Friday, March 30, 2012

Phelpsing around

Since yesterday I've been going back and forth on whether to blog about the latest Twitter adventures of @PeterPhelpsMLC.

There are a few reasons.  Firstly, I've done it before. Twice, actually.

Secondly. @stilgherrian did it this morning:
His response?
Aw, shucks.

Mostly, however, what I've realised is that most people don't really care what people they have never heard of say on twitter.

Unless you're employed in politics or, like me, you have what probably amounts to an unhealthy interest in it, you probably couldn't name five members of the upper house. Heck, I'd have to think about it.

O'Farrell knows this.  Either he doesn't care what Phelps does on twitter, or he knows it doesn't matter. I suppose whilst the second is true, the first probably is as well.

The interesting thing is that, as I understand it, Phelps may actually be the most genuine NSW politician on twitter - this is apparently exactly what he is like in real life. If you want, you can go read what he had to say yesterday at about 4pm and why he said it.

He saw an (admittedly pretty stupid) comment from a leftie, and decided to get stuck in.

Phelps likes running about on twitter, making trouble, and brawling with people who annoy him. He even took the chance yesterday to mock someone for being unemployed, although in fairness that someone did bring it on by calling him a "knob end".

Quite the place, twitter.

In any event, this, apparently, is the NSW upper house.  Given that the voters don't seem to care either way, and O'Farrell certainly doesn't, I suppose we're stuck with it.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Promise from the Heart III

This is getting stupid now.

Some of you might remember Labor's document "Barry O'Farrell's 100 Broken Promises" that I wrote about here.

It was a stupid document - when there are perfectly legitimate reasons to attack O'Farrell's government, why publish a document that clearly overreaches?  All that does is cement a belief that Labor don't really have any legitimate basis for feeling aggrieved.

Clearly the lesson was never learnt:
Document can be found here
I'm not going to spend my time going through it promise by promise - having looked through it, I can assure you that the same comments I made about the original applies: it is a document that could be damaging for the Liberals, but that attack is blunted by overreach from Labor.

A few examples:
And that's just a selection of the overreaching and, in come cases, plain misleading claims in the first 40 so called "Broken Promises".

If you're interested, you can go through the document yourself and let me know what you find.

It just baffles me why Labor would blunt a legitimate attack by what amounts to little more than padding.  When I asked O'Farrell what he thought about the original "100 Promises" document, he had this to say (read from the bottom):
I think he's right.  Perhaps if Labor spent a little more time trying to advance an alternative agenda rather than wasting time on this kind of document (which, lets me honest, no one besides wonks and jounros is going to read) Labor poll numbers might be showing a little more life.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Inquiry to Success

It's a funny thing, an inquiry.

Kevin Rudd was endlessly derided for being unable to make a decision - he prevaricated, going back and forth, and in the end got nothing done.  If you believe the accounts drifting out of the Labor party, that (along with his vicious temper) was the biggest reason for the disaster that was his government.

Andrew Clennell makes a similar, but curious criticism of O'Farrell in his piece published yesterday.
The full story can be found here
He goes on to say this:
Further on:
It's certainly true that O'Farrell has been gifted a great deal of power.  He has a opposition not only reduced to a rump (not so much as QLD Labor, but that's a topic for another blog) but nonetheless an opposition short on not just members but no doubt staff and back-room numbers as well.

He has a margin that will, barring disaster, be all but insurmountable for Labour in 2015. He has a public who seem to be so in love with him that scandal and missteps barely budge the polls. He has, much as I abhor the term, a mandate to do pretty much whatever the heck he wants.

But how is that power best exercised?  Some, including it would seem Clennell, would have him fly headfirst into a hurricane of developments and changes.

Rather, his approach has been a cautious one - low-key, even.  There have been a few wrong turns, but O'Farrell's government has for the most part busied itself keeping promises and getting things heading in (what they suppose is) the right direction.

Many matters are, however, not a binary question. Should we be investing in infrastructure? Sure.  

How much?  When?  Where?  Which project first? These are political questions, at their heart - any infrastructure will help different groups unevenly, and for every project you have to say yes to there are many more that get a no.

They are also complex questions - it is easy to pander, and to favour your marginal seats or sensitive demographics, as Labor did for many years.

What O'Farrell is at least purporting to do is to rise above the political and focus on policy - that often wished for beacon of good policy over good politics.

Essentially, what I'm wondering is whether this focus on inquiries is trying to make good policy good politics as well.

I think we can assume, for present purposes, that an inquiry will find the policy that is best for the state, rather than the policy that is most expedient politically.  Any inquiry rests on some assumptions, but nonetheless I'll back a Commissioner or the like over a politician intent on being reelected any day of the week.

Clennelll criticises O'Farrell, suggesting that he is incapable of making a decision.
It seems that the Tele would rather he just did something, or, even better, did what they would have him do (such as sell off the power generators, notwithstanding the recommendation from the Tamberlin Report).

For me, the real test isn't the number of inquiries he refers matters to - rather, it will be his reaction when they report back.

Will the reports sit on his desk for months as he prevaricates? Will he ignore the reports if they are politically inexpedient?  Or will he take action, safe in the knowledge that a non-political recommendation has been received?

Clennell would call it reticence.  I don't agree - he's taking decisions that Labor made only on political grounds, and he is letting policy wonks make them.

I don't know about you, but there is no way I would rather see him use his power than that.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Promise from the Heart II

Sometimes election campaigns can become frustratingly predictable.

Candidate crops up at a location that is either relevant or (if you're lucky) metaphorical.  The announce X millions for this or that, take a few questions that usually have nothing to do with the announcement, and the media toddle off the write about the announcement or whatever minutia is distracting them at that time.

It's rare to see a politician jump up and say "This is how we will do it BETTER" - it's all about spreading about the pork, thus perpetuating the idea that all the public care about is cash, and damn the implementation.

It often reaches the point where papers publish a "gauge" of the amount of spending promised, as if it is the sheer size of the promise rather than its brilliance (or lack thereof) that should define its value.

Moving on.

The next category of O'Farrell promises I wanted to look at was what he, into the "Contract with NSW", called "Return to Quality Services".

It continues the focus on "frontline services" which seems to me to be one of the sillier media/politician creations. I don't doubt the importance of police who are actually "on the street" - but what use are they without the people that train/equip/support administratively?  Is it reasonable to say that a "frontline officer" is ALWAYS better than a backroom employee?

Of course not. I'm sure the same goes for nurses - if they can't do their job because the guy who orders the drugs got sacked, what bloody use are they?

I'll have a look at them all individually:
Impossible to assess. Which was no doubt the intention.
This is covered in the budget speech, where the promise is in fact exceeded by some margin
This is met in part.  In fairness, one can't just summon teachers out of fresh air - they need to be trained, attrition needs to be reduced and a place to put them needs to be found.  But no complaints as yet.
The integrated Transport was, as I indicated previously, has been created.  As for the extra express services, I've looked and have found no evidence at all that this has been done, nor have I found evidence that things are happening.

That said, the plan may be to introduce them when the long-overdue Waratah's hit the tracks - it would make sense that the extra capacity makes the promise feasible.
Impossible to assess
Also impossible to assess - although I suppose if their had been falls in the raw numbers there would be a case for some criticism.

The problem, really, is that promises like this are easy to keep.  They are not expensive promises (comparatively) - it's fairly easy to just throw millions are the key issues (health, education, law and order) - but it's not good governance.

The steps O'Farrell has taken to limit/cut public sector conditions since the election are a case in point - a promise like the above would be easy to keep if harsh cuts are made in other areas.  Would we be better off as a result?

We need to expect more from our politicians - not to just sign a cheque, but rather to be constantly searching for better ways to do things.

That doesn't just mean more efficient (thereby pissing off the unions) - it also means searching for "Best Practice" to make sure our limited resources achieve the best outcomes available.

I'm by no means on top of the Gonski reccommendations, but I understand they go a whole lot deeper than needing $5 billion more per year (although you'd be forgiven for thinking that, given the media coverage).

How wonderful if, next election, rather than just making promises that offer to throw money at this problem or that, a government or an opposition offered to do something differently, or take the challenging job of restructuring something to make it better.

It can be a tough sell, because of vested interests - but if NSW is going to be the best it can be then it needs to be done.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Promise from the Heart I

It's now almost a year since NSW went to the polls and unceremoniously dumped out the Labor government.

Much of the talk since then has been about the things that the Coalition changed that they never mentioned - the pay and conditions for the public service being the most obvious example.

Given that O'Farrell made as few promises as possible before the election (hence the whole blank cheque argument) there are perhaps less promises that the O'Farrell government can be held to.

You might also remember this document that purported to the 100 promises that O'Farrell had broken - I wrote about what a joke that document was here.
What I thought might be fairer would be to have a look at some of the bigger promises that O'Farrell did make and assess how he has gone in relation to those.

I'm going to start today with Transport and get to other issues as and when my schedule allows.


I've written at length about O'Farrell's ambition to the "Infrastructure Premier".  It's a noble aim - there can be no doubt that there is a major infrastructure backlog in this state, and we need O'Farrell to do something about it.

Having said that, infrastructure costs money.  Labor's solution was Public-Private Partnerships, which just generally were a bit of a disaster.

The big ticket item was always the North West Rail Link. What did he promise?
From this story

From this ABC story
Can't argue this that, although I suppose the "promise" hasn't really fallen due yet. O'Farrell knows that if he was to break this promise then all hell would break loose, and he would be tarred with the same brush the Labor government was.

What else?
From this Crikey story
The Roads and Transport Authority and NSW Maritime have been combined in the Roads and Maritime Authority - whether it actually achieves anything remains to be seen.

The T card dispute has been settled, and in September it was announced that the integrated card would be called "Opal".

Part of the Press Release
Of course, choosing a name is a nothing step - commuters are going to want to see progress. This piece (written in February of this year) suggests that the Coalition has indicated a late 2012 roll-out - if so, this will be an outstanding development, given that the T-Card was first announced in 1996 and was perhaps one of the best and most infamous examples of Labor's incompetence.

The Coalition promised to create Infrastructure NSW - this has happened, and Nick Greiner has been (controversially) appointed Chairman.  
It remains to be seen how much concrete benefit the organisation can deliver.  Their website promises a 20-Year State Infrastructure Strategy in September of this year, which will no doubt prove interesting. 

The Hunter Infrastructure Board was given a surprising level of prominence in O'Farrell's "Contract".
Whilst I will always push for more public transport, we do need to have a functional road system.  Of course, a very large percentage of voters couldn't care less about trains and busses - they just want to see better roads.
This from the RTA website:
So?  On the whole, big tick for O'Farrell on Infrastructure promises. That said, to date most of the decisions have been cheap, easy ones - the real test will be the commitment to retain the funding when budgets get tight.

More later.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Plans on Track

I never normally pick up an MX magazine.  It is almost universally filled with the very worst kind of "news" - celebrity rubbish, trivia and "reporting" that consists of ripping meaningless stories of the internet.

And as for the letters page - suffice to say that it is the dumbest letters page in Sydney, and THAT is saying something.
The only redeeming feature is the overheard section, which is usually pretty funny.
The only time you'll ever spot anything resembling actual journalism is in relation to transport announcements, which, given that MX is predominantly handed out at stations to consumers, makes sense.

Anyway, when I saw this head line yesterday, I thought I had better grit my teeth and grab a copy.
The story was as follows: 
Now, in fairness, this is an announcement of plans, nothing more. The ALP government was famous for announcing a new project and then, when it became apparent that it was going to be politically inconvenient or merely that it was going to cost money, promptly shelving or cancelling the project.

Some projects were even reannounced over and over, as it the public didn't notice that they were being taken for a ride.

Having said that, the fact that the government kept getting re-elected seemed to suggest that perhaps the public hadn't noticed, but I suppose that's a different conversation.

This announcement, however, shows the government demonstrating foresight and planning.  It appears that there is presently little need for such a link, but it is not inconceivable that there may be such a need in the future.
Sydney Train Map at present
The North West Rail link is going to head more or less North West from Epping Station, which you can see at the point where the red line meets itself just above the middle of the map. It heads right into the heart of the major growth area of Sydney.

The train system as it presently stands is overwhelmingly geared towards getting people to and from the city.  The plans to try and diversify some employment out of the city is not going to work unless people are able to get to these locations other than via the city.

Once the North West Rail Link is operational, the commuters will have a way to get to and from the city.  But as the areas populate people will be wanted to get to Western Sydney. There are growing city centres around Parramatta and Penrith that will need to be serviced.

In the same way, the growing population in the North West will no doubt lead to an explosion of jobs in the area, and the workers who don't already live in the area will need to get there somewhere.

The proposed route will result in a line heading from the last North West Rail Link station to connect up with either Schofields or Riverstone, which can be seen 7 and 8 stations south-east of Richmond, the station in the top left of the map. It will create a sensible and, I have no doubt, very useful route for commuters travelling in that direction.

In fact, if you look at the below map, if would seem silly not to connect the two together in due course. Schofeilds can be see just to the west of the end of the North West Rail Link at Cudgegong Rd.
We do need to keep things in perspective - all that's been done is set aside the land.  The real test will be whether the government releases the land after the first call from a developer suggesting they may pay a little more for this or that block if they released the land.

But it is an important first step towards making sure that our rail system is able to effectively and efficiently move people around this city.  If the city is going to grow, and particularly if the North West is going to accept as many new residents as are presesntly planned, this kind of forward planning is essential.

Here's hoping O'Farrell has the courage to stick to this plan when it actually requires a "price" to be paid.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Strayn Connection

The relationship between Federal and State branches of a political party must often be a fraught one.

We've read countless stories in recent years about whether a poorly performing federal party is having an effect on a state election, or whether a state party wracked by scandal is affecting the federal vote.

Of course, these things are impossible to determine, given that, even when they are specifically asked, no one can know why a voter ticks a certain box or answers a polling question one way or the other.

Not that that stops all those blasted columnists and bloggers.

In any event, it seems like the most common source of friction must be issues where an option is good for the country as a whole but effects states differently.

The infrastructure funding is a good example.  The Federal Government allocates a particular sum of money each year to Infrastructure projects, and the states jostle each other for the cash.

In the last year of the NSW Labor government a fairly half-hearted application was made for Federal funding. As a result of the sub-standard effort the state missed out entirely.  This was despite the fact that a large injection of cash may have significantly boosted NSW Labor's numbers in the lead-up to the 2011 election.

Of course, that didn't stop Federal Labor offering to throw great big wads of money at the NorthWest Rail link during the campaign, but that's another issue.

It's not often, however, that a State branch and a Federal Branch are perceived to be working at cross purposes.
Full Story here
Now, O'Farrell is on record as opposing the Carbon Tax.

Additionally, the NSW Liberal website has great big swathes of space dedicated to the issue. I went there to download a press release or comment, but found this instead.

In any event.

Now, despite some people's protestations, pursuit of clean energy will undoubtedly create jobs.  Whether those jobs will replace those lost because of the carbon price is all but impossible to determine, but it would be plain wrong to say that NO jobs will be created.

And, of course, those jobs will have to be created somewhere. So the NSW government has to chase those jobs for the state. I don't think anyone would argue with that.

The most interesting part, though, is the fact that this announcement was only the creation of 40 jobs. It's not an enormous investment in Sydney's future - in the face of approximately 3. 5 million people employed in NSW, it is a miniscule number.

Notwithstanding, a big fuss was made about it, including a joint press conference with O'Farrell and Gillard.

Brad Burden, O'Farrell's media man, had this to say:
He may be right, he may not be.  But the more I think about, the more I see this announcement doing very little help the NSW Coalition, but probably hurting the Federal Coalition quite a bit.

What it shows, in short, is NSW getting on with the job - accepting that there will be a price on Carbon, and that energy is best invested dealing with that rather than rending garments in protest.

No matter, what you think about the Carbon Price, I think NSW would be stupid to not try and ensure that as many of these new jobs as possible are in NSW.

Having said all that, it seems that the debate on the Carbon Price and in particular the reporting from certain segments of the media means that all reason may well have flown out the window, so what would I know?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Star of the Show

Sometimes a story seems to have it's own life.  It starts off small, but before you know it people are drawn into it, and a minor story can suddenly become a very big deal for some very big people.

The scandal at The Star is just that kind of story.  A pretty uninteresting story about another executive whose power had gone to his head now has some of O'Farrell's closest staff suspended without pay, and the opposition calling for the resignation of a minister.

I thought it would be interesting to trace back the way that the story unfolded in the media.

2009: Peter Grimshaw leaves the Star where he was head of publicity and corporate affairs for 16 years.
Photo from the Tele, although I think they nicked it off his LinkedIn page
1 August 2011: Grimshaw forwards an email discussing ethics classes and a proposal for an inquiry into cyber bullying to his partner in breach, of the code of conduct for his office.

O'Farrell: "Pete. Welcome back. I reckon I should join the anti interest rate chorus. It will kill the State's economy. Barry."

Grimshaw: "Thanks! Sounds like China went well. Watching from outside it seems we just need to close off some of the ethics issue as quickly as we can . . . but I don't think the public actually care that much anyhow. Just Nicholls.

O'Farrell: "I agree on interest rates . . . it is a good one to campaign on. Not just for business but for all our voters buying homes. We should find the right forum to raise it.

Grimshaw: "Just another thought I had . . . I reckon it would be worth having a quick inquiry on cyber bullying. We would get families of kids who have been bullied along, maybe come up with some penalties, some guidelines for school kids etc. No downside but it puts us ahead of the pack on social media. Just a thought!"

O'Farrell: "Will talk about ethics. Nothing is going to change. Cyber bullying is a very good idea. Barry."

All the above was forwarded to Grimshaw's partner with the comment: "Barry loves my idea on cyber bullying!"

23 November 2011: Grimshaw has the following sms exchange with his partner:

Grimshaw: "Fuck me. I hope you get rid of Mr Nasty."

GF: "It rests with u. I hate this place. Pls fix it."

Grimshaw: "Only 23 days to go [til The Star licence review is completed].

GF: "I'm not positive."

Grimshaw: "Oh, I am. Say goodbye to Mr Nasty."

Mr Nasty is apparently The Star's managing director, Sid Vaikunta.

2 December 2011: The review of The Star's licence is completed and the report is published.

December 2011: An investigation into Sid Vaikunta, managing director of The Star, begins.

Late December 2011: More SMS's between Grimshaw and his partner about the Star. His partner says that what is needed is "a sexual harassment scandal" and that Grimshaw responds "Exactly. The best thing about these stories is they put in the mind of the papers that [the Star's] not so perfect at all." Another email or sms suggests that Grimshaw has canvassed options with someone called "Norm", believed to be Norm Lipson, George Souris' Media Advisor.

21 December 2011: SMS's between Grimshaw and his partner:

Grimshaw: "How about I tell george [souris?] about sid. That's my job. Then he will ring story."

GF: "I want to keep you clean."

5 January: Grimshaw's partner forwards an email marked "Private & Confidential" to Grimshaw.  The email collates Vaikunta's response to the allegations made against him. It included the following: "Sid was asked if he asked you if you were wearing a bra? He did not recall this. He said it might have been said in the spirit of what everyone else was talking about but he did not think he was inappropriate,"

6 January: Grimshaw SMS's the following to his partner: "Woke to a text from barry (who went to annie last nite) saying . . . heard some great goss about sid last night ... the fact he heard something at star is interesting."

9 January: Grimshaw emails partner to say "[Norm] reckons [the first woman to complain] should lay a police complaint. That would sew it up. She does not have to proceed with it but it's strong if the police are involved."

2 February: The Star announced that Vaikunta, has been dismissed over his ''behaviour in a social work setting''. The Star informs the Casino, Liquor and Gaming Control Authority.
Photo from SMH
2 February: Souris messages the following to Grimshaw: ""Don't worry I've told Barry about Sid but not mentioned [Grimshaw's partner] . . . You've been a friend for years and were supportive of me last year and you will never lose my loyalty. G.

2 February: Grimshaw also sends this SMS's to his partner

Grimshaw: "Norm said he has only said what (ILGA) have told his office but he is going to zip it. So sorry if this is causing u trouble . . ."

Grimshaw: "From george . . . I asked him to ensure u r not mentioned . . . Don't worry."

GF: "Do you believe him?"

Grimshaw: "Yep, he will do all he can to keep you out now." 

10 February: The Herald reported that Mark Brown, an American executive, has been "around" for four weeks, leading to speculation The Star had been planning to terminate Vaikunta for some time. 

15 February: The Tele reports that "Mr Vaikunta was sacked after attempting to kiss one staff member during a limousine ride and propositioning another at a staff function and that the two incidents were just a couple of days apart."

15 February: O'Farrell discovers that Grimshaw's partner is a complainant against Vaikunta.

16 February: The Herald reports that a "senior human resources manager" who had informally complained about Vaikunta was fired on her first day back after stress leave for "revealing confidential information about the circumstances of Mr Vaikunta's sacking" The "senior human resources manager" is Grimshaw's partner

16 February: The Tele reports that the CLGCA will launch a new investigation into The Star's reporting obligations and the new allegations.

18 February: O'Farrell's chief-of-staff Peter McConnell pleads with the Tele not to reveal the name of Grimshaw's partner. They agree.

19 February: The Tele reveals link between the woman who complained about Vaikunta and Grimshaw - they are partners. This is the first time that O'Farrell and the Liberal government have been linked to the story.

19 February: O'Farrell denies any knowledge of the Vaikunta allegations before Vaikunta was dismissed
From the Tele's story
2 March: The SMS messages between Grimshaw and his partner are leaked to the media. Robertson calls for Grimshaw and Norm Lipson to be stood aside.

2 March: O'Farrell admits having heard rumours about Vaikunta weeks before the company announced that he had been sacked after the message he sent about having heard "goss" about Vaikunta is released.

2 March: Robertson refers the matter of the emails and sms's to ICAC and calls for Grimshaw and Souris's media adviser, Norm Lipson, to be stood down.

4 March: News breaks that O'Farrell's chief of staff intervened in the Star scandal to prevent Grimshaw's partner's name being released.

5 March: O'Farrell stands down Grimshaw without pay (apparently after he volunteered to do so) pending an investigation.

6 March: Souris admits that he concealed from O'Farrell the identity of the complainant. Robertson calls on Souris to resign.

Will anyone lose their job over this?  Perhaps not. Surely Souris would not, given there doesn't appear to be a great deal he did wrong. Same goes for Lipson.

Grimshaw is another matter - he did forward confidential documents to his girlfriend, so it may well be that O'Farrell decides to cut him loose. The problem is that Grimshaw and O'Farrell apparently go back a very long way:
Amazing how some stories can change.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Too stupid to think?

Sometimes it seems like politicians spend their days doing little more than trying to pull the wool over our eyes.

"The public are uninformed and disengaged - I can spout any nonsense I like and those that notice will probably believe it."

No doubt you have your own view as to whether that is a fair comment - but some days it's hard to believe anything else.

Why? Stuff like this:

“This is a project that’s feeding into Sydney’s water supplies. And it is a contractual matter that will see the desalination plant continue operate. It’s a matter for the O’Farrell Government to deal with. Clearly, when the dam is full there are reasons the desalination plant should be given some consideration for shutdown.”

John Robertson as his finest. 

The desalination plant was built by Labor.  Opinions will differ as to whether it was an essential investment in Sydney's water security, or an extravagant boondoggle, but that's not what I want to write about.
Photo from here
What I want to write about is Robertson's suggestion that consideration to the plant being shut down.

The Labor government signed a contract that, amongst other things, required that the plant run at full capacity for a two year period. If the plant was not run for the full two year period, then it appears that the government essentially "voids the warrantee" and will be responsible for any problems with the plant.

I'm no engineer, so I can't give an opinion as to whether that was a good idea or not, but it was the contract that Labor signed.

The Herald wrote this on the topic:
The "90 million litres a day" is already reduced from the full capacity of the plant, which is some 90 billion litres per year, three times the present production.

It goes without saying that Robertson knew very well why the plant cannot be switched off.  He wasn't in parliament when the decision was made, but his predecessors were, and to try and suggest that the Coalition should be investigating shutting the plant down is downright ridiculous.

Will the public be fooled? Probably not, because O'Farrell gave the media a handy quote about the contract that was signed by Labor being "stupid".  This blogpost is delayed by a day because I couldn't track down confirmation of Robertson's quote yesterday - it may be that someone in Labor was smart enough to shut down the line of argument.

But it goes to show a certain arrogance, and maybe even a belief (misguided or not) that the media is too stupid or lazy to point this kind of lazy argument out.

In the event, it doesn't appear that the media picked up on the comment - so the people listening to 2SM would have heard the comment entirely unchallenged.

Hopefully most of them were too smart to believe it.