Monday, May 30, 2011

Faring Pretty Well

Public transport fares are a difficult issue for any government.

It goes without saying that it would be great if there were no fares and public transport was subsidised 100% - no doubt there are many people who take that view.

The problem is of course government's limited resources - when there are only so many dollars to go around, it makes sense that the people using public transport chip in.

How much should that contribution be?  As of right now, NSW train passengers (just to take an example) pay approximately 25% of the cost.  In other words, 75% of the cost of running CityRail is covered by government funding.

Taken from Prices and Services Report
For some people, fares are far too high, so they don't use public transport.  For others (like me) the fares are low enough that we would happily pay a fair bit more before we were tempted to jump into a car.

Early 2010, we were introduced to the MyMulti ticket. The most generous MyMulti ticket allows you to travel anywhere you could get to without a countrylink (the area bounded by Newcastle, Dungog, Scone, Lithgow, Richmond, Goulburn, Bomaderry and Bondi Junction) as well as unlimited bus and ferry.

As of June 2010, a MyMulti3 cost $2280 for a yearly pass.

The strange thing is this - a yearly ticket from Gosford to Wynyard is still available to be purchased for $2464.

Before the election, O'Farrell promised to reduce fare prices for CityRail services.  The table provided (and still available on the Liberal website) promised savings of $100 on all yearly tickets, regardless of the original price.

There would be the same reduction for persons buying MyMulti tickets.

Today Gladys Berejiklian announced tickets would be falling by 9% (see this table)

The cut applies to all monthly, quarterly and yearly tickets, but not to individual tickets or, crucially, weekly or fortnightly tickets.

These cuts are well in excess of the cuts promised during the election.

I don't have any stats on this, but anecdotally it seems to me that, as a percentage of total trips, not many trips are made on individual tickets.

But, judging from the queues every monday morning, a lot of people travel on weekly and fortnightly tickets.

Last year Labor introduced fortnightly tickets in an attempt to reduce the number of people queuing on monday mornings, which made a lot of sense. That said, the tickets somewhat inexplicably did not give any discount compared to buying a weekly (in the way that discounts are given for monthly, quarterly and yearly tickets).

What the changes announced today effectively do is increase the discount for a monthly, quarterly or yearly purchase.

So, what discount is allowed at the moment?  I'm going to assume that most people buying these tickets are commuters, and are therefore travelling between the same two stations five days a week.

Using the example of Gosford to Wynyard, we can see the following:

Return: $15.60
Weekly (7 days, so 5 workdays): $56, or a 28.2% discount
Monthly (28 days, so 20 workdays): $224, or a 28.2% discount
Quarterly (90 days, so approx 65 work days): $616, or a 39.3% discount
Yearly (365 days, so approx 260 work days): $2 464, or a 39.3% discount

As you can see in the table released today, the additional discounts apply to the monthly, quarterly and yearly tickets only.

The new price structure works out as follows:

Return: $15.60
Weekly (7 days, so 5 workdays): $56, or a 28.2% discount
Monthly (28 days, so 20 workdays): $204, or a 34.6% discount
Quarterly (90 days, so approx 65 work days): $560, or a 44.8% discount
Yearly (365 days, so approx 260 work days): $2 240, or a 44.8% discount

The My Multi tickets will fall in price as well, but only by the amounts promised during the campaign - $9 for a monthly, $25 for a quarterly and $100 for a yearly.

A yearly MyMutli3 will therefore cost $2 180 (still cheaper than a Gosford to Wynyard yearly).

I guess my thoughts are this: first of all, kudos on the Liberals for overdelivering.  It's not often we see that a party over-deliver after a win, and it is not often that we see fares reduced outside of an election year, so they deserve credit for that.

That said, one would have thought that the massive budget black-hole would prevent any such generosity, but perhaps I'm too cynical.

Secondly, why are people still able to buy yearly tickets between two stations in situations where it would be cheaper to buy MyMulti3 tickets? I don't know whether CityRail have a policy of suggesting the MyMulti tickets were it is in fact cheaper, but I would have though that to do so would only be fair.

What I'm really interested in though is whether these changes well directed.  We certainly should be encouraging more people to buy monthly, quartly and yearly tickets, because the cost to CityRail is less (staffing at windows, servicing of machines etc) - but if a 39% discount wasn't enough to convince you to commit, is 45% going to be?

Is this discount just throwing money away for a good headline - or will it actually have an appreciable effect on consumer behaviour? Or is it just meant to be a recognition of sorts that monthly, quarterly and yearly ticket prices are generally too high?

A lot of people still buy weekly tickets for all sorts of reasons - perhaps they might be planning on changing jobs, or locations, or perhaps they are not sure when they might take a week or two of leave.

Perhaps others don't have sufficient funds available to "pre-pay" for the travel to such a degree, even though in the long run it works out cheaper.

I'm certainly not complaining - I'm a yearly ticket buyer, so that is $100 extra in my pocket next year.  I just hope that this move is being done for more than a positive headline.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

All Quiet on the Labor Front

New South Wales politics has been a little slow recently.

Since the election we have seek Kristina Keneally stand down (as expected) and see John Robertson ascend (as expected).

An orderly changeover.  Picture from The Courier Mail
The changes brought by the Liberal party have, for the most part, been comparatively minor, especially when it is considered that the Coalition is back in power for the first time in 16 years.

The campaign slogan was "Real Change for NSW" - but we have seen precious little change since the election.

That is, at least in part, because the Coalition was fairly circumspect about what they would do once in power.  A politically sensible strategy - why raise expectations beyond what was necessary to secure victory?

Having promised so little, all they need to do to win a second term is avoid pissing off too many people.

That said, they've certainly managed to piss off a fair few people in the first 2 months

I've blogged previously about the proposed change to the solar rebate (dumb politics), as well as the mooted introduction of life sentences for cop killers (dumb policy, but at the end of the day probably smart politics, if a little populist).

Notwithstanding that, the legislation has hardly been ground breaking, and certainly don't herald a era in NSW.

The reaction from Labor to these changes was, for the most part muted.  There is no way Labor could come out against the cop killer law for fear of enraging the police union, nor could they say too much about the solar scheme given that O'Farrell was trying to fix the mess they created.

Yesterday, however, O'Farrell announced that there would be reform of the wages and conditions of public sector workers.

On one level, this is straight from the conservative playbook - restraining wages growth and reducing what the Coalition would call beaurocracy.

The odd thing about the policy is that, as best I can tell from the press reports, wages growth will be limited to 2.5% unless productivity savings can be demonstrated.

This has a marked similarity to the policy that the Labor party had in place in the year before the election.

That said, the Coalition policy does go further in that it also centralises a lot of power with the finance minister and reduces the role of the Industrial Relations Commission

The problem NSW is that the government's wage bill is enormous, and it is growing unsustainably.  Something needs to be done to control it.

This may be the issue that finally gives Robertson something to get angry about. Given his background (union headkicker, on one reading) this is right up his alley.

Up to now, Labor have for the most part been missing in action.

That wasn't a stupid strategy.  Labor has needed to keep their head down for a while - for a time at least, nothing said would get any traction.  They needed to wait until the first letters to the editor appeared saying "If I had known this I would never have voted for the Coalition."

It may be that Labor thinks that this is the policy to attack on.  They will undoubtedly have the support of the union movement - Unions NSW are apparently already launching a campaign against the changes.

Even this issue  is a tricky issue to attack, because, put simply, there does need to be a measure of wages control in the NSW public sector. O'Farrell would do well to remind the public that this is their money, after all, and he has a responsibility to spend it wisely.

That said, this kind of issue is right in Labor's wheelhouse, and it is likely that most people won't remember the Labor policy.  No doubt all will be forgiven at least as far as the union movement is concerned.

The first MP booted from the new Bearpit was booted today after "raising her voice"  over this issue.

Cherie Burton, booted today.  Picture from the Tele
Hopefully a sign of Labor getting the groove back on.  Should be interesting.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Mandating a change

"Mandatory" and "Sentencing" are two words that do not belong in the same sentence.

They have been thrust together in the last few days by the Coalition's announcement that the Government intends to table legislation next week making a life sentence mandatory for persons convicted of killing a police officer.

Mandatory Sentencing has, to say the least, a chequered history in Australia.  After the scandal that eventuated in the Northern Territory when a "three strikes and you're in" policy was tried, most governments have been loathe to try again.

There are already a few areas where New South Wales has mandatory sentencing, although it might be more accurately described as being "mandatory sentencing lite".

There are a multitude of driving-related offences where a magistrate must, upon, conviction, disqualify the driver for a minimum term.

Further, if a person breaches an Apprehended Violence Order "with an act of violence" then the person should be sentenced to a term of imprisonment "unless the court otherwise orders".

There are also some offences for which a life term is mandatory. Section 61 of the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999 details two situations in which a life sentence is mandatory:

- Where as person is "convicted of murder if the court is satisfied that the level of culpability in the commission of the offence is so extreme that the community interest in retribution, punishment, community protection and deterrence can only be met through the imposition of that sentence" 


- in particularly serious drug supply matters, where the court considers it appropriate.

These "mandatory sentences" still allow the court to consider the objective seriousness of the offence in deciding whether the imposition of a life sentence is appropriate.

Between 2003 and 2008, it appears that at least 7 people have been sentenced to life imprisonment for murder in New South Wales.

So - does New South Wales need mandatory sentencing for police killers?  I would suggest no.

If the sentence for persons who murder a police officer are too soft, then it is open to the government to, for example, insert an additional subsection into section 61 It could read, for example:

"A court is to impose a sentence of imprisonment for life on a person who is convicted of murder of a police officer acting in the execution of his or her duty unless the court is satisfied that the circumstances of the case do not justify it."

That would, in effect, mean that the court will start with a life sentence and decide whether it appropriate to give anything less.

It would also leave some discretion for the judges to decide whether a life sentence is appropriate or not, rather than mandating a blanket rule.

That said, the law already hands down more serious penalties for murders where the police officer is the victim..

Section 21A of the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999 mandates that any offence is aggravated (and the penalty therefore increased) where the victim was a police officer.

Further, the Standard Non-Parole Period (the sentence the court must impose for a "mid-range" offence) is 25 years where the victim is a police officer.

The crime of murder carries a life sentence as a maximum penalty.  There is no minimum sentence, and no requirement that a person even be imprisoned, but unsurprisingly the stats reveal that the penalties are very heavy.

For the 112 offences recorded in the Judicial Commission's statistics between 2003 and 2009, the shortest sentence imposed was one of 12 years.  Most received at least 18 years, with 37 persons (or 33%) receiving more than 25 years.

The statistics I have access to do not provide a breakdown of the sentences for police offices.  However, the case of Penisini is a useful example.

Without getting lost in the detail, Penisini was sentenced for the brutal murder of Constable Glenn McEnallay.  

Glenn McEnally. Photo from the Daily Telegraph
The Constable briefly pursued Penisini's car after he was informed that it was stolen.  After the stolen car collided with a gutter,  Penisini got out the car and fired 5 shots through the drivers side window of McEnalley's car.  The officer died 7 days later.

While assessing that the matter fell towards the upper end of seriousness for a murder (not least of all because the victim was a police officer), the court took into account a number of mitigating factors (including the plea of guilty, remorse and youth) and sentenced him to 34 years imprisonment, with a non-parole period of 23 years.

If you're interested, the sentencing judge in Penisini lists and gives a brief description of the previous matters where the court decided that a life sentence was appropriate.  That part of his judgment is extracted in the Court of Criminal Appeal decision and can be found here (see paragraph 13).

As the Court of Criminal Appeal said when it declined to increase the penalty to life imprisonment (as was sought by the Crown), "The sentence... imposed was a heavy sentence, even for the crime of murder."

I do not propose to enter a detailed analysis of the decision in Penisini, nor do I suggest that that penalty was correct or otherwise.

What I do say is that it is a good example of the way in which the court is able to consider both the aggravating and mitigating factors in a murder where the victim was a police officer.

If the penalty was a mandatory life sentence, there is by definition no discretion whatsoever.  Every case is different, and while it is wholly appropriate that heavy sentences be imposed for persons who kill police officers, this move would remove all room for discretion and increase penalties where there is no evidence that the court's decisions are unduly lenient.

There a multitude of other reasons why mandatory sentencing could create negative results.  No doubt pleas of not guilty will become more common, given there is to be no allowance for a plea of not guilty.

Further, it is instructive to look at that list of matter where the court has previously imposed life sentences.  The examples include:

- Serial Killers
- People who killed for pleasure
- A double murder involving torture and gratuitous violence
- Contract killings and 
- A political assassination

All of the above offences were heinous in the extreme, and wholly deserving of a life sentence.  It is difficult to understand what it is that makes the killing of a police officer so much worse that it should be the offence singled out for a mandatory life sentence.

Worst of all, the fact that this suggestion comes out of the blue forces one to wonder whether the change is being made purely for political purposes - to muddy the water as the Coalition brawls with the police union over their pay increases.

Either way, in the absence of examples where the government suggests that the sentences are unduly light, there would appear to be no need for a change.  And certainly not a move towards mandatory sentencing.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Solar'd up the River

The people are angry, and they are marching.

The Carbon Tax rallies have been, to say the least, a sight to behold.  After major rallies in the capital cities and Canberra, there was apparently a rally in Rob Oakeshott's electorate in the last week.

Today a very different group gathered in Sydney - thousands, by some reports

A picture for today's rally, from
This group has, whether for environmental or financial reasons, taken a very different position in the environmental debate.

This group has invested in solar panels.

They did so on the basis that, if their solar panels' power production exceeded their use, that they could "feed" the excess power back into the network and receive a rebate of 60c per kilowatt hour.

Many people (like Peter Rejto) ran the sums and decided that the rebate made it financially viable to invest in the panels.

But it all came crashing down last Friday (Friday the 13th, for those of you who, like me, notice and appreciate these things). 

Minister for Energy and Resources Chris Hartcher, who had announced a few weeks before that no new applications would be considered, announced last Friday that present participants who were receiving 60c per kilowatt hour would have their rate reduced to 40c per kilowatt hour.

Some of the home owners on the scheme were at the 60c rate, whilst others had signed up after the rate was reduced to 20c.  When the rate was reduced to 20c, those who had signed up at 60c got to keep that price.

Those on 20c will be unaffected by this change, but those on 60c are to have their rate reduced.

The wailing and gnashing of teeth has been deafening.

That said, the move would not have come as a shock to many people.

When the fee payable to new applicants was reduced to 20c Labor was still in power.  There was a small hoo-ha whether Keneally had advance knowledge of the change and managed to get her panels before it all took effect, but none of the participants could complain too much - those who got in early would still get the higher rate. 

The problem was that the scheme was massively popular - it seems that the government under-estimated the enthusiasm (or ability) of the public to invest now to save costs later.

It had been introduced by John Robertson (as the then Energy Minister). The budget for the scheme was $355 million, but the cost quickly sky-rocketed as people clambered aboard.  

The scheme's potential cost was quickly far too much for the government, and Labor has admitted (at least according to this Liberal Press release) that the scheme needed to be closed off.

From a policy perspective, however, the 60c rate was too high.  Way too high. The difficulty was that the 60c rate is enshrined in legislation.

I had no idea that there was actual legislation on this until I noticed a quote from today's rally,

John Kaye MLC said that the move was "semi-illegal".

I had a look around and discovered that we are blessed with the Electricity Supply (General) Regulation 2001.  If I have understood it correctly, regulation 104L does in fact prescribe the rate of 60c per kilowatt hour for those persons who connected before 28 October 2010.

Apparently Hartcher conceded that to make the change will require retrospective legislation (see here) although to me, based on a quick glance around the act it simply seems that they need to amend the legislation to reduce the rate.

It is strange that they would concede that the legislation is "retrospective", because whilst the intricacies of legislation are a mystery to most people, the words "retrospective legislation" are not.

One might have expected, when questioned on how the changes would be made, that Hartcher would give a long-winded, legal jargon heavy answer that provided nothing any journalist could understand, much less quote.

Having said that, whether the change is identified as "retrospective" is probably not going to matter to Joe Citizen who invested in solar panels intending to recoup his spending from feed-in tariffs.

There has also been a lot of talk about the Libs reneging on "contracts".  I don't have solar panels so I have no idea what kind of documentation you have to execute, but I suspect that whatever paper work was entered provides the government with an out.  

But in the political arena, again, a small print escape is not going to get anyone off your back in this kind of situation.

The letters page of the Herald has been pretty busy.  

Norman Arnott of Forestville said "If Mr O'Farrell and his team bring this change to law, they will, in my view destroy any credibility and trust I had in them when I voted for them on March 26 in both houses."

Landon Mangan of Umina Beach said "Unfashionable it may be to find shortcomings of the O'Farrell government, but proposed retrospective legislation on solar panel payments is breaking a contract, breaking faith, betraying a trust and costing me about $5000."

A few more creative letter writers suggests that the voters unilaterally reduce all fees payable to the State Government by 33% and see how that goes.

The real kicker, however, is that the NSW Liberals said they would not do this before the election.

I've had a pretty thorough Google at the issue, and I've been unable to find any sort of formal election policy announcement on the topic.  I can't find any record of O'Farrell, for example, promising not to reduce the rate.

What I have found, however, is this speech from Pru Goward, Liberal member for Goulburn.

Pru Goward.  Picture from the ABC
The speech is in reply to the second reading of the Electricity Supply Amendment (Solar Bonus Scheme) Bill 2010, which was the piece of legislation  that reduced the rate for new signups from 60c to 20c.

She goes on for a while (quite a while, in fact) about the inability of the Labor government to properly budget for the scheme, and then says this:

"We also understand that all existing participants must have their existing agreements honoured."

As if that wasn't enough, she really nails her colours to the mast in the next 2 sentences:

"This side of politics particularly understands the importance of retrospectivity. I want to be very clear on this point: A future O'Farrell-Stoner Government, a Liberal-Nationals Government, will also honour those agreements."

How stupid can you get?  

How stupid to make that promise then (given, and let's be honest, how many people would have known she had made that promise if the government hadn't broken it?).

How stupid to, after it has been said, come back round and change the price, and not think this line would be thrown back in your face by anyone with a vested interest.

How stupid not to simply keep paying the exorbitant rate, trumpet the amount to the media as a sign of your commitment to the environment, look good for honouring a bad deal you didn't strike, and simply blame Labor for the financial damage it is doing.

No wonder the people are marching.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Trouble and Lawsuits Down South

Things are getting ugly in Wollongong.

Politics down south of Sydney has been a pretty rough trade of late.  Between the Wollongong Council ICAC investigation and the resignation and outing of David Campbell (then member for Kiera) it's been rough sailing for Labor in those parts of late.

Going into the election, Keira, Shellharbour and Wollongong were all "safe" Labor seats.  I say "safe" because very few seats were actually safe given the swings that some people were expecting.

Not only was Labor on the nose, but many people thought that David Campbell debacle would hurt Labor, even though some sympathised with him after the way Channel 7 handled his outing.

In the event, Labor held all 3 seats, but with drastically reduced margins - in Shellharbour a margin of 21.6% was reduced to 8.6%, in Keira, a margin of 22% was reduced to 3.9%, and in Wollongong Noreen Hay held on by the skin of her teeth, her 25.3% margin having been decimated to lie at 1%.

It was so close in Wollongong that her independant opponent, Gordon Bradbery, in fact claimed victory on the night, despite sitting on a margin of 0.4%.

It took some five days before Hay called the media to claim victory by a mere 650 or so votes.

Even on the day of the Election however, there were rumblings of discontent.

This article explains that the Liberals had been advocating a "vote one" strategy - meaning that they were asking voters to only number the box next to the Liberal candidates name.

The allegation (made initially by the Liberal party, and apparently the subject of a complaint to the NSW Electoral Commission) was that Labor had stolen some of those cards and hand amended them to ask voters to place a "2" next to Noreen Hay's name.

Photo from The Illawara Mercury
The above photo is one of the allegedly doctored How To Vote Cards.  Hay denied any knowledge of the incident, despite the fact that the doctored cards were said to have been found hidden amongst Labor's campaign material.

The campaign has already gotten rough - thanks to the very excellent we can see this leaflet that Gordon's supporters delivered during the campaign. 

Photo from
Unfortunately no one has uploaded the original Labor leaflet, but I think we get the idea.

The Daily Telegraph reported this week that Gordon Bradbery had filed a complaint with the Court of Disputed Returns. 

The NSW Parliament website helpfully provides a copy of the document here

The petition makes the following complaints:

a) At least 800 fraudulent how to vote cards were found at a polling  booth at Farmborough  Road in the seat of Wollongong on the day of the election. These cards which were repeatedly handed out to voters and falsely directed preferences to Ms Hay.

b) A high incidence of double voting occurred in the election in the seat of Wollongong, particularly as a result of voters in nursing homes lodging postal votes and voting a second time on polling day. The Second Respondent failed to accurately identify and take into account double voting prior to the declaration of the poll by the First Respondent on 5th April 2011.

c) A number of posters erected on and before polling day in the seat of Wollongong, some of which displayed Labor party authorisation, instructed voters to "Just   Vote  1".  The potential for voters to misinterpret these posters as an official directive from electoral authorities was  such that the result of the election by may have been affected. 

Time will tell how many of these allegations he will actually be able to prove. The way b) is phrased it it sounds like it is simply a criticism of the NSW Electoral Commission procedure.

The first allegation really is the big ticket item.  If true, it shows a shocking course of conduct by at least one person in the Labor party - and the question will then be "How high does it go?"

If there is a whistle-blower willing to say that Hay knew about this - well, let's just say that it should be excellent viewing.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Obeid Obye

Today Eddie Obeid's retirement from the Legislative Council was finally confirmed.

To be perfectly frank about it, he has been hanging round like a bad smell for some time now.
I think he can smell it too.  From SMH
In the year leading up to the 2011 election Kristina Keneally begged the "old guard" to retire and let some "flesh blood" into NSW Labor's ranks.  We saw, as a result, a mass exodus of Labor members of the Legislative Assembly and Council in what would have otherwise been described as rats deserting a sinking ship.

Obeid quite neatly summed up everything that was wrong with NSW Labor, and I have little doubt that Robertson is breathing a sigh of relief that he is to leave.

His record includes the following:

- In 2002 he was investigated and later cleared of corruption in relation to the Oasis redevelopment 
- He repeatedly failed to disclose business interests on Parliament's pecuniary interests register
- In 2004 he was censured due to his undue influence in the elections of Matrite Council
- In 2009 he made representations to NSW Minister for Roads, Michael Daley, on behalf of Mid-Western Regional Council without disclosing his business interest in the area
- In 2009 he was alleged to have links to Ron Medich and the murder of Michael McGurk

Most importantly, when Nathan Rees was dumped and replaced by Kristina Keneally, Rees famously announced that the new premier would be "a puppet of Joe Tripodi and Eddie Obeid."

Perhaps nothing better characterised the shambolic of Labor's governing by that stage.  In my view, it all but guaranteed Labor's loss at the next election (insofar as it was not already a sure thing).

As a final note, Obeid was the leader of the "Terrigals", a disproportionately powerful ALP subfaction. 

Of course Obeid's departure is only part of the story.  He will now have to be replaced.

As Obeid is a member of the Legislative Council, his replacement can be directly nominated by the ALP without the fuss of a by-election.

As well as Obeid, John Hatzistergos (former Attorney General) announced not long after the election that he would be retiring.

In one sense, it is surprising that so few are quitting.  Labor have been in power for a long time, and once a long reign ends there is normally a purge of the ranks as former ministers contemplate 4 years on the backbench in opposition.

That said, Keneally's plea for renewal in the year leading up to the election may have adequately depleted of the ranks of those who weren't in it for the long haul.

The word around the traps is that Obeid is to be replaced by Walter Secord, former chief of staff to Keneally, and Hatzistergos is to be replaced by former Blue Mountains Mayor Adam Searle

Unsurprisingly, some have let their displeasure be known about Sussex Street appointing the replacements, even calling for a rank and file ballot of members.

Others have suggested that those that missed out on election to the Legislative Council in 2011 (Andrew Ferguson and Natalie Bradbury) should be the replacements.  

That does make sense to some extent, but in fairness it's not as if Obeid and Hatzistergos ran intending to retire if Labor lost - both were not up for reelection round as they were continuing members elected in 2007.

It would certainly be unfortunate for Labor if the issue of Obeid and Hatzistergos' successors became the circus that Labor avoided by electing John Robertson unopposed on 31 March.

At least insofar as it avoids a drama, a quick and quiet appointment of suitable candidates would make sense.

Having said that, backroom deals are one of the prime causes of Labor's present seat-count - people tired of seeing power-brokers (like Obeid) calling the shots and disenfranchising "rank and file" members.

The point was neatly summed up on twitter by @rickeyre who tweeted today: "If Secord gets parachuted into the NSW upper house ahead of candidates who stood for election, it shows the ALP has learnt nothing."

The problem is that Labor cannot resort to a rank and file vote every time something contentious comes up - their is a time to cnsult everyone and a time to just get things done and LEAD.

This may well be one of those times.

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Gift From Above

Tonight's Federal Budget promises to be a good one for New South Wales.

It seems utterly ridiculous that there are two different levels of government responsible for the funding of major projects this state, but that's another matter.

According to a report in the Herald the following projects are going to be funded by the Federal government:

  • $900 million on four highway bypasses and duplications
  • $840 million on upgrading the freight rail network from the North Shore to Newcastle and
  • Studies on "the Scone railway level crossing and the Richmond Bridge"

The $2.2 million should be contrasted with the $600 million that Victoria received.

The funding is trumpeted by the Herald as a triumph for O'Farrell, although precisely what he did to secure the funding is not clear.

There can be little doubt that he would have loved to see an allocation for the North West Rail link, an enormous funding headache he will need to address down the road.

One would have thought that the Premier of New South wales would have some say in how the Federal Infrastructure funding is distributed, but that would require a level of cooperation we seldom see between different levels of government, especially when the main players are from different parties

The allocation of Federal funding for such vital infrastructure projects should be above politics, but one only need think back to the joint announcement Kristina Keneally and Julia Gillard made during the election regarding the completion of the Epping Parramatta Rail link.

The difficulty that Federal Transport Minister Anthony Albanese has is that, on one hand, he wants to please NSW voters (especially those in the coveted Western SYdney seats) whilst doing as little as possible to help the NSW Coalition government.

It has been no secret that Tony Abbott was disappointed in the number of seats that the Coalition picked up in the 2010 Federal election, going so far as to insist that Arthur Sinodinos take over as the President of the NSW Liberal Party.

By implication, if Abbott was disappointed in the number of seats he picked up last time round, these will be first seats he eyes off next time we go to the polls.

Federal Labor of course realises this.  By the same token however, they don't want to deliver O'Farrell any more victories than the have to - every completed project in NSW (no matter who funds it) will help portray the Coalition as the party who actually gets stuff done in NSW.

I understand that here are a fair whack of people in NSW who refused to vote for the Coalition because the debacle that was the Greiner government.  Before my time, but I hear that things got pretty dire for a while back there.

If O'Farrell can really nail this goal of his to be the man who fixed NSW's transportation system, he will win a new generation of voters who vote Coalition at the state level.  In a state where the Coalition have seldom been in power, and have in the past not covered themselves in glory when they have been, this could be a major game changer.

The result of this is a Federal Labor who has to try to work out a way to fund NSW infrastructure without giving O'Farrell more than they have to.

So, you can rest assured that the North West Rail Link will almost certainly never get Federal funding whilst Labor holds the purse strings - there is no project that the Coalition government is more firmly wedded to.  O'Farrell is going to have to find that money elsewhere.

Of course, every other project that is funded Federally frees up more of NSW's budget to spend on said North West Rail Link, but not much can be done about that.

There's no knowing how much longer Labor will stay in power Federally (it's difficult to see them lasting longer than O'Farrell - that's for sure) - but you can be sure that for the rest of their reign we will see continued frosty relations, predictable sniping and little in the way of productive cooperation.

And, if we're lucky, a little bit of infrastucture building.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Hans On Kind of Girl

When Pauline Hanson first nominated for the NSW Upper House, I think everyone expected drama, but surely nothing like this.

First we had the drama as the final seat went down to the wire, and the sniping between Labor and the Greens about whose fault it would be if she was elected. 

Then we had the chance to view the distribution of preferences and see just how close Hanson got to a seat.  

But even though Hanson missed out in the end (at least according to the NSW Electoral Commission) she has refused to lie down.

As far back as the day that the final count was announced (April 12), Hanson was crying foul

Hanson complained then that the the system leans towards the major parties because they get to have their names above the line.

She also pointed to the 230 000 informal votes and 200 000 blank votes and suggested that there is "something wrong with the system".

Two days later on April 14 Hanson was demanding a recount.  There is an extremely complex system whereby preferences are distributed that I don't intend to address, but suffice to say Hanson felt that she had been cheated by it.

More recently though, a more serious complaint has emerged.

There appear to be 2 distinct branches of complaint.

First of all, as detailed in this article, at least one scrutineer discovered Hanson votes sorted with blank votes. 

We're given no further details in that story, but this would seem to be a fairly weak complaint - no doubt every party lost out on some votes that were incorrectly counted or distributed. This problem will persist until the day we finally do away with paper voting entirely.

The more interesting complaint is explained here.

In essence, she is complaining that dodgy electoral staff have "cheated" her out of a seat.

According to the Tele, her solicitor said that "an email had been sent to Ms Hanson from someone within the NSW Electoral Commission proving her claims were true."

The Herald goes one further and appears to quote said email, which reads as follows: "We know some of her people and the media are looking at the blank ballots and are trying to get them all rechecked because one of her scrutineers was meant to of (sic) found some of her votes in amongst the blanks (I have heard through the chain that there could be as many as 1200 across the state that are in with the blanks as there were a few dodgy electoral staff on, but don't offer that)."

It goes without saying that if the claim is true then it would a scandal of enormous proportions.

The important questions are:
- Who wrote this email?
- What level of knowledge did the writer have?
- What evidence is there of "dodgy electoral staff"?
- Is dodgy meant to suggest incompetent, or corrupt?
- What basis is there for the claim of 1200 votes?

At this stage, the whole thing looks a little groundless.  Hopefully as things progress is made we will find out more about Hanson's claims.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Flowering Discontent

This John Flowers saga keeps rolling on.

I wrote previously about the issue here and here.

The Man himself.  From the Telegraph
The Sydney Morning Herald has, so far, barely covered the issue.  The Telegraph, on the other hand, seems to be quite enjoying the chance to have a dig at the new kids in town.

On Monday the Tele published a long piece online about Flowers, essentially speculating that he suffered from agoraphobia.  The suggestion is not attributed, but I wonder whether it came from a source that was keen to "flush out" the true state of affairs, or was otehrwise keen to perpetuate the story.

A new story was published yesterday that explained that in fact he suffers from PTSD as a result of, amongst other things, seeing a teacher's hair set on fire and having his car rocked by students.

The interesting issue here, in my view, is the Coalition's failure to take control of the story and kill it.

This is the week that the new parliament is being opened, but instead Labor has been able distract Telegraph readers with this issue.

There was some discussion in yesterday's Telegraph article about how it is that Mr Flowers "could not go back to teaching" and that to do would have been medically unwise.

He goes on to say that teaching is different to dealing with parliament as he will be dealing with adults rather than children.

Clearly he has never seen question time in the Bearpit, but I suppose that is another issue.

The article goes on to say the following: "[Flowers] said a psychiatrist and doctor advised him to be medically retired and he has since received a "breakdown pension" involving him receiving compulsory superannuation payments he had made earlier as a teacher."

Prior to this article appearing it was my impression that Flowers was on some sort of disability pension, suggesting that he was medically unfit for work.

As I have said, I am no expert at Suerannuation, and I don't understand what "a "breakdown pension" involving him receiving compulsory superannuation payments" means.  No doubt 99% of the electorate doesn't either.

It may be that, as a result of his PTSD, he was simply given early access to his super.

On the other hand, he may have been in receipt of some centrelink type payment.

Either way, the issue is that the public have no information about what was actually going on, which means that Labor now has the opportunity to produce this.

The piece is a bit over the top in suggesting that "the fix was in" or that he is "unfit to sit in parliament". But nonetheless it is a piece that, in light of the Telegraph articles, has some traction.

The failure of the Telegraph article to fully explain what the true situation was may be more to do with the writer than the Liberal party.

But either way, this issue, which should have been stamped out before the election, is being allowed to fester.  Labor and the Tele (surprising bedfellows, to say the least) are controlling the narrative, and the narrative is damaging for the Liberal Party.

The Liberals are going to have to learn to deal with this stuff or else they are quickly going have the gloss taken off, and in a big way.

The new government's first "scandal".  Not a good reflection on them at a time when they should be winning plaudits for starting to fix stuff in NSW.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

An Incriminating Photios

Apparently the Liberals can't see the problem here, although surely any idiot would be able to.

The SMH reported today that Michael Photios has not only registered as a lobbyist, but also has one particularly big client - the Australian Hotels Association. 

He's the one on the right.  Photo from

Now this would all be unremarkable but for the fact that Photios also has a "day job" - vice president of the Liberal State Executive.

It is truly extraordinary that anyone in the Liberals could possibly think this is a good idea.

Photios is, to say the least, a high ranking Liberal member.  He's not just a party member, or a administrative employee - he is one step from being in charge of the "administrative wing" of the Liberals.

An "anonymous lobbyist" was quoted in the Herald article as saying that he "makes no secret of the fact that he has Barry's ear."  Whether the speaker is in the know or just speculating, it would certainly be bizarre if it was any other way.

And of course, as the expression goes, they wouldn't be paying for it if it wasn't worth something.

How can the Liberal rules allow this? Most government employees (at all levels) have a code of conduct that compels them to conduct themselves in a apolitical fashion.

Now of course Photios cannot conduct his role apolitically, given that his roles is intrinsically political, but one would have thought that he must compelled to act only in the Liberal party's interests. 

Presumably, of course, the Liberal party has no such rule.  He isn't a government employee, so he's not breaking any of those rules.

But the main question I have is how anyone the Liberal party cannot have a problem with the situation.

The Hotel Lobby is an disproportionately powerful lobby in NSW, to the detriment of the entire state. Sadly, it appears that their influence still runs deep in NSW.

The Liberal Party has already gotten off to a bad start on this front by opposing Gillard and Wilkie's pokie reforms.

On one hand, you can understand that the state Liberals need to be in song with the Federal counterparts on this issue.  O'Farrell may well have gotten the word from Abbott that his support is expected.

But surely he should know better than to think that no one would mind Photios being on the Hotel lobby's payroll.  Pokies and the hotel lobby generally are a sensitive topic in NSW.  

The old Labor government stank of corruption.  The two lobby groups most closely connected with that perceived corruption were development and hotels.

When the next election comes around, the Coalition surely wants to be seen as fundamentally different to the previous government.

I wrote previously that Coalition just needs to govern cautiously and avoid upsetting people, and they will probably be guaranteed at least 2 terms.

There is probably nothing that will make the Coalition government seem more like the government before than being seen to be cosying up to the Hotel lobby. 

And there is nothing that could make the Coalition seem corrupted to be more than having one of their highest ranking members on the Hotel lobby's payroll.

Surely O'Farrell is going to show some political common sense and deal with this issue before it becomes a millstone around his government's neck.