Other People’s Money

We have a recurring lungful of union corruption (HSU, AWU), the disinterment of Roozendal-Macdonald-Obeid deals, Mr Tinkler’s largesse with his creditors’ cash, union misuse of superannuation control,  unfunded Federal dental, NDIS, pension, and Gonski schemes, and an array of bureaucratic taxes and social policies that blithely assume away their impact on businesses and consumers (child care NQF, carbon tax, Federal RET…).

What all have in common is self-interested decisionmaking using other people’s money. It’s not just corruption: vote-buying, big-noting, featherbedding, gold-plating and moral grandstanding all get a kick on from other people’s cash.

We should expect nothing less. When people have nothing at stake, well, they’ll make decisions that suit themselves. Those benefits may be financial, as in basic corruption, cronyism or management overspending. They may be political, as in sectional vote-buying or look-over-there social policy. And they may simply be about self-concept and social status, as in some of our more preening social policy researchers or policy entrepreneurs.

When people have access to cash taken or raised from others – tax, super, shareholders’ equity, union dues – it is the essence of having nothing at stake.

Lest I be accused of going easy on corporate Australia, major listeds behave in similar ways with shareholders funds, but it is so normalised as to go unreported.

This should be the focus of governance questions, but isn’t. “Governance” has been all the rage for almost a couple of decades, but as with every organisational fad that the academy, bureaucracy and legal profession get their hands on, it has emerged as another set of formulaic rules for compliance professionals to fret over.

I grew up seeing kleptocracy as a third world phenomenon. How childish I was. Like Satan convincing the world he didn’t exist, the greatest achievement of those misusing other people’s money is to convince the world, and themselves, that they’re actually doing the right thing.

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