Friday, July 31, 2009

Abolish State Governments

There have been a number of attempts to get a debate underway about the relevance of our State Governments - follow the links here.

Most have floundered for a number of reasons - I won’t detail them - if you are interested then Google "abolish the states" to get a current list.

But when doing some research for a related story I came across this article from the "Daily Telegraph" reported just a week after Michael Costa resigned as NSW Treasurer in September 2008.

At the time - like many I took it as Costa’s sour grapes but looking back now I can see that the one time a powerful politician is likely to be telling the truth is after he has been forced from office.

Now Costa might be many things but I have no reason to doubt his sincerity. Read this article from "The Daily Telegraph - September 13, 2008" and weep.

------ Start of article ------

Michael Costa has called for state governments to be abolished, declaring the NSW political system is morally corrupt and no longer serves the public good.

A week after resigning as treasurer, in an exclusive essay written for The Daily Telegraph, Mr Costa said the Government was dominated by "spin merchants" and "machine politicians" unqualified to govern.

Mr Costa claims the Premier’s office had tried - unsuccessfully - to take credit for economic figures they had no control over.

Health, transport and education had become focussed on keeping doctors, rail unions and lobby groups happy instead of serving patients, commuters and the public.

In a swipe at past premiers, Mr Costa said only one of the last five had ever managed a key portfolio, which were "always under-resourced relative to public expectations".

"It is no secret if a premier wants to diminish the status of a potential rival they are given one of these portfolios" he said.

The system had become such that in these portfolios buying off interest groups was often the best strategy for survival.

"Leave a portfolio with an interest group happy and you are a success. The cost is for someone else to worry about. The strongest argument for abolishing state governments is that it would remove a layer of political interference in service delivery."

Mr Costa said that, without fundamental reform of the entire political system within 10 years, starting with the abolition of state governments, the public good would continue to be eroded.

"At the heart of modern politics, is a fundamental dishonesty that politicians and government can solve problems that are inherently unsolveable (health, happiness, wealth)," Mr Costa wrote.

"And politicians that promise solutions to these types of problems are dishonest and worse still they corrupt the political system by undermining what the system is good at providing - imperfect, transitory compromises that keep the place ticking over."

------ End of article ------

So here is the truth of it - delivered by an insider who clearly knows where the skeletons are buried and how the system works to the benefit of the political class.

Now if only we could get the Australian public to wake up to the problem then we might have a chance at introducing some change.

As if.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

This problem is one of neglect

My view is that the problem with our Federation of States is one of neglect. For 30 plus years our state political representatives have neglected the key and important investments and services that are needed to hold our society together.

Think of any really important issue - public security, health care, education, food quality, water security and quality, transport corridors and networks, climate change or anything else of substance - and ask yourself if our State Governments have delivered good outcomes for their constituents?

The answer is clearly no - and the follow up question is why not?

And the follow up answer is because we have accepted their abrogation of responsibility and even welcomed it as we have all personally adopted their creed of greed.

Greed is apparently good - as we have become inward focused and worship the "real estate" god - somehow hoping that we will be immune from any adverse effects.

We do whatever we can to maximise the value of the "real estate" that we acquire and try to extract the most value when we sell it on to the next poor unsuspecting soul.

When I look at the quality and performance of my State Government, I wonder if they aren't working a similar scheme on a far grander scale? I wonder if we are actually on the same planet?

Why aren’t they concerned about climate change? Why don’t they have a comprehensive plan in place to address the effects? Why aren't they investing in infrastructure and services to reduce our carbon footprint? Why aren’t they marshalling the population and educating them? Why don’t we all have an action plan pinned to our fridge? Why aren’t concerned people roaming around and challenging bad practice? Why do mums drop their kids off in fuel hungry 4WD’s? And why do our various Ministers continue to ignore the extent of the problem?

It’s simply because they can. There is no mechanism in place to hold our various State Government’s accountable and so they do what they like - knowing that their tenure is finite and they won’t be held to account when it all goes pear shaped.

And they do it because we let them - it really is 1984.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

ICAC is definitely not welcome in SA

The reason why an ICAC is not welcomed by the current South Australian government is because of the way that business is conducted there.

An ICAC type organisation would result in a significant change to the political landscape if the current nice and cozy arrangments were to change - because there is currently a huge political advantage to an incumbent government.

Most issues of significance in South Australia are transacted between members of the "Old Boys Club" who get together at their venue of choice - often the Adelaide Club - discuss the matter at hand and with a wink a nod and a funny handshake end up with a solution that satisfies them and their vested interests.

This is always how business has been done in Adelaide. Forget due process, due diligence, tenders and evaluations, rigorous assessments or an oversight process. The way that everything works there is on the basis of semi formal discussions between vested interests - culminating in a happy ending - for some.

It’s how;

* key government appointments are made.
* significant tenders and contracts are awarded.
* major development approvals are decided.
* significant financial decisions are made.

Imagine how an ICAC type organisation would deal with this - and you will understand why it won’t ever exist?

PS: I stand corrected - apparently it’s only the privileged who frequent the Adelaide Club and anyway they are mostly from the conservative side of politics.

But my story still stands. When the Conservatives are in power, their "old boys" do their deals over a glass of Grange at the Adelaide Club. When Labor is in power, their "old boys" do their deals over a beer at the Port Adelaide Football Club - or someplace similar.

Same thing just a different venue - both sides want us to believe that this is democracy in action.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Terms of Trade

What does not seem to have been widely reported on or noticed is the serious decline in our terms of trade. Where it has been noticed it is generally reported as adding "flexibility" to the Australian economy - as in "The Australian" today.

Most of us know what big business and their friends in the Murdoch press mean by "flexibility". But for those who don’t I will summarise it in two words - "lower incomes".

According to the latest data, contract prices for coking coal are down 60%, thermal coal is down 44% and iron ore is down 37%.

As a nation, the prices that we get for our exports were down over 20% in the latest June quarter - which was the biggest fall since the numbers started to be collected in 1974 - all despite volumes being similar to the previous quarter.

So this means that our export income is in serious decline - because our primary mineral exports are priced differently from a year or so ago. Those people who extract these minerals will be under pressure to provide "flexibility" to their employers. My only comment to them is "good luck".

Because we didn’t need to be here.

Under the previous federal government we took a deliberate strategic (if I can use that term) approach to become the quarry for the world.

We thought that our competitive advantage was in digging stuff up and sending it to China - simply because we had a lot of stuff to dig and China wanted it.

And as a result we stopped educating our people, we stopped exploring important maths and science training and we focussed on developing a new tradesman class - those who can dig stuff up and can fix the machines that are used to dig stuff up. Essentially in the space of ten years we have become a nation of semi skilled labourers.

And here we are now with "the stuff we dig" being re-priced much lower than it was previously.

How is that going to play out with the semi-skilled people who have grown up to expect to own a McMansion in suburbia, regularly acquire a new ute and other toys, eat out at Hungry Jacks, shop at Big-W, go to the footy with their mates, eat meat pies and drink VB while they holiday in Bali and be able to off-load their kids at the local child care centre? My guess is that it will dent their expectations - ever so slightly.

Perhaps they should have learnt a bit of maths and science after all.