Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Teething Issues

I saw an interesting exchange on twitter recently.

This conversation came in the wake of Barry O'Farrell rescinding the decision I wrote about here to reduce the feed-in tariff for some solar power systems from 60c to 40c.

The move put to bed what would otherwise have been a lingering discontent amongst those people financially hurt by the move.

It is difficult to gauge the effect amongst the vast majority of voters who are not receiving 60c per kilowatt hour for solar energy. Apparently we will all now pay approximately $7 extra per bill, so there is potential for some anger as a result.

That said, and as I argued in my previous blogpost, this is a problem of Labor's making.  It would have been easy for the Coalition to simply blame Labor for screwing up the implementation of the original scheme, and, in all likelihood, cop very little flack for it.

Anyway, the exchange I saw on twitter was between @SeanNic and @awelder.  

It started with:
Almost immediately after, @awelder responded 

What I was interested to discuss is to what extent a new government is entitled to a few teething problems, and how far that excuse (explicitly argued or otherwise) will get them with an electorate.

It is true that electorates can be very stupid sometimes.  Some people who are barely qualified to run a cake stand end up running countries.  

We constantly see politicians pandering to particular interest groups, and particular groups eagerly accepting what they are told because it is what they want to believe.

That said, I think the public has very little patience for errors arising out of stupidity, rather than genuine implementation difficulties. Moreover, I think the public usually can tell the difference.  

This is perhaps a good example of the where the public is not going to be fooled.  Putting aside the question of whether O'Farrell's move to cut the scheme was good policy or not, it certainly was, in my view, dumb politics.

But to suggest that it can be put down to "teething problems" is, I think, incorrect.

To cut the feed-in rate was always going to enrage a lot of people. It looked sneaky and tricky, and the Coalition used one of lawmaking's dirtiest words: "retrospective".

O'Farrell's poor decision had nothing to do with teething, but rather poor sense for what the public (and, crucially, the industry in question) would tolerate without a damaging kerfuffle.

That's not to say that there are not clearly are some issues that could be put down to teething problems.

A number of positions in the administration are going to need to be filled.  If that process took too long, or if someone of the people initially appointed turned out to have a secret life of some sort, then you can write that off to the vetting process needing to be improved, or perhaps the inevitable chaos of assuming power after 16 years without it.

By the same token, the government is no doubt going to have to replace Part 3A of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act at some point.  As I have said previously, there are some projects that are too significant to be left under the control of one small council, and there needs to be a procedure for that.

It may well be that the first attempt is a dismal failure.  

As a final example, it may be that a new MLA or MLC does something outrageously inappropriate.  Not everyone who is preselected can possibly be the reliable, upstanding person that the relevant parts of the Coalition machine believed them to be, and there may need to be a small weeding out as a member or two is shown to be wholly unsuitable for the task at hand.

But as far as major policy announcements go - areas where the political implications of the move should be plainly obvious - I don't believe that "teething problems" qualifies as an excuse.

O'Farrell has been around the block enough times that he should have known better. 

No doubt his image has been at least slightly soured by the whole experience, and rightly so. To his credit, he was smart enough to admit his mistake and fix the mess once the implications became obvious.

It remains to be seen whether his government will soon be dismissed by a cynical NSW voting public as simply "more of the same." A few repeats of this kind of silliness will have the Coalition well on the road to a well deserved demise.

1 comment:

  1. Retrospective legislation ... a direct ticket to the High Court ... that's a big bottom to be sinking one's milk teeth into. Looks like the same sort of arrogant advice the last lot were getting.