are saying ‘here, sign a contract that states you will no longer research, and will be given a massive teaching load that literally takes up every hour of your working week but trust us that if you manage to somehow do the impossible and find the time to write a grant, and then despite the structural disadvantage of your research environment  you make it through to the 15% of successful grants and actually secure grant funding we MIGHT let you buy out of some of your teaching duties’. (but of course we would discourage you from asking for teaching relief in your grant if you want it to be successful).

I am actually on more than $400,000 of grants for the Coronavax projects at the moment – but none of that budget is allocated to buy me out of teaching. The money goes to software, administrative support, advertising and simply to ‘the university’. When we last requested that the next grant buy me out of some of my teaching for next semester the Head of School responded that the School couldn’t afford to lose my teaching duties (as it is important for student experience). So how they expect us to ‘trust them’ that in the future it will somehow be different (after I’ve signed a contract that commits me to just be a teacher) is again, a leap of faith that I would have to be stupid to make. This statement elicited here in this story is the most concrete suggestion I’ve seen that there might be some way to protect my research time but even then, they are attempting a whitewash to suggest what they are proposing is plausible or a ‘solution’.

Finally, there is also the argument that grant research IS NOT the only form of valuable research and not the only research that ought to take place at a publicly funded univerity. The process of deciding what research gets grants is really problematic and presents huge barriers to first time applicants, or people with novel or challenging research projects. It has also been highly politicised – with Simon Birmingham and Dan Tehan interfering with the process by blocking successful humanities grants they didn’t like. While it might seem fair to block research funding for ‘mens fashion in the 19th Century’, consider that this is just the interference the government is happy to brag about because doing so wins them votes. If they are happy to brag about this interference, they are also clearly willing to interfere on more sensitive research topics.

So NO, I don’t think the Morisson government will support grants into issues such as violent misogyny, political corruption or the bungled vaccine role out (all projects I’m currently working on). While Industry partnerships can be promising, these are not a case of ‘public interest research’ but rather university subsidising research industry would or should otherwise pay for. Industry partnerships can produce really efficient and important research. HOWEVER, it should not be the case that research in a G08 university should only happen in areas that ‘industry’ wants it too. Research into the huge problems our society faces will simpy never take place under that model and the question is, if it doesn’t take place in a privileged and advantaged university such as UWA – where will it take place?

There is an old saying about journalism ‘news is what someone doesn’t want you to print, everything else is advertising’. The same can be said for research. While industry and government can (and should) fund much worthy and critical research, there is by definition a critical deficit in such research. Quite frankly, they don’t fund research that might make them look bad, they fund research that bolsters their own positions and moves them toward their own goals. (See for instance, this announcement about $1.3M being awarded to UWA for defense industry research).

What is missing in this model is research that specifically helps the the disadvantaged and the marginalised, that protects the interests of the broad public that shares the experience of being led to a bleak future by an political elite in the pocket of big business. Research that criticises mistakes made by government and industry and points us to a better world for everybody. Research that encourages critical and challenging thinking as a worthy end in and of itself. It is gone under this model of the university.

Public value research is what industry and government doesn’t want to fund, everything else is advertising.

A proposal for a wealthier, friendlier, more secure Australia,

The Morrison government has recently made two announcements about extra funding for defence to the tune of $270 billion dollars, and an increase of numbers of students in the tertiary education sector for no extra funding (a move which essentially amounts to less funding per student across the board in tertiary education).

In what follows I’d like to address the value proposition implied in those two decisions, presenting the argument that the government gets far more ‘bang for its buck’ from education than from military spending. I’d also like to present an alternative proposal that would achieve the goals of making Australia more secure, resilient and wealthy than the government’s current plan.

The alternative is this: we would have a more secure Australia if we sunk $270 billion dollars into funding community gardens than we will if we buy new planes, missiles and submarines. It also makes a lot more sense, and this post explains why.

The case for education

Just to be clear in his recent announcement education minister Dan Tehan spelled out that the Australian Government already subsidises universities to the tune of $18 billion dollars a year. TAFEs and other tertiary education entities appear to receive the remaining $20 billion. That’s no small change but the amount the government spends on education as a whole (including schools, and early learning) is still less than defence.

Now while some people go on endlessly about how education is always the best investment, I’m more than aware that such wishy washy arguments aren’t likely to sway Scott Morrison, who likes to base policy on facts . (that is, unless these facts suggest that his party used sports funding to pork barrel the last election or that coal use leads to climate change, which contributes to increased bush fires).

But what I think does make a compelling argument for university education is that the $18 billion dollar investment generates around $37 billion of income for the Australian economy. Critics point out that only about $15 billion of that is direct income for universities in the shape of international student fees – the rest comes from the contribution international students make to the economy. However, I think it is fair to argue that if it wasn’t for Australia’s world leading university sector (Australia has 7 universities in the top 100 in the world, with more than China (6) and only fewer than the US and UK – an impressive result for a small country), these students would not be in Australia spending their money.

While COVID has clearly undermined the income universities receive from international students, the government could, with a little strategising around quarantine, use Australia’s relative COVID-free status to promote Australian universities globally and turn this into a massive windfall for our economy and our society. How many international students would jump at the chance to move to Australia to study considering we are the only country with world class universities that remains COVID free (well us and the University of Auckland)? This could also encourage immigration of the best and brightest from overseas, helping address Australia’s population decline in the best possible way.

But that’s not what they’re doing, choosing instead to defund the industry at its time of greatest need. To paraphrase Rove:

Wtf GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY

The case for military spending

Let me just say at the outset that I have massive respect for the people who serve in this country’s armed forces. As I’ve commented on before, I’m the first male of my direct ancestors for four generations that hasn’t served in the Army. I had great grandfathers on both sides of my family in WW1, both of my grandfathers served in WW2, with my mother’s father actually being shot in Borneo. My father did national service during Vietnam; my uncles also both served, with one spending his entire career in the Army. I appreciate the courage and the sacrifice they made – along with every other person who has dedicated themselves to defence.

That does not mean, however, that defence is above or beyond critique, and that we shouldn’t carefully consider how we spend our money in that capacity. We don’t honour our heroes by endorsing militarism, we honour them by creating a world that is good enough to justify their sacrifice.

And with that in mind, I don’t think that the Morrison government’s decision to spend $270 billion dollars over the next decade on new military equipment makes any sense. It doesn’t make sense financially, it doesn’t make sense militarily and it also doesn’t make sense in terms of the strategic goals of Australian people.

Morrison justified the expense by pointing out that the post COVID world was likely to be more mean spiritied, less compassionate and more ruthless. Of course, with people like him in charge, maybe that is the case. But I’d like some explanation as to why, after humanity has been so united as a species in working together to beat this virus, why does he think we will suddenly devolve into trying to kill each other? More to the point, isn’t avoiding conflict, not creating conflict, one of the key skills of leadership? With a massive failure of leadership and imagination, Scott Morrison has fallen back upon the idea that more and bigger guns are what will give Australia security.

Q: Do you know what would give Australia more security than more and bigger guns?

(the answer I want is not ‘anything’, but that is also correct)

A: One of the great stories to come out of COVID is the resurgence in urban farming and communities sharing food. This is something that has happened worldwide and in many senses replicates the emergence of ‘victory gardens’, planted by Aussie communities during the first and second world war, to ensure food security. What a wonderful idea – apparently beyond Scott Morrison – to imagine that a challenge could actually make a community stronger.

Because when you think about armed conflict in the past 50 years, no invading army has been able to subdue and control a country which has a population that resists occupation. Think about Afghanistan (both US and Russian versions), Vietnam (French and US versions), Argentina’s invasion of the Falklands and Iraq. In all of these cases, a far more ‘advanced’ and EXPENSIVE armed force was unable to successfully exercise control over a population that was motivated to resist the aggression.

Conversely the only example I can think of where an armed invasion ended with something like success would be the Russian incursion into Crimea, which is both far from over and is also a situation where a near majority of people in the region (apparently) welcomed the intervention (as was the case in places such as Austria and Vichy France in WW2). So the determining factor in successful defence over the past 50 years seems to be the desire within the invaded population to resist the invading force.

Why then, when history clearly shows this, do we remain so steadfastly focused on buying more and ‘better’ military technology (when having more and better military technology has not led to military success for the US, French, Russians etc)? Funding community gardening programs would do more to increase community unity and resilience in the face of an external military threat. And at much smaller cost.

And when I say much smaller cost, I mean much, much, much smaller. Leaving more tax payers’ money for community inclusion initiatives, combatting domestic violence, toxic online culture and for funding more innovation and community resilience through education.

At this point I just want to point out that I’m not a hippy, I am fascinated by military aircraft and military power in general. There’s something about its potency that is intoxicating. I get it. I made a 1/32 scale model of an F4-J Phantom II during COVID because I think jets look cool. When I was a kid, I wanted to design military aircraft.

looks pretty cool huh?

It’s just that I’ve reaslised that something looking cool, or feeling powerful, shouldn’t determine policy, or truth (sorry Nietzsche).

I know that as an adult that has to look after kids.

But the entire ‘defence’ and international relations sector continues to carry on as though the ultimate purpose of the national economy is to have the best toys. Not education. Not health. Not community prosperity. Not security understood assafety from violence and repression. Not managing global warming and the ecological disasters its bringing.

Just having the coolest new technology that can be used to kill people more quickly, from further away.

So I could talk about the cost of the new attack class submarines (12 at $80 billion dollars), which are replacing the 6 collins class submarines (6 at $5 billion in the 1990s) that never fired a shot in anger. Or I could talk about the cost of invading Iraq (over $5 billion). But because I like jets let’s look at Australia’s procurement of the F-35 – an fighter/attack aircraft (72 aircraft at $9 billion or only $126 million per plane).

For $126 million dollars per plane, the Australian government has bought a plane that can’t fly above the speed of sound without losing its stealth paint coating. According to reports, it has numerous issues with avionics and the cannon can’t shoot straight. In fact the plane still has more than 150 registered design flaws and the patch up job has become so bad that Lockheed Martin have decided just to reclassify ‘deadly’ flaws as less severe. That may be why they keep crashing. And why it is already 10 years behind schedule.

Despite this, the F35 has had it’s share of backers and even now, journalists who will spruik the plane are provided with fully funded ‘fact finding’ trips to various air shows and factories where they can get ‘the facts’. Take this rallying cry about the plane published in Forbes, and note that the author is a heavy hitter in the defence industries and military, and that Lockheed Martin paid for him to gather information on the piece he wrote.

Tom Scott isn't a huge fan of journalism - GIF - Imgur

The lobbying power of the defence industry is phenomenal, hardly surprising when you look at the billions poured into the industry. The industry also enjoys the stewardship of ex-ministers such as former Defence Industry minister Christopher Pyne, who left his role as defence industry minister in the Morrison government to join Saber Aeronatics, a company that have been awarded $2.7 million in government defence contracts.

Think of the political influence that hundreds of billions of dollars buys.

And again, for all that spending, we are not necessarily any safer for having a fleet of F-35s. Even our own Defence chiefs have suggested that the aircraft will not serve our needs (whatever they are) when it arrives.

And dear reader, I don’t know what work you do – but I know in my industry if I was so ineffective at my job that I was constantly over budget, late on deadlines and then not coming through with the goods, I’d be out of work and destitute. Why is the defence industry like the rich kid who can’t be relied on to do anything but somehow still gets promoted because his dad is a billionaire (and either owns the company, or owns the guy who does)?

AFI #77 – All the President's Men | The Confusing Middle

So then I think of Pyne, Morrison and Dan Tehan and how they think they can make decisions like taking money from universities and using that to buy more over-priced and ineffective jets from the trillion dollar international arms industry. And I realise that if another country was to come invading the state they have created, I’m not sure I would be that upset about that. I can’t get passionate about defending the version of Australia they are creating. Because they aren’t creating it for us, they are creating it for the trillion dollar international arms industry.

If they were spending $270 billion dollars on community gardening initiatives, I would fight who ever came here until they were thrown back into the sea. I’d have a sense of community, access to food, strong local organisations and local knowledge – and most importantly an Australia I could believe in.

But in Scott Morrison we have a PM who has not just defunded education while boosting military spending. He has also sanctioned the gagging of journalists, he has supported the collection of metadata to spy on his own citizens, he has used taxpayers dollars to illegally secure an election win, he has defunded our most trusted source of news during a fake news crisis and he has continued to celebrate burning coal while his nation burns to the ground, and gone on holiday while it does so.

Tell me this: Who is going to invade Australia, and why would they be worse than Scott Morrison’s government?

If we truly lived in a democracy we would get rid of him.

Spleen venting about the proposed changes to tertiary education funding (and defence spending).

The Australian minister for education Dan Tehan’s recent proposed changes to tertiary funding are, quite frankly, the stupidist policy move that Australia has made since it’s overenthusiastic approach to invading Iraq in 2003.

I typically live and let live in terms of policy but when something this stupid is actually suggested, I like to make a point of making as public statement about it as possible, so that history recognises that I was not stupid enough to believe in these things. I’ve been having it out with my local MP and I will also take this up with various senators as the reform bill moves through parliament.

The reason I oppose the reforms so strongly is not simply because I disagree with them – I do – but I also disagree with a lot of what the government is doing and yet let them get on with things.

The reason I oppose this bill is because it is stupid, it makes no sense, it is unjust and even if it overcame these impediments to achieve its goals (which it won’t) that would still only produce something worse. (Does that sound a little bit like John Howard’s prompting for the US to invade Iraq)?

Just for context, the new legislation will open an extra 38000 places for university students across Australia, with no extra funding provided for those places. So the take away here is that the tertiary education sector is getting less money per student than before.

That’s in the context of the sector currently suffering from a profound COVID-induced crisis. Tehan’s announcement has already seen major lay offs, such as UNSW’s recent cut of almost 500 jobs. For some reason (the Morrison government has given none), employees in the sector were not allowed job keeper or job seeker during the COVID crisis, singled out as pretty much the only industry that did not.

And let’s be clear, while Tehan and Morrison have failed to find any money to save those jobs, they have earmarked $270 billion MORE dollars for defense over the next 10 years. So they do have money for some things (killing, hostility, hatred, the ex-minister for defense industry’s military aircraft company), but not others (education, progress, critical thinking, Australia’s third biggest export industry).

Abandoning the world leading Australian tertiary sector now, at it’s time of greatest historical need and peculiar COVID inspired weakness is – in all ways – a stupid policy.