Pudgy Figures and Figures Fudged: George Brandis, Education Reforms and the Penal System

Figures used to produce secret government modelling on university fees were “invented by department officials” according to the education department’s associate secretary, Robert Griew.

“In each case, while presented as assumed facts and informed by departmental analysis and research, these figures were essentially invented by departmental officials for the purpose of providing material for analysis based on assumed patterns of behaviour,” he wrote.

The government did not want to release documents detailing the impact of deregulation on regional higher education and the potential cost of cuts on individual institutions.

While largely unsurprising, this is another example of failure to live up to even the most basic forms of transparency and accountability by the Liberal government. A few questions that need answering:

Why were the figures invented rather than being based on actual data?

How does invented data provide a reliable and accurate set of prediction on which we can model changes to the education system?

Why were the documents relating to the impacts and potential costs of these reforms not available to the public, whom they affect, for review?

Answers to these questions would be a step in the right direction for our Prime Minister, whose actions of late have landed him in hot water not just with the electorate but also with many of his own party members, as evidenced by the spill several weeks ago.

The ABC and the Seven network have both reported that Malcolm Turnbull has been advised that he has the numbers to slide into the top job without much turbulence. Whether this is wish-thinking on the behalf of the source and/or the networks remains to be seen. Turnbull himself refused to comment on the issue, telling reporters that he’s “a member of parliament… I’ll leave [the press] to speculate about all that stuff.”

And speculate we will.

If Turnbull does move up the ladder in the Liberal Party, he’ll certainly have his work cut out for him. Dealing with a large body of people at the best of times is difficult to say the least, dealing with a party of strong minded ideologues, most of whom fall almost entirely to the right of the political spectrum, is likely to be a management nightmare. If Turnbull can elicit some sense of collegiality within the party, and force compromise out of some of the more extreme members, we may see a turn around in the party. He has already made statements defending Gillian Triggs after her vilification by fellow party members, and seems to support a push for more transparency around sources of funding and internal activities in general. At the very least, if Turnbull becomes Prime Minister we can wave goodbye to the madness the pious Roman Catholic reminiscer extraordinaire has wrought on this country over the last two years.


Another interesting piece of information the government would rather keep hidden away from the public eye is the apparent failure of the Australian Bureau of Statistics to accurately report the amount of prisoners in the penal system. The ABS records only the number and characteristics of people in custody on a single day – 30th June – each year.

This is despite more than $3bn being funnelled into the system per annum.

Without accurate data showing the demographics of prisoners, their behaviour, length of imprisonment, whether they are first time or repeat offenders, what socio-economic and lifestyle factors contributed to their incarceration and so on, it seems unlikely that any improvement can be made in the system. It is essentially being run blind.

If reforms need to be made in any area of our society, surely the penal system is a prime candidate. Countries like Norway have implemented rehabilitation oriented systems of incarceration, lowering recidivism rates to just 16% in some areas, as opposed to 38% according to “SCRGS 2006. Report on government services 2005”, the results of which were published in this study on recidivism by the Australian Institute of Criminology. Rather than following the predictable and tired governmental response of “doing it our way”, perhaps we can adopt a humble attitude and admit that we have much to learn from the successes of other nations.


George Brandis has come under fire from ex- Human Rights Commissioner Graeme Innes, who stated in this article written for The Guardian, “I was a human rights commissioner under five attorneys-general from both sides of politics, Brandis [has been] the only one to question my integrity.”

Staffers for Brandis apparently berated Innes for his criticism of retail giant Myer’s CEO Bernie Brooks, who had made comments disparaging the National Disability Insurance Scheme, stating that the money that was earmarked for the project “could have gone through [his] cash registers.” In addition to the callousness of the comment, having previously worked for Myer and being privy to the internal culture there I find that scenario highly unlikely.

Innes went on to say that “Part of our democratic system, and the rule of law, provides that a key duty of any attorney general is to defend judges and statutory officers doing their jobs, because they are not in a position to easily defend themselves. Far from defending, Brandis has attacked. It is he who has made the serious error of judgement. He has “shot the messenger”. Triggs has advocated human rights compliance by Australia – she has done her job.”

Along with his support for mandatory metadata retention, a program which has been slammed in courts across the EU for being a serious threat to human rights and the privacy of citizens, these revelations paint a picture of Brandis as being wholly unconcerned with fulfilling the role he is employed to, seeming instead to be more focused on supporting schemes to expand the influence and control of the state in the lives of every-day Australians.

It is for this very reason we are in desperate need of transparency when it comes to funding and the internal activities and correspondence of our elected officials. We cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the monetary forces and concealed influences that shape policy in this country. Urgent reforms in this area are not only important, but necessary for the country to progress and grow into the exponentially increasing complexity of the digital age.


I had to cut todays update short due to time constraints, so some important information was omitted. Rest assured, I’ll be publishing a more extensive review of current affairs in Australian politics tomorrow, but until then, have a wonderful night friends.

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