February 23, 2015

Big bucks up for grabs when governments outsource unemployment

Source :  The Conversation
 Author:   Janine O'Flynn, University of Melbourne

Outsourcing public services is a tricky business; but there is no doubt a “business” it has become. Billions of dollars in social services are delivered by other parties, under contract, to governments across Australia, the costs and benefits of which, we are often unsure of.
When to outsource, to whom, and how to structure these relationships remains a fundamental challenge in public management practice. Where the limits to outsourcing actually are is not an economic decision alone, but has both political and moral dimensions. What can, and should, be done by government and who should get to make a buck in the complex market for public services?

The enormous range of public services that governments provide means there is no easy answer, but some we might care more about than others. Do we really care who collects our rubbish or delivers our mail? Some may, some may not. But what about who runs prisons, operates detention centres, or places the unemployed into jobs?
Can we stomach, politically and morally, profits being made from the misery of others and how do we create performance and accountability systems to guard against exploitation?
The Jobs Game, aired on the ABC TV Four Corners, takes us right to the centre of this debate. 

Four Corners lays out a series of claims of questionable behaviours by a small number of providers in Job Services Australia.
These providers, it argues, are exploiting the unemployed and returning big profits rather than assisting jobseekers into work. Since 1998 when the privatised system came into play, almost $18 billion has been paid out to providers – both for-profit and non-profit organisations. The current scandal covers a range of practices and claims – some new, some old.
Some of the claims centre on providers who have allegedly falsified documents to gain government payments. Others are extracting large amounts of money in the system by setting up their own registered training organisations and filling them with jobseekers. Others simply park the most needy in the too hard basket. Big players are making big bucks, not just in Australia, but in similar businesses servicing governments around the world and returning hefty dividends to shareholders.
But where is government in this story? In a major report from 2013, Jobs Australia, a peak body for providers lamented the current approach arguing it had a misalignment of incentives, was too complex, too focused on compliance, had become transactional, had minimal innovation, and, in sum, was underperforming.
In its quest for compliance, such a rule-bound system, fixated on narrow performance metrics can create major distortions. Government is now out of the provider game, but as purchaser is now in the business of market design. It is here where the hard grind of outsourcing begins.
As the only purchaser in town for many of these services, they can largely set prices, rules, and performance monitoring regimes. And providers, both for-profits and non-profits, have incentives to “optimise” within these often tightly controlled service delivery regimes. But when does optimising within the rules become a rort? And when does gaming the systems to maximise returns become outright fraud?
Bob Behn, an expert on performance measurement from the Kennedy School has long warned of the challenges of performance measures, incentives and the challenges of contracting in social services. He has argued that those designing performance regimes and reward structures tied to them to always be wary of Campbell's Law: 

"The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt if will be to distort and corrupt the social pressures it is intended to monitor.”
Behn himself distinguishes between “honest cheating” and dishonest cheating: “Dishonest cheating is illegal, and you can go to jail for it. Honest cheating is perfectly legal, but everyone thinks of it as cheating”. Drawing on the example of education where test scores are used to measure teacher and school performance, and often to distribute rewards, he has argued that teaching to the test is not illegal but it might very well distort educational outcomes.

Honest cheating is all part of the game. But what about if teachers fill out test papers, correct wrong answers by students, or falsely certify them? Of course, this would be dishonest cheating; the breadth and depth of which was brought to light in the
 Alabama education system where teachers and education officials did just that.
The current scandal takes us back, once again, to the question of the role of the state – what should government do? Who should it work with? And how? Alongside this are big questions about our appetite for outsourcing. Not all providers game the system; not every provider will cheat. Some are actually in the business of working with the unemployed to get jobs.

But an obvious reaction from this case is for government to clamp down harder on all providers, further stifling their ability to deliver on the very social outcomes that government wants. Honest cheating, dishonest cheating, rorting, corruption and gaming: in the end, who really pays? 

Outsourcing of public services is never always the answer, nor is it never the answer. Much of what government needs to do, it simply cannot do alone. But how to structure these relationships, how to ensure the appropriate expenditure of public funds, and how to guard against creating markets for misery, remains an enormous challenge.

Originally published, 23 February 2015 on The Conversation


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December 12, 2014

Working Girl : The State of Play

So by the end of week three I'm fully rocking the formal business dress code ....so much easier than trying to nail shabby hipster office-chic. However, I'm puzzled by the way the HR guy turned up today, looking like Gilligan short of an island. And that's SO TRUE. Apparently we all have a dead ringer. Mine's the Mona Lisa.


I naturally ask Gilligan what has happened to the formal business attire - that he and the boss lady emphatically proscribed in those joint emails? He said it was too hot for that.  

And Gilligan's right. For, even on average days - when the external temperature sits comfortably at 23 degrees celsius - the temperature inside our workplace, hovers around 28. So our "hot-desks" are literally HOT desks. For a menopausal madam permanently in search of a breeze, that's too dam hot!  Not helping are the windows that don't open. However, I've got accustomed to it, by strategically sitting beneath the ceiling fan set on high ...careful not to self-decapitate.   

I'm also getting used to the way Madam Boss doesn't appear to view toilet roll, as a priority in the loos. Call it a first world problem?

Below is a surveillance still of yours truly, whooping it up in front of the camera. During a quiet moment, I just couldn't stop myself from blowing one or three kisses toward the ever-glowing green light.

If the powers that be are unimpressed by my on screen antics, they haven't let on. Although when I went into work on Monday, I noticed that the bin - which is usually conveniently located near my "hot-desk" - had been MOVED  ...out  into the hallway. 

Was it the beginning of the end!? 


Image: flickr

November 24, 2014

Working Girl: The Adventure Continues

So moving forward ....after consulting the Australian Tax Office, the (un)Fair Work Commission, "Fair Work Act”, a homeopath, astrologist Jonathan Cainer, and Googlepedia - I have, overnight, obtained an ABN. And I can now call myself an independent Madam Sole Trader. Sounds so thoroughly modern and entrepreneurial.

And it's all good!! apparently? (according to all of the above) ...that is until I trip on a banana skin left lying around the office – whereby my Lady Boss will be exempt from all liabilities. Some might merely call the latter risk factor, a miscellaneous first world problem. And at least I'm getting paid ...at the lowest going rate.

Here's a snap of me and the HR guy in the lunch room ... breaking bread post-ABN submission. 

Boy was he thrilled when I finally gave him that pesky little ABN. And only then, did he get a twinkle in his eye, shake my hand ....and say in his endearing Mumbai accent, "Welcome aboard!!" Aboard what?

Actually, when the girl on reception, reveals that HR guy is single!! - my ears go on high alert. Since, as a mature dame of a certain age - landing a job has the same level of difficulty, as meeting Mr Right, becoming an Octomom - or squeezing into my swimming togs from the eighties. 

But whatEVER am I thinking?! For he could - if he's on the same salary sacrifice plan as me (and no doubt to make ends meet), be moonlighting as a human-trafficker, casual crack merchant, Avon lady, pimp ....Or all of the above? Could be perfect date material?

Meantime, I'm getting fully embedded into the workplace culture.  I strive to be all things to all people ....Even to that woman who shrieked hysterically at me last week. There was no need for that sweetie darling!


Madam CEO has sent around a rather lengthy, all-staff email, telling everyone that she expects us to wear formal business attire.

My fellow contractor/entrepreneurs - who started work there around the same time as me, are grumbling about the enforced dress code, and other aspects of the CEO's unique brand of micromanagement. To be specific ...there's the issue of the surveillance camera positioned to record all activities within our workspace. Had they not pointed it out to me, I would never have noticed it. Awkward.

Moving upwards and onwards, I endeavour to waste no time, and make it a win-win situation, by (upon the hour every hour) practising some impromptu Marcel Marceau impersonations in front of it.

 Things could be worse.

November 8, 2014

My Week In Review : A Full Moon And ... A Job Offer

Monday:   A typical day at the "home office". I cook. I clean. I cook ... I clean.

Tuesday: The revving of a chainsaw signals my suspicious neighbour's return from "overseas". It's 8am, and no surprises, he madly goes about giving the nephrolepis cordifolia beneath my front window - a jagged #1 haircut ....But with a chainsaw? Please.

I want to yell: STOP right there! you pointy-headed feral!  Instead, I retreat behind a curtain. After all, the fern will soon grow back .... And things could be worse!

Wednesday arrives with a word of warning:  Beware job offers made beneath the glare of a full moon.

However, I answer the call, seize the day and the employment opportunity - with relish ....Make that tomato relish (so it turns out). This puts to one side, my thoughts on how to avoid my Fishbone fern challenged neighbour.

I shave my whiskers ....What a difference that makes. And, I present my job-ready self to my new employer. On day one, I'd hate to resemble a freelance unemployee that's let herself go (like Ronn Moss with that post Bold & Beaut ...semi-up-do. What indeed is he thinking?).

Thursday: So with the full moon and the job offer, comes the Catch-22. I'm asked to bring my own laptop. Easy. My 10 inch notebook does the trick. It's all I have ....can afford (however I do love it for its portability). I imagine it's only temporary, and in no time I expect to be given my own desk/space to sit at? ...And maybe a fixed computer, that's bigger than a postage stamp? (unlike my notebook laptop, that is) ...just like the other employees who sit at normal computers (like grown-ups and not the work-experience kid) ... on their own cushiony, swivelling office chairs ....at individual desks - with drawers.

But no cigar there, and I discover there's a workplace apartheid in operation and my no-fixed/make shift workspace ...is permanent? However, we're all equal in that everyone's entitled to toilet roll! Could be worse. 

But wait, there's more!!

Friday: On day three I discover the HR guy isn't joking when he insists, in order to be paid, I must provide an ABN (Australian Business Number). And he won't take my no for answer, when I (congenially) tell him that the ATO (Australian Tax Office) won't give me one - since I'm not, nor ever have been - a sole trader, contractor, or business owner. 

He replies (congenially) that he will only complete my contract when I have that number. And I begin to think, that my new "job" is starting to look more like a Rubik's Cube.

October 30, 2014

Job Of The Month: Sales Representative - Dealing In Humanoid Robots

The following job stood out from the rest, when it arrived via email - courtesy of Seek.com. If you have both people skills, and "robot person" skills, and would love a job of the future NOW ...then this one's for you.

Where and who?

The Brainary® currently has a dream position available for a suitably qualified and experienced sales representative selling the NAO humanoid robot to schools, TAFE's, universities, libraries and healthcare providers. Applicants must be computer literate, have driving license. Prior experience with robots not required.


You'll be a hit at parties when you tell people what you do.

October 16, 2014

Parliamentary Porn Ring Reveals Sir Les Patterson In Da House

Is it only me that's flabbergasted with our esteemed(?) State Government Parliamentarians (Victorian by name and nature), and the laissez-faire acceptance of the unique lending circle they've had going at the (very)Parisian end of Melbourne's Spring Street?!  Or, am I just a daggy prude who doesn't belong in this digitally stuffed century? Out of step? I don't think so! But ignorance is bliss!

Ironically, it's an (ex)Freedom of Information aficionado, who - since March 2013 - is sacked and unemployed, from dubious parliamentary resources sharing activity. He's subsequently suing State government for unfair dismissal. And why? It arose from his alternative job description ....Being sole caretaker, curator/innovator, and facilitator - of a pseudo-library or "stash" in an open desk drawer in his office - of hardcore sexually explicit movies. Any surprises there?

Now why can't those sleazy well-paid bogans be content like we women, with sharing around copies of Downton Abbey, New Tricks, and Midsomer Murders ....or, Masters Of Sex if they want to go down that path?

Over time, former State parliament employee (and FOI expert), Don Coulson, established the select collection, contained on USB sticks, which he made available to in-house "member" colleagues. He referred to those in the know, and in "the club" as "porn appreciators" (aka parliamentarians/MPs, and associated staffers). Delightful.

“But it’s not illegal, features animals and grannies ... but no children,” Says Coulson – the entrepreneurial “librarian" of Porngate. So that makes it all fine and dandy ....and business as usual then? Terrific.

Though I guess things could be worse ....Someone could be snaffling bulk items from the stationery cupboard. Or, using the parliamentary photocopier to print their wedding invitations, or images of their buttocks? Or, like most people, Coulson could have been keeping a stash of Twix Bars and Polly Waffles in his office drawer; making himself and his co-workers fat.

Coulson said he did not think the swapping of sexually explicit material in a government office was inappropriate, "provided it's not done officially and doesn't utilise government resources". His exact words. What the fruitcake?

Coulson adds, "if you become an elected official you don't become celibate." Oh really. And what other boring BS does he have to tell us? Clearly State Parliament's Code of Conduct was written by Sir Les Patterson ....and perhaps needs revising?

In recent times, as a misplaced, unemployed librarian, I've forwarded one or three applications to Victoria’s parliament, hoping to land a job in the library there.  Never got an answer.  Obviously not perceived as hot enough.  Maybe I should have attached something 3D with my CV? Any tips Eric Abetz, and Joe? .... [et al]?? Do I need to make a mental note of this for future job applications?

I've also relatively recently, been on a couple of tours of the library service there ... part of my “continuing lifelong education”.

Everything, was gloriously Victorian - from the toilets (yes really!) ....to the wood panelled walls, 24-carat gold-leaf detailing,
 19th century velvet sofas, and glistening crystal chandelier - which hangs majestically over the library reading area. All visually gorgeous ....But, we were told - that monstrous light fitting was a bitch to clean.

The guide showed us around the place, outlining the nuances of running a top notch parliamentary information service. I was bedazzled. And we even got a peek at a 15th century renaissance tome, held there. It was really impressive. And I so so wanted to get a job there ....even if it was just cleaning the chandelier, and putting a little Marveer on the bannisters.

However, as of yesterday, who would have imagined that in conjunction with the official library – the parliament’s one-time, so-called FOI Strategist, had been value-adding information services – with a clandestine, limited access, hardcore pornography lending ring? And, at the last count, it apparently involved up to a dozen ministerial "subscribers" - including advisers, MPs and a minister. Really? Wonder who it was/is? And what a swell party they must have all been having. And did they discuss this aspect of Coulson's role at his last performance appraisal?

And so, as the impact of the Ebola virus hardens its grip on the world, and the burqa ban loses momentum over at Federal parliament ....I seriously think it wouldn’t be such a bad idea - for Victoria's female, parliamentary employees - to make the burqa their uniform du jour, as a united protest against the condoning of porn-gate and associated hypocrisies in their workplace. 

Meanwhile, revelations of the little inter-parliamentary-porn-lending-service, seem a mere hiccup to our privileged powers that be. Yes it's apparently all NORMAL and just part of a typical MP's day in the office fish bowl ....for the blokey blokes that is. So long as it's not classified as illegal - shouldn't be a problem they say. Delightful.

Tell that to their underwhelmed female colleagues, and any year ten schoolboy, who knows he can get instantly expelled for participating in the same activity. Meantime, I wonder what Coulson's replacement staffer circulates from the bottom drawer in his office, now that the parliamentary porn collection is no longer. Love to know that ...athough remaining ignorant is bliss.


September 26, 2014

Spotlight on .... George Clooney and THAT wedding!

The weeks bad news gives me a good excuse to divert attention, with a snap of George Clooney - in all his gorgeous Hollywood idol splendour. And as I write this he'll be so getting married!

Here's pending wife #2. But as if we don't know that already?

She's got the look, weight requirements, teeth gap and age precision - I mean age gap requirement, and precision teeth. You know what I mean. And of course, voluminous Amy Winehouse hair (extensions?), brilliant eye brows, fluency in three languages, law degrees ....and bloke on a rope.  As for George ...we know what he's got.

It's all too much for me! ...  I'm off to eat a soothing, medicinal tub of frutti di bosco gelato. Which is what Ms. Alamuddin should be doing, as George says she's getting a bit too skinny. And don't we love that about George.

The betrothal is taking place at beautiful Ca' Farsetti, a 14th century Venetian palace (pictured below) ... Former home of Mr and Mrs Farsetti, and now the town hall.

The Clooneys will live here.

And I live here.

So pass me another tub of the frutti di bosco. PLEASE!

But enough about me. Wedding preparations include closed public access to areas and waterways surrounding the town hall, where ceremony #1 is to be held. 

Locally however, there are some prenuptial grumbles over the disruption and ostentatious display of wealth in times of economic crisis. Indeed, some locals are getting a little irritated. 

Angered by the possible closure of the Grand Canal to all traffic, Vittorio, a 56-year-old gondolier says neither he nor his colleague have got any work out of the wedding. And they don't expect to ...any time soon.

“Clooney’s not bringing us bread for our tables,” said 16-year-old Viviana, “coming here with all his nice money while we can’t find jobs.”