Simpler taxation looks too costly

22 June 2016

I believe that this country’s taxation system needs simplifying.  There are all sorts of taxes around, applying to all sorts of things – more than I can remember, let alone go into.  But the trouble with simplifying taxes, if not getting rid of them, is in relation to how much tax revenue would be lost if they go.

Among the proposals for tax reform to have been floated over the years, there’s a proposal to simplify income tax, meaning how much tax we pay out of our wages when we work.  At present, the income tax system consists of several thresholds and brackets, and I suspect that these play some part in prompting people to try minimising their tax paid.

Depending on how much you earn from your job, you can also be entitled to various governmental rebates, or subject to various levies and charges.  I don’t pretend to know what these things all are, so I won’t complicate my argument by going into them.  But in illustrating how the income tax system alone works, you’ll get an idea of why people always advocate some sort of tax reform.

What follows is an illustration of the thresholds and brackets currently existing in the income tax system.

The first of these is a tax-free threshold.  In terms of a year’s pay, this threshold is currently set at $18,200 – the equivalent of about $350 per week, in a typical year of 52 weeks.  If your job earns you up to $18,200 per annum at most, you pay no tax.

In a hypothetical scenario, your income for this year might be below the tax-free threshold, but a pay rise might push you above it, meaning that you suddenly start paying tax.  You might be earning $18,000 in income this year, and getting a pay rise for the coming year of $5 per week – this raises your annual pay by $260 to a total of $18,260.  As a result, you’re suddenly over the tax-free threshold, by just $60.

But this is where it gets complicated.  Here you only pay tax for every dollar that you earn above the tax-free threshold.  Therefore, with the tax-free threshold at $18,200 and your new income exceeding that by $60, tax only applies to that amount of $60.  The lowest income tax rate sits at 19 cents for every dollar above the tax-free threshold, equating to less than $12 in tax for that amount of $60 mentioned here.

Making things more complicated, there are different rates of tax charged at different income levels.  Currently, you pay 19 cents for every dollar above the tax-free threshold, until you earn more than $37,000 – the next of the thresholds.  For the record, the gap between thresholds is termed as a “bracket”.

Sometimes, when you get a pay rise, your annual income goes above a certain threshold, and you start paying tax for every dollar that you earn above that threshold.  This is known as “bracket creep”.  I dare say that politicians actually like bracket creep, because when people find that their pay rises are pushing them into higher tax brackets, politicians get more tax out of them without actually changing taxes!

The bracket between the bottom thresholds amounts to $18,800.  If you earn exactly $37,000 in yearly income, you pay tax of $3,572 – meaning 19 per cent of $18,800.  Here the next pay rise would put your income above $37,000 – meaning a higher rate of tax for every dollar above that amount, on top of $3,572 already paid.

From this point, more thresholds and brackets and tax rates apply.  The next threshold up from $37,000 amounts to $80,000.  Above that threshold sits the highest threshold, amounting to $180,000.  Once your income exceeds either threshold, you pay higher rates of tax for every dollar above either threshold.

This gives you an idea of how complicated the tax system is, even if people consider it fair to charge people more in tax if they have higher incomes.  More significantly, if lowering your income enables you to get below a threshold, and therefore avoid paying a higher rate of tax, you can understand why wealthier people are always engaging in some sort of scheme to lower their incomes and minimise their tax!

In terms of tax reform, I’ve seen one proposal to set the tax-free threshold at $40,000 and charge a flat tax rate of 20 cents on every dollar above that amount.  This sounds much simpler than the series of thresholds and brackets present in the existing income tax system, and it would largely eliminate bracket creep.  But is it fairer, or affordable?

Currently, if you earn $40,000 per annum, you pay over $4,500 in tax.  This alternative proposal would reduce your tax to nothing.  And at higher income levels, your tax would drop significantly.

If you earn $80,000 per annum, you pay over $17,500 in tax.  The alternative proposal would more than halve your tax, to exactly $8,000.  If you earn $180,000 per annum, you pay over $54,500 in tax – the alternative would almost halve your tax to $28,000.

And if you’re on exactly $1 million, you currently pay over $423,000 in tax – the alternative would more than halve your tax to less than $200,000.

This whole situation seems to pit simplicity against fairness and affordability.  Some people might advocate simpler taxation, but from the perspective of public revenue, it looks too costly, as well as unfair.

I’m open to reforming the tax system.  Simplifying tax might reduce avoidance.  But the cost, at least in the short term, might be extremely high.

 

Childcare costs not simple to address

17 June 2016

Despite the fact that I’m not a parent, I’ve been in situations where I wasn’t able to work if someone else wasn’t able to work.  In a sense, this makes me appreciate why people rely increasingly on childcare.

There have been times in the past where another person’s ability to work directly affected mine.  If that other person, for whatever reason, was unable to work, and there was no chance of finding a replacement worker, it meant that I, too, wasn’t able to work.  And most of my work over the last decade or so has been of a casual kind, where I didn’t get sick leave or similar entitlements – casual workers generally only get paid when they show up for work, whereas people in permanent employment often don’t have to worry about lost pay if they get sick or take time off for other reasons.

This is probably as close as I can get to having empathy for people putting their children in childcare centres while they work.  How many stories could you tell about people being unable to work because of being unable to find anybody to look after their children, and how their inability to work has effectively meant that other people couldn’t work?  In a society with an ever-growing number of families having both parents working, whereas once families could get by with one parent working and the other parent looking after the child or children, it’s understandable why childcare becomes an important issue.

There are, of course, many instances where parents have relatives or neighbours or trusted friends with whom they can leave their children, and many parents have access to nannies or babysitters.  But these options aren’t available to every parent.  So it’s no wonder that parents turn to childcare.  Mind you, because childcare centres aren’t necessarily available in every suburb or region, parents might have no choice but to put their faith in being able to find nannies or babysitters – if they’re lucky enough.

And even though many parents are increasingly becoming able to work from home, meaning no need to worry about childcare or babysitting or the like, not all parents have this option available to them.

What can be done about issues surrounding childcare?  I’ve lost count of the number of stories that I’ve heard about childcare centres with waiting lists, and parents struggling to find places in childcare centres for their children.  And with those stories have also come stories of people paying fortunes to send their children to those centres, if or when they’re lucky enough to get them into them in the first place.  So governments see fit to pay parents in the form of rebates and other public subsidies to offset those childcare costs, which triggers comments because of how many billions of dollars are spent on childcare subsidies, especially when the Federal Government has a massive budget deficit to reduce.

I’m open to ideas on reforming how we subsidise childcare costs, if they’re out there.  But I also feel that some questions on childcare costs haven’t been answered, and that they’re not that simple to address.

At the same time that countless childcare centres have waiting lists, over the years I’ve seen and heard stories of childcare centres with vacancies, which would seem like quite a contradiction.  How is it possible that childcare centres could have vacancies at all, when demand for childcare is so huge?  Why is it that they can’t attract parents currently struggling to find childcare places?

Ideally, parents looking for childcare will want places as near as possible to their regular route of travel to work.  If we assume, quite safely, that most parents using childcare services will drive to and from work, they’ll look for services not requiring them to go far from their work route.  For example, if you’re a parent living in a place like the inner Sydney suburb of Concord and you work in the Sydney CBD, you might drive to suburbs like Drummoyne or Leichhardt, which wouldn’t be too far from your direct drive into and out of the city – you wouldn’t willingly deviate as far out as Lane Cove or Mascot unless you were desperate.  I must stress that I use these suburbs as hypothetical examples because of my knowledge of Sydney’s suburbs and roads, rather than what childcare services are like in these suburbs.

If childcare centres actually have vacancies, is this because of their locations or their costs or something else?  Are they situated where they are because it’s easier or cheaper to open such facilities in those locations?  Do they charge as much as they do because it’s what costs them to keep their centres financially viable?  Are general costs part of the reason why childcare generally is expensive?

I’d support a review of childcare, in so far as questioning why it is that childcare centres charge as much as they do, or whether governmental regulations or laws or other factors are driving up costs or triggering waiting lists.  I just want to see taxpayers’ dollars used more wisely when it comes to childcare and other areas, rather than just throwing more money at problems without understanding what causes them.

 

Farms and food at risk on several fronts

13 June 2016

I remember visiting a dairy farm in the Kellyville area more than twenty years ago.  In those days, although theoretically a suburb of outer Sydney with lines marking it on maps and in street directories, Kellyville had more farmland than houses, situated on the fringe of Sydney’s north-west.  But now you’d be forgiven for wondering if there’d ever been farms in Kellyville, with houses built wherever you look.

Naturally, Sydney has grown over time, and farmland in places like Kellyville has disappeared to make way for new houses.  And as people continually choose, or feel compelled, to move to Sydney, more farmland on the city’s suburban fringes will disappear.

Desirable and inevitable though population growth in Sydney might be, it’s creating something of a side-effect, often ignored by governments and planners.  The side-effect is the loss of farmland, and this poses a danger to food security.

As populations grow, not just in Australia but all over the world, this creates a paradox whereby less land is available for producing food and yet more people are needing good food to eat.

Notwithstanding the growth of technology and innovation, and the ability of people to surprise us all in discovering better ways of doing things, farmland is too precious to simply let go of, even to make way for houses and places for people to live.  How many people realise that much of the land on Sydney’s outer suburban fringes produces a great deal of edible food, often too easily taken for granted?

My point is that, while Sydney will grow and must grow, we have to be careful with managing growth on the fringes, where countless hectares of land produce much fresh food – these areas of land are sometimes called “food bowls”.  If we just let suburban growth or “urban sprawl” proceed without much thought, we risk losing these food bowls, meaning that we must get food from areas more distant, and the cost of transporting this food over longer distances makes it cost more.  Right now, I doubt that governments and planners are doing enough to identify food bowls on or near the fringes of Sydney, or other big cities for that matter, and preserve them wherever possible and practicable, before releasing more land for new homes.  I believe that we need to identify and preserve such food bowls while planning for outer suburban growth.

And this problem isn’t confined to Sydney.  Having been many times to watch the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix at Phillip Island in Victoria, I’ve gone out of and back into Melbourne every time, and I’ve lost count of how much farmland on Melbourne’s fringes has disappeared as new suburbs have sprung up.

To me, urban sprawl appeared overlooked when people describe farms, and therefore food, as being at risk on several fronts, in Sydney and other major cities.  I consider it as much a threat to farmland as mining and coal-seam gas.  But urban sprawl hasn’t generated the kind of public concern and anger triggered by mining and gas, especially on quality farmland in regional areas.

I’ve lost count of the number of stories that I’ve heard about quality farmland, particularly in New South Wales and Queensland, being damaged or lost as a result of mining or gas.  When it comes to gas wells, the process of drilling through the ground and fracturing it by means of high pressure to release underground gas – commonly known as fracking – has been highly controversial.  If a mistake is somehow made during the fracking process, the released gas can contaminate or damage the ground above it, making it no longer good for producing food.  While the hazard of land contamination from gas has bothered suburban communities, most concerns have come out of rural areas, where lots of farms are.  And I haven’t heard many stories of former mines being landscaped and rehabilitated and somehow transformed into good farmland.

Although I’m not against mining generally, I’m not comfortable with gas and fracking, and I think that our best farmland needs protection from those things, because one mistake during operations at a mine or a gas well might mean that the land will never be suitable for farming again.  In a world of growing populations and shrinking farmland, we can’t afford to let our best farmland go, even though demand is growing for mineral resources and gas as well as food.

The only thing that I’d “let go” of farmland for is better transport.  Because I’d like to see more people living in regional areas, particularly inland, I believe that many regional highways and some railways need to be duplicated to make access to regional centres seem smoother, and in some cases upgrading these transport links would lead to the loss of some farmland.  Indeed the regional centres of Wagga Wagga, Bathurst, Orange, Dubbo, Tamworth, and Armidale have been promoted as Evocities.  But with all lying on undivided highways, some farmland will have to be sacrificed so that they can be upgraded.

Currently our farms and food are at risk from several fronts, whether mining or gas or urban sprawl.  I support growth, but it needs to happen sensibly and carefully.  Governments must do more to fit food bowls in with growth.

 

Jobs needed for those lacking skills

8 June 2016

I’m not convinced that the rhetoric of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on jobs and the so-called “new economy” means much at all.  He can speak about new opportunities here as much as he likes.  But I care more about what’s missing from this rhetoric.

Turnbull doesn’t say what sorts of workers are needed for this new economy’s jobs.  Does he mean jobs only for skilled workers, or jobs open to those with little or poor skills?

I should know about the issue of skilled workers.  I’ve spent much of the last decade or so in and out of work, and thus on and off unemployment benefits, or the dole for short.  I often had work which wasn’t good enough for me to be able to afford to get off the dole, and even studying to get “skilled” and doing unpaid voluntary work didn’t help me.  As such, my frustrations in looking for work are strong in my mind.

In terms of my career, here’s my story dating back just over a decade, to the middle of 2005.

At that time, having been on the dole for a few months after being retrenched, I was at an appointment with Centrelink, the governmental body responsible for welfare payments and services.  The appointment was a discussion on my efforts to find work, and what assistance I might need.  During the appointment, I browsed a folder with information about courses of training available to dole recipients like myself.

Since finishing school, with results too poor to qualify me for entry into university, I’d never really been interested in further education, because I doubted that it’d help me, and for years mine was a checkered career, which included long stints out of work.  But at that Centrelink appointment in 2005, one course of training caught my eye.

It was a course in payroll, at an inner city college of technical and further education – TAFE for short.  Criticially, under a governmental arrangement, it was free for welfare recipients, many of whom might never have considered it if they’d been required to pay for it.  And I doubt that it would’ve been organised if workers with payroll skills weren’t rated as sought after by employers.  Anyway, I saw it as an opportunity to learn new skills, and a step up from office administration and data processing, which I’d done for most of my career.  When I sought more details on this course and told an organiser my story, the organiser told me that I was the sort of person whom the course was aimed at, and I was accepted into the course.

But while I enjoyed doing it, when I was applying for payroll jobs, I discovered a different truth altogether.  I found that employers only wanted skills learnt in workplaces, and not in classrooms.  So my study was pointless, because it didn’t get me a job.  Far from being “skilled”, I was no better off than before studying.  And this had been a TAFE course, which should’ve looked like half-decent education.  If doing a TAFE course didn’t me a job, what use was going to university?  And how do you get workplace skills outside a workplace?  I was needing a job to get experience, yet needing experience to get a job.

I found work a few months after finishing my TAFE course, but it was unrelated to what I’d studied, and it only lasted about a year.  From then until late last year, beyond a totally different job as a driver of disabled schoolchildren, I could find no more than a handful of temporary assignments and short-term contract jobs, which gave me hardly any financial security.

In 2008, while out of work again, I was talked into doing another course of study, this time in bookkeeping, but the result was the same – no work without workplace skills, which I couldn’t get through studying.  Now I’ve sworn off studying, and I don’t care if I never study again.

After completing my bookkeeping course, I did unpaid voluntary work at some small businesses, in order to gain some workplace skills.  But even this didn’t help me.

How many other jobless people have similar stories of showing initiative in studying or doing voluntary work, for the sake of doing something instead of sitting around on their backsides, yet getting no reward for their efforts?

I believe that employers are too picky about what skills and experience they seek.  Because people change jobs more frequently than they used to, employers are understandably reluctant to spend money on training workers who promptly move on, sometimes to work for employers’ rivals, whether friendly or unfriendly.  Employers in small businesses in particular can’t afford to “throw away” as much money as bigger corporations.  But how do poorly-skilled workers get “skilled”, when employers won’t train them and often don’t look favourably upon “skills” acquired through study?  Employers have no business – if you’ll pardon the pun – in demanding skilled workers if they insist on someone else training them.

Only once in the last decade do I remember any industry representative or leader publicly implying employment opportunities for those lacking skills.  It was around 2007 or so when I saw a television story featuring a senior figure in the mining industry, which was then in a boom period.  I don’t recall exactly who the mining industry figure was, or what he said, but in appealing for workers he was effectively saying, “Don’t worry if you haven’t got the necessary skills or experience – we will train you.”

No other industry leader has ever said anything like that since then.  Nobody has made that kind of appeal for workers, whatever their skills.  And right now, despite banging on about new opportunities, Turnbull’s not saying whether they’re only open to skilled workers.

However the economy transforms, jobs are needed for the jobless, especially those lacking skills.  Someone must take responsibility for training the poorly-skilled, or they’ll get nothing from the new economy.

 

GST needs broadening instead of raising

5 June 2016

Various ideas have been floated over time about reforming the taxation system.  Some ideas have been taken up, wholly or partly, and other ideas have been knocked back.  The hard part is coming up with a system which can’t be easily taken advantage of or avoided in some fashion.

Probably the biggest reform to the tax system was the introduction of a tax on goods and services, or a GST for short.  The GST can be described as a consumption tax, applied to when people spend.  This came into being in the middle of 2000.

Because of political realities at the time, the GST was excluded from many things, most significantly fresh food.  It was thought that taxing food would penalise society’s poorest people the hardest.  Although considered fair, it led to confusion over what constituted fresh food or processed food or cooked food.  As a result, all sorts of food products don’t attract the GST, and nor should they, while other food products attract it.

But fresh food isn’t the only thing exempt from the GST.  I don’t claim to know what else is GST-exempt, but there are all sorts of non-food products and services which are also GST-exempt.  This has left the tax system riddled with holes, and there’s much confusion over what attracts GST or is exempt from it.  Indeed I read somewhere that the GST is paid on only about half of Australia’s entire economic activity – this isn’t exactly efficient.

There have been ideas floated for reforming the GST, whether by raising it or broadening its base.  These have been knocked off, because of the thought that poorer people would fare worst out of any such change.

Dangerous as this sounds, I’m of the view that the GST needs reforming.  I’m opposed to raising the GST, currently at a rate of ten per cent on items attracting it, but I support broadening its base.  While fairness is part of the reason why I’m against raising the GST, there’s another reason, arguably ignored in the reform debate – administrative simplicity.

Somebody used a theory of a shoebox to explain the theory of how the GST affects businesses or entities which charge it for their goods and services.  And I’d name the individual who used the shoebox theory, if I could only remember who it was!

It’d be so much easier for business owners to be able to empty out their cash registers at the end of the week or month, count up their takings, put ten cents of every dollar into a shoebox, tally up what ends up in the shoebox, and send off a payment for the shoebox’s tally to the relevant government authority.

Because there are so many exemptions to the GST, countless business owners can’t do this, and they have to work out what attracts the tax and what’s exempt from it.  While they might have accountants and other professionals to do this form, how much easier would it be if they didn’t have to work the exemptions?

And how much more difficult would be for business owners to work out what they owe in terms of GST if they had to count eleven or twelve cents from every dollar?  Given that we round everything to the nearest five cents or ten cents when we spend these days, raising the GST would create an administrative mess.

While I oppose putting the GST on fresh food, I don’t see why we can’t start removing GST exemptions from other goods and services.  We should look for those, and seek to remove them first, ideally if they’re most often bought or used by wealthier people.

My argument is that the GST needs broadening rather than raising, particularly from the perspective of administrative simplicity.  Some people might pay more, but a careful check of exemptions could limit the cost of GST reform to those who can least afford it.

 

Regional highways need duplication

28 May 2016

I read recently about proposed improvements at an airport in Merimbula, on the South Coast of NSW, which might be a boost for tourism in the area.  It might have merit, but there’s also a political angle to it.

Much of the South Coast is in the Federal electorate of Eden-Monaro, currently held by the Liberal Party by a narrow margin.  Eden-Monaro is always a watched electorate at Federal elections.  Since 1972, no government has been elected without winning Eden-Monaro.  It was in 1972 that the Labor Party won its first Federal election since the 1940s, and it was holding Eden-Monaro before that election, but since that time Eden-Monaro has changed hands whenever governments have changed.  The Liberal Party won it while winning office in 1975, and Labor won it back while winning office in 1983.  At subsequent elections to result in changes of government, specifically in 1996 and 2007 and 2013, Eden-Monaro went with the new government.

But there’s something missing in the question about what’s needed for the South Coast, if not other regions across NSW.  Most of them have major highways, but they’re all undivided two-lane roads, and any one of them could be totally closed to traffic in the event of one single road crash.  If these regions are to grow and lure people out there, these regional highways need upgrades, ideally total duplication.

The Princes Highway is the main highway on the South Coast.  I haven’t been on it in decades, but I remember it being largely a undivided road, and I know of accidents in recent years having totally blocked it.  How can this be helpful for those who live on the South Coast, or those who visit it?

I don’t understand why nobody proposes to completely upgrade the Princes Highway to a duplicated road.  The South Coast’s population has long been growing, but its main highway doesn’t seem that good.  But it’s only one of many regional highways around NSW in of upgrading, if not total duplication, especially if the population grows in the areas that these regional highways service.

Much focus over decades has been on the Pacific Highway.  Since two horrible road accidents involving buses occurred on that road in late 1989, much of the highway has been upgraded to a dual carriageway, but it’s still undivided and dangerous in many sections.  They should’ve been upgraded years ago, especially when governments were wallowing in revenue of mining booms and had massive budget surpluses.  In light of the failure to complete the upgrading of the Pacific Highway during the years of budget surpluses, having a budget deficit is no excuse for leaving it undivided.

Aside from the Pacific Highway, many other regional highways should be upgraded to duplicated roads.  They include the New England, Mitchell, and Sturt highways.  Those highways service six of seven so-called Evocities in NSW – the State government uses this term to describe major regional cities to which people are being encouraged to move.  The New England Highway servicing Armidale and Tamworth, the Mitchell Highway servicing Dubbo and Orange and Bathurst, and the Sturt Highway servicing Wagga Wagga are all undivided roads.  One single accident could close any of these highways to traffic.  Of the seven Evocities, only Albury lies along a highway which is completely divided, namely the Hume Highway.

Unless these regional highways are upgraded, regional centres won’t attract people to them as easily as they might.  And we need regional centres to attract people, who might otherwise end up in congested cities like Sydney.

I support upgrading the Princes Highway on the South Coast and those NSW highways mentioned above.  They might cost money, but they’ll also save money as accidents would be less likely to close them.  I believe that if you get your infrastructure right, especially your transport infrastructure, the people will be lured over.

 

Spend more wisely on education

27 May 2016

I’ve lost count of how often I’ve heard arguments about how much funding schools and education systems need.  There are claims of government schools being underfunded, of non-government schools getting more government funding than they need or deserve, of government schools getting more government funding overall than non-government schools, and so on.  Trying to explain how it all works is confusing.

Over recent years, many people have narrowed the education debate down to a funding review by a bloke named David Gonski.  He proposed funding arrangements for schools in some manner different from how they’ve been funded over time.  From this comes the assertion on whether or not you “give a Gonski”.

There have been arguments that you don’t “give a Gonski” if you question or doubt the need for spending on schools, as per the Gonski arrangements.  This has been used, often hysterically, to silence critics.

But I find the argument about whether or not you “give a Gonski” to be dishonest.  We seem to throw billions of dollars at education and schools every year, yet children seem to be increasingly finishing their schooling with poor literacy and numeracy.  Clearly this funding isn’t doing as good as job as it’s purported to be doing, and this needs to change, especially with the Australian economy deeply in deficit and savings needing to be made in government spending.

We’ve got to make better use of existing spending.  And regardless of whether government schools are well-funded or not, there are plenty of them making good use of their resources and attracting parents to them.  We need to understand why these public schools are getting good results, to the point where parents really want to send their kids to them.

Over the past year I’ve seen stories of comprehensive public schools right across the Sydney region causing property prices to rise in their surrounds.  There’s some sort of requirement that parents have to live within a certain distance of a public school – known as a catchment area – if they want to send their kids to it.  As such, the prices of homes around these schools have been rising quickly, because people have been buying homes in the catchment areas of these schools in order to be allowed to send their kids to them.

I’ve also read of parents queuing up to get their kids into at least one public high school in Sydney’s south-west, where much social disadvantage exists.  The school reportedly was once struggling due to truancy and local crime.  But despite being the same school, something of note happened there some time ago, and it’s now attracting parents, even to the point where they’re turning down rare offers of places for their kids in selective schools.  There’s huge demand for selective schools, and kids need to sit tests to be eligible for places in them.  Yet this comprehensive public school is proving more attractive to parents than selective schools.

When you consider that government schools are perceived as having less flexibility and freedom than non-government schools, in terms of how kids are educated and how they learn, it seems hard to imagine government schools actually proving more attractive to parents and their kids than non-government schools.  Yet Sydney has comprehensive public schools driving up property prices, and proving more attractive than selective schools.  I dare say that other major cities across Australia have similar situations with public schools, and if you look closely you’ll find many public schools with waiting lists.

We need to understand how these public schools are managing to attract parents and kids more successfully than others.  Are they getting good results in terms of education and learning because of their teachers or principals, or their facilities?  Could their achievements be emulated elsewhere?  Could other public schools be as successful with perhaps a one-off investment in something?

At the moment, Australia needs to reduce public spending, and the Gonski stuff seems to be used to justify simply throwing more money at schools, without much attention paid to what the money goes into.  Can this be changed?

We need to spend more wisely on education, rather than just spend more.  Smarter spending could deliver savings, without resorting to expenditure cuts or costly rises.