OPM (“Other People’s Money”)

Margaret Thatcher famously said the problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.

With the last of the HR person asked  to leave at the end of August, we – the legal team – have been picking up various HR tasks. We’ve just managed to settle a “general protections” claim which had some ugly allegations so that was good. More on the peripherals were – are – a couple of work cover claims.

A lawyer appointed by an insurance company covering work cover claims has been liaising with me to defend a claim brought by an employee who hasn’t been to work for nearly a year. We had overpaid her for several months and yesterday, the lawyer asked if we wanted to seek offsets against any award which may be made against us.

I thought the question curious. In my mind, that is a no brainer. Of course we wanted to offset the over-payments against any award. The lawyer’s tone however, suggested that wasn’t always the case. I said to her we surely must seek offsets because it wasn’t my money – or any other persons’ safe the company’s – to waive away. I said to her (the lawyer) that it was “company money” and we have to seek recovery or offsets.

Even as I said that, I was reminded of an old colleague – back during Phileo days – who uttered those words frequently. “It is company money” was the mantra which justified his frugality and insistence that those with expense accounts acted responsibly and with restraint.

I’m reading a book kiddo gave me for my birthday. Judith Brett.s biography on Alfred Deakin took a while (50 pages?) to warm up to but I’m enjoying it now. A near 500 page mini tome, I’m about half way and this morning I read he and a few other pioneers of Federation went to London to seek imprimatur for the draft Constitution (“the Bill”). They were in London for 3 months and each were given £1,000 for expenses. Deakin returned to Australia with over £450 unused (and returned to the public purse) whereas Barton and Kingston each had cabled back for more money and ended spending £1,500 each. Brett went on to write about how Barton and Kingston both were justified in their expenses – albeit they did dine and wine freely – but Deakin stood out as someone you could trust with other people’s money. Much like Ng Seng Hin, the Finance Director in Phileo back in the 1990’s and my erstwhile colleague.

David Leyonhjelm’s 4 types of spending comes to mind (1 – spending MY money for MY purpose; 2 – spending MY money for OTHERS’ purpose, 3 – spending OTHERS” money for MY purpose, and 4 – spending OTHERS’ money for OTHERS’ purpose).  No prizes for working out which is the worst sort of spending and how our country has come to stew in the juices of public debt.

If only the likes of Deakin and Ng Seng Hin were running the finance of more people…