Friday, November 25, 2011

The Thin Blue Picket Line

Compensation for police officers injured in the line of duty is an inevitably difficult issue for a government.

Police work is physically dangerous.  It always has been - you can do all the OH&S assessments you like, but criminals will still shoot at police and police will still need drive at 200+km/h to catch drivers who don't stop.

Of course, physical injuries are just part of the danger.  There can be no doubt that policing can and does cause not mental distress and mental injury.

For those reasons, it is unsurprising that police have high numbers of officers on stress leave, sick leave and disability leave. And yes, it costs an absolute fortune to pay all these officers who are on leave for work related injuries.

That's part of the price we pay to have a police force.  They will suffer mental and physical injuries. They need to know that if they are injured they will be (financially) protected - or else they simply won't do the job.

Having said all of that, the government needs to find the funds to pay for this.  And when budgets are tight (not that I couldn't suggest a few places to find the cash) the government may find it difficult to justify the cost.

Moreover, the government's arguments about getting officers back to work do make sense.  As I understand it, there is presently a tendency for officers to receive a large lump sum payout once they are assessed as being permanently incapacitated.  This article claims that these payouts are collequially known as "mortgage busters" - and having worked in public service myself I don't find that hard to believe.
Police Minister Mike Gallagher looking upset about something.  From here
It may well be that there should be a shift in attitudes so that officers who are injured (mentally and physically) are encouraged to get back to work once they are able, rather than been sent out to pasture.  That said, this fact sheet put together by the police union suggests that there are also significant changes to not only the timing but also the quantum of compensation, meaning that officers may be financial devastated if they are injured.

What's the solution?  Well, for once, I'm not going to smug and tell the government what it's doing wrong.  They are either going to upset the police, who have a tremendous amount of bargaining power given the nature of police strike action, or they are going to create a budget headache.

Rightly or wrongly, the role of police in the community gives the force a disproportionate ability to cause chaos with their strikes. This means that if you want to take something away from police, you need to be certain that you will win the public relations argument.
Striking police earlier this week.  Photo from here
I can't see how the O'Farrell government can do that.  Of course, given the recent poll results they may take a "devil may care" approach,  but if they want to avoid a protracted and ugly campaign they will have to give something away.

Of course, the inevitable problem for a Liberal government is that once they start giving into strike action, they can essentially make a rod for their own backs.  If unions know that the O'Farrell is willing to give in if pushed hard enough, they may be all the more likely to take action.

The solution may well be for the Liberals to cave on some apects of the plan and find a middle ground.  If a middle can be charted (perhaps where officers forced onto payments rather than a payout are not financially penalised) then the Liberals may achieve their goal of giving police a motivation to go back to work.

But if the government digs its feet in - let's just say that this could be one strike that really does do some damage.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Win for Everyone

Is it possible for everyone to be a winner? In a by-election, yes.

I've written previously about the way that even if the Nationals won the Clarence by-election (as they inevitably would) Labor would be claiming the result as a win, and living off it for some time.  There was never any doubt that there would be a swing back to Labor, given that the National's member had resigned in disgrace just 6 months after an election.
Disgraced National Steve Cansdell.
Electorates always take out their anger at returning to the polls so soon after an election, no matter what the reason. The circumstances of Cansdell's departure meant that their anger would be heightened, and the size of the swing increased.

The equation was further muddied by the absence of a high-profile independent. While this may affect primary votes, the NAT/ALP 2PP should in theory be unaffected - but of course these things are not always as simple or straight forward as that.

In the event, the results look like this (thanks to Antony Green, whose analysis has been brilliant, as always):
From here
A few salient points.

First of all, the vast majority of Richie Williamson's votes (the majority of the OTH row) flowed across to the ALP. That was to be expected.

But the 2PP for the National's was well down, although in fairness it was more or less what had been predicted.

What really interested me tonight was both sides trying to count the result as a win.

For the Nationals it was easy, given that they had actually won. Andrew Stoner had this to say:
He followed that up with an interesting response to a comment from ABC reporter Mark Tobin:
His point is a fair one, and it picks up quite neatly on just one of the reasons that the swings that we will no doubt be hearing about for some time are essentially meaningless.

Another point he might have made was that there was clearly a large "anyone but Labor" vote in March.  Some of that bitterness would be expected to have evaporated by now.

Funnily enough, the swing was what John Robertson chose to focus on:

Whilst the numbers he has quoted are more or less correct, he is perhaps misusing them slightly to fit the narrative I predicted Labor would try to run. His spin of the reason for the swing is little more than wishful thinking, in my view.

Nonetheless, the ALP will be hoping that this will continue the growing disquiet about the O'Farrell government.  Nothing reinforces an uneasiness felt by a swinging voter than the impression that lots of other people feel the same way.

As journos start (inevitably) picking up on that narrative, Robertson will have at his disposal a powerful tool to starting chipping away that those awful polling numbers that were released earlier this week.

As for the Greens, however, they've really had very little to say.  I'm not aware of any Greens MLC or MLA who has made any comment on twitter (or elsewhere) at this stage regarding the result.

The Greens have been campaigning hard on the Coal Seam Gas issue, and may have been expecting a bump from farmers concerned about the effect on their land and particularly their water supply.  Especially given the lack of a high-profile IND candidate, a swing of 0.3% is really a loss of the Greens,

John Kaye tweeted this photo earlier today, so clearly he is involved, but hasn't been heard from since:

In any event, the Greens' numbers will really only interest Greens members and wonks like myself.  The interesting part will be following the media over the next few days as the Nationals try to talk about how they won and as Labor tell anyone who can hold a pen about the massive swings they achieved.

It's going to be a fascinating week.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Killing off Debate

Is there a more emotive question than whether voluntary euthanasia should be a legal?

Whilst I have of course experienced the death of a relative, I have never had to deal with the horror of seeing loved one, terminally ill, dying in pain.

I can't even comprehend how I would deal with that.  It would be utterly awful.
Miscellaneous photo to illustrate grief.  From here
The pain would only be magnified by that person asking  you to help them die.  Whilst many terminally ill people are unable to communicate, most are, and no doubt many would prefer to end their life "on their own terms".

Such a preference is often (maybe even usually?) totally rational. When one has lived a long, rich life, it is not hard to imagine why someone would rather end at it at the time of their chosing, rather than lingering for an indeterminate period, often in horrednous pain.

In a world where those statements could be trusted, and where we could trust relatives to care for their elderly relatives, there would in my view be little reason to oppose the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia.

We already allow persons to indicate that they do not wish to receive treatment or be resuscitated.  We allow doctors to withdraw treatment from persons who cannot be revived.  Why the distinction?

In part, the reason is that we cannot always rely on requests to die.

It does not take much imagination to foresee an elderly relative, perhaps a bit doddery or just old and frail, being pressured by a family member to end it - not for the elderly person's benefit, but rather for the relatives.

It may be intentional.  It may be a subtle hint.  It may be just a resignation or frustration hinted by deed or word.
Miscellaneous photo to illustrate elderly.  From here
An even more difficult question is working out whether any euthanasia scheme should be limited to those who are terminally ill.  The old expression is that, over a long enough time line, everyone is terminal - how sick should you have to be? Should pain be a prerequisite?

Moreover, who is going to decide whether the criteria are met?  Bear in mind that persons wishing to end their life are often under significant financial stress, and may not be able to afford the cost of doctor reports, legal representation and psychiatric assessments.

In the alternative, should we allow anyone, in any circumstance, for any reason, to ask to be killed?  Should there be a cooling off period?  A mental health assessment? Are we comfortable people walking in off the street and asking to die?

My person view is that if a sane, rational person wants to die, then I can't see what right I have to stop them. What gives me trouble is how we build a system of laws around that - what sort of regulation or set of rules will achieve the aim of seperating those with a rational, sane desire to die from those in the grips of depression, or a relative wanting a hassle off their hands?

These are difficult questions.  No doubt they are questions we will have cause to mull over once Cate Faeurhmann (GRN) introduces her bill to legalise voluntary euthanasia next year. Hopefully there will be a public consultation period, and if time permits I'll be making a submission.
The lady herself.  From here
Voluntary euthanasia is a topic that fits very neatly with the Greens progressive agenda, and we can expect the usual suspects to come out in force for and against the bill.

Most likely with the intention of kicking off this debate, a Dying with Dignity Forum was held at Parliament house on Tuesday.  Speakers included Nicholas Cowdery (ex NSW DPP who has long spoken in favour of voluntary euthanasia) and former Northern terrritory Chief Minister Marshall Perron (who was at the helm when the NT briefly had a law allowing voluntary euthanasia).

If Liberal MP's are allowed a conscience vote (as the article suggests) then all bets really are off as to whether the bill will pass.  On one hand, this is a Green bill, and strongly progressive one at that.  Conversely, elderly people tend to support euthanasia is far greater numbers than younger people who have perhaps never seen a loved one die in pain.

If we're lucky, we may even see the kind of vigorous debate we saw when RU486 was debated in the Federal Parliament in 2006.

I don't know what the result will be, and I daren't predict the outcome.  But I'm ready for an enthusiastic flurry of lobbying as those with a vested interest launch a campaign.

Now THAT will be a Hansard worth reading.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A First Impression

The first NSW Newspoll since the election.  It ain't pretty reading for Labor.
Labor primary is at 22%.  Twenty-two percent!

That is 3.5% less than what they polled at the election. Looking at the numbers before the election makes it even more striking.
Shamelessly nicked from Newspoll and The Australian
From the 2007 election the number slowly trended downwards from 39% to 23% shortly before the election.  It may be that the 23% just before the election and the 22% now are both an underestimate, and the true figure is 25% they polled at the election, but either way, the numbers are still subterranean.

The TPP has deteriorated too: down marginally from 36% to 34%.

There are a few things I should say at this point, in fairness.  First of all, the next election is 42 months away.  Whilst the Clarence election is next weekend, the polling numbers are not actually going to "matter" for some time yet.

Further, voting intentions at a time well outside the lead-up to an election are not worth much because people aren't in a place where who they might vote for enters their mind, not to mention that the parties are not in anything resembling campaign mode.

That said, polls do give politicians an idea of how they are tracking.  I firmly believe that any politician who claims that they don't read polls is a liar - polls matter, and for better or worse they motivate a great deal of what our politicians do.

Labor will be disappointed with these numbers.  They have to be.

In saying that, I note what The Poll Bludger has had to say today:
Respectfully, I disagree.  Regular readers (yes! Both of you!) will know that I have had a great deal to say about how Barry O'Farrell has, to be frank, pissed a lot of people off since his election: solar panel owners, public service unions and Green voters.  We've had a minister resign in disgrace, another minister (as yet unnamed, publically at least) accused of a public sex act, and an administration whose gloss (it has seemed to me, at least) has started to wear off.

And yet the Coalition's numbers are BETTER than at the election?

It seems that the voters must still be hanging onto their revulsion at the thought of a Labor government.  It is the only reason I can think of why there has not been a leakage of "Close you eyes and think of England" Coalition voters back to Labor.

Additionally, John Robertson has remained fairly anonymous outside of the BearPit, to the extent that Kristina Keneally, just about the only non-freshman Labor member without a shadow ministry, has a bigger profile than him.

That explains, I think, his incredibly low approval rating.
People don't know him and can't think of something positive he has done, and are therefore unlikely to approve of his performance.

It's early.  And this poll doesn't actually make any difference to anything other than the Clarence by-election, which is already in the bag for the Nationals.  But if you think there are no Labor members concerned about this, you're kidding yourself.

Sean Nichols article in the Herald today took a very different tack.  Besides a brief opening about Robertson's very low approval, the article focussed on the halving of the National's support, and questioned whether the Coal Seam Gas issue is to blame.
On this issue, I think that the Poll Bludger is most likely right.
The Liberals' primary is up 6%, and I fancy that the vast majority of those that have left the Nationals' column have ended up in the Liberals'.  If not, what other explanation is there for the Liberals' numbers going up at the same time as the Nationals' numbers go down? At the very least you would expect the Liberals' numbers to stay steady.

These numbers are unlikely to have any real world implications.  No one will be suggesting that Robertson's time is up - he will be given years (not months) to get Labor into a position where 2015 is winnable.  Even if he doesn't manage that, most people expect that the Coalition will have 8 years (at least) and the expectation may merely be that he gets them close enough to have decent shot (with a more viable candidate) in 2019.

But that doesn't mean they are going to like being where they are at.  Not one bit.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

By the by

Some things mean so little and yet so much at the same time.

The Nationals will win the by election in Clarence, and they will do so at a canter.  Anthony Green, Australia's greatest election savant has declared it to be so, calling the seat a "Certain National Party retain".

Not that he needed to be a savant to make that call - the Nationals dominated this seat in March. Steve Cansdell's TPP vote v Labor of 81.8% made was the 5th highest in the state, trailing only Davidson, Ku-Ring Gai (both lodged deep in Sydney's North Shore), Pittwater (Sydney's Northern Beaches) and Hawkesbury (a seat the Libs have held since 1950).

In fact, the ALP didn't even manage to grab 2nd place.  An Independent by the name of Richie Williamson nabbed second spot with 17% of the first preference votes.
Table from NSW Electoral Commission
From Anthony Green's blog
In this article on SMH, Williamson indicated that was willing to discuss running for preselection as the Nationals candidate. I've done some searching and I've been unable to ascertain if Williamson was at any time a Nationals member  In any case, this Northern Star article explained that Williamson ran for preselection for the Nationals this October as a part of a crowded field, as is common when a by-election is contested.

The first candidate discussed in that article was business owner Stuart George.
From Anthony Green's blog
In the event, pre-selection was won by Chris Gulaptis.
From Anthony Green's blog
Whilst a number of stories suggested that Williamson was planning on running as an independent, he is not listed on the NSW Electoral Commission's site:
The absence of Williamson is not the only difference.  Labor also have a new candidate by the name of Peter Ellem. He is a newspaper editor and advisor to a federal member Janelle Saffin.

So - Labor is not going to win the seat, but will there be a swing to Labor? And, if so, how much?

It's important first to consider just how different by-elections are to general elections. Sometimes, as in this case, the sitting member has been forced to resign in disgrace.  In others, the member has received a better (usually Canberra based) offer. Obviously that can create more than a little resentment from the electors.

Further, in a by-election the opportunity to "send the government a message" is often difficult to resist. The by elections between the 2007 and 2011 general elections are good examples - the voters vented their bile towards the Labor party, with catastrophic results for that government.

Finally, by-elections tend to bring out a larger than usual number of unelectable independents, which often muddy the water.

The biggest problem for the Nationals, however, will ironically enough be the simply massive margin Cansdell won with earlier this year.

Put simply, that kind of margin is out of the question in this by-election, given the massive anti-Labor vote in March that will have dissipated somewhat.  The Labor vote will be further assisted by the absence of a Williamson, who may well have been a convenient home for Labor voters who couldn't in good conscience vote for Labor again, but could not bring themselves to mark the Nationals box with a "1".

It is also worth noting that Cansdell's TPP margin in 2007 was a far more modest 26%.
Taken from Anthony Green's blog
The Labor vote will increase.  Whilst the Nationals will most likely also benefit from Williamson's absence, the margin will cut - possibly dramatically.

Which brings me back to how I kicked off this posting.  The Nationals will, as I have said, win at a canter.   There is absolutely no "story" in the result.

That said, there is no doubt that "Big swing against Coalition" is a tempting story, especially when run in the context of the number of groups that O'Farrell has been pissing off since he got into office.

The real problem for O'Farrell will not so much be the result but the possibility that another piece of bad news could start to build a narrative of NSW being very unhappy with the new Coalition government. It doesn't matter right now, but we have seen federally just how quickly a pattern where a government are seen as undesirable can become gospel truth, almost before anyone notices.

Neither O'Farrell nor the Nationals candidate for Clarence will be able to stop the stories about the reduced margin being written.  But O'Farrell will need to start looking for ways to change the story, or else he could find himself in charge of a government that has lost the trust of the electorate.  And that trust is not won back easily.

The by-election will mean nothing, but it has the real potential to mean a lot. Should be interesting viewing.