Thursday, February 2, 2012

TGIF (tomorrow)

This has not been a good week for the Coalition.

The new government has had more than its fair share of politically tricky issues in its first year (many of them of their own making).

In many cases these problems have been single large issues - often a large structural change or the implementation of a (at least, in their eyes) necessary but inevitably unpopular change.

In many ways these larger issues can be handled as they are easily anticipated.  This is why many of them have been introduced in the government's first year - they hope that memories will fade by the next election, and they're probably right.

This week has been different though.  Put simply, there has been a sudden spate of pretty obvious stuff-ups of various sorts, and Labor is making a lot of hay with it.

The NSW Labor website has a very handy collection of "News", and their items posted there really do tell the story of the Coalition's week.

Monday was about planning.  Before the election O'Farrell made a big song and dance about returning planning control to councils, and immediately on being sworn in the hated Part 3A was repealed.

The thing is, there are some developments that should be controlled by the state - major developments that are too big for councils.  Almost everyone acknowleges this - the issue is where that bar is set.

At this stage it seems unclear exactly what the Coalition has done or is intending to do - but whatever the precise change is, there will be a political cost to be paid.

It is hard to say whether O'Farrell was foolish to over-promise on this issue.  He knew that ALL control could not be returned to councils - if he had qualified his statements before the election, isn't it more likely that the qualification would have been lost in the media reporting, and therefore would not have lost him any votes?

Having said that, no amount of qualification before the election would have spared O'Farrell a slap from Labor when the issue arose, so perhaps he was better placed to simply do it early and take his lumps when it came up.

In any event, the headline generate by the Labor website was this:
The bigger issue on Monday, however, was about disabled kids.  And it's hard to comprehend just how such an easily anticipated problem was not avoided, especially when it presented such a easy opportunity for Labor.

The Labor press release is here. In short, bus contracts were not orgnised and signed in time, meaning that disabled kids could not get to and from school on the first day.
When it was revealed on Tuesday that a quick thinking Labor MLA wrote to the Minister a week earlier to alert him to the issue, the Coalition really had no excuse.

Without sounding crass, this story really had everything. It's about transport (always a sensitive issue).  It's about not just kids, but disabled kids.  It made the Coalition look disorganised and incompetent.

This is the kind of screw-up that starts to taint a government.  Put simply, this is the kind of thing the public expected from Labor, and the Coalition will not like being tarred with that same brush.

The drama continued through the week as it was revealed how long the Coalition had known about the issue and then will calls from Labor for Minister to resign.
Wednesday was mostly about the carers allowance.

Carers are a horribly undervalued sector of society.  Most people have a great deal of respect for the work they do, not least of all because it is an incredibly difficult and challenging job that no one else will do.

Foster carers get an allowance from the government to cover the cost of caring for the kids.  The suggested change was that, once a child is over 16 and in receipt of youth allowance, the carer's allowance would be reduced by the same amount.

One a purely accounting basis, it makes sense.  On a political basis, it is stupid.

Labor called it an attack on carers, and whilst that may be hyperbole, one has to wonder what the government thought would happen.

Most incredibly, according to this SMH article, that there are only 1000 or so families affected.  This means that the government let itself get tarred with "doesn't care about foster carers" for what, in the scheme of things, is a pretty small sum.

Moreover, after the week the Coalition has had, Labor has every excuse to lead off with this:

When you include the cutting of funding to vision impaired and the Fair Work Australia decision, the week was thoroughly Labor's.

As I said earlier, this kind of politics is all to easy for an even vaguely competent opposition.  And the more stories like this there are, the more the idea of a mean, selfish and uncaring government sets in.

The Coalition is already going to struggle to dispel that idea, being a centre-right party.  They don't need to make it easy for the opposition.

But that's exactly what they did this week.  They'll want to stop.

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