Saturday, June 23, 2012

Fly, Fly Away

Labor have been going on about promises a LOT recently.
And so they should. O'Farrell has done a lot of stuff he didn't say he would, and a lot of things he hinted or outright promised he wouldn't.

Luckily for Labor, it is a little hard to break promises when you're not in government. Most promises made during an election are made on a "When I'm Premier" basis.

The only promise I remember either side making on a "If we lose" basis was in relation to members staying on after the election.

The Coalition hammered Labor over whether Keneally and particularly Eric Roozendaal would stay on after the election. During the debate, Keneally committed that they both would:
Full story from the SMH
Late last night it was revealed that her promise would be broken.
Unfortunately for the Coalition, I don't think there is any hay that they can make out of this. Come next election, almost no one will remember or even care what someone who was premier four years before did.

With the promises and guarantees O'Farrell has broken to date, "broken promises" is probably a discussion he would rather avoid anyway.

What will be worth watching will be what happens in the by-election for the seat. Keneally is leaving the Lower House next week, so things will move swiftly.

After the Clarence by-election last year I took a close look and concluded that it gave every side something they could use, and really didn't prove much at all.

Heffron is in a very different situation.These were the numbers after last year's election:
From this helpful ABC website
The website reporting on the 2007 election still exists - it's not as pretty but the numbers are all there. Bear in mind that in 2007 Keneally hadn't yet become Premier, and had just finished her first term as MLA for Heffron.
There was a big swing against Keneally in 2011 - but the swing was almost identical to the swing for the state as a whole.

Will the Coalition be able to engineer another 7% before the by-election? It is difficult to imagine how.

The polling numbers are still very similar to the election result. True it is that the recognition of a local member who was also the Premier may have artificially inflated Keneally's vote - but that works both ways when you have a massively unpopular government being given the boot.

Given what has happened in the last few months (not least of all the changes to WorkCover), I'm expecting at least a small move back to Labor in the next NewsPoll.

To me, the seat doesn't look winnable for the Coalition. So this comment from the excellent @PrestonTowers seems pretty spot on:
Unlike in Clarence, it is difficult to see the Coalition winning the seat, and short of that it is difficult to imagine how they could spin the result a being a "win". Keneally may have broken her promise to stay, but how much are the Heffron residents going to punish the Labor candidate for that?

Not a lot, I'd suggest.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Promise he won't Forget

Politicians break promises all the time.

Big ones, small ones, implied ones, core and non-core promises - they all get broken.

Some get broken because circumstances change. Some get broken because they are no longer feasible. Still others are broken because the person or party who made them knows that no one really cares whether it is kept or not.

Some broken promises have little or no consequence, and certainly no negative result for a government.
Core and non-core promises. Photo from here
Others can have such long-reaching consequences that the very sanity of the person breaking it has to be questioned.

Sometimes this is undeserved. Perhaps the original promise has been mischaracterised, or the perhaps media's narrative makes the promise into a defining characteristic of a politician when it had no business being any such thing.

The obvious example is Gillard and the Carbon Tax. No matter what she achieves for the rest of her time as Prime Minister, whether that be for another 18 months or 18 years, it seems likely that the title of her biographies will involve a none-too-subtle pun on the Carbon Tax. It was a single, stupid sentence on a breakfast TV show at the end of a gruelling campaign, but it has coloured the entire country's perception of her.

O'Farrell has broken a heap promises in his time, and Labor has tried to convince the public that he has broken a whole lot more.
Many of those promises are so inconsequential that he would be almost crazy not to break them.

Others are big, but don't seem to have gained much traction to date.

This most recent effort, however, is a true whopper.  And, worst of all (at least for him) there is going to be an ever present reminder of what a dumb decision he has made.

He may want to be the infrastructure premier, but if he goes about it like this then all the pain of finding money to build this network is going to be for naught.

O'Farrell campaigned hard on the North West Rail Link (NWRL) during the election. And he was right to do so - the present arrangements (tollways, large numbers of buses, constantly shifting bus-lanes, seemingly ever-present road work) is, and always was, at best a stop-gap. Heavy rail to the North-West was the only solution that was going to satisfy the new residents pouring into the area.
Just one of the hundreds of articles on the topic. Original story here
As late as yesterday, the promise that there would be direct services to the city was still on the a NSW government website promoting the line. Unsurprisingly, Penny Sharpe, Shadow Minister for Transport, had one of her minions quickly grab a screenshot before it disappeared
Today, the offending paragraph is missing
This new plan is going to make no one happy. And while it is being built, and every day it exists until the new harbour crossing is built in about 2089 (or so) it will remind the population about a promise broken.
The map at present
The original plan was for the NWRL to join up with the network at Epping (top middle), head down the new line to Chatswood (top right), and then into the city. That was the only way it could work financially - I don't think anyone was seriously suggesting that the line should connect any nearer to the city - the price-tag was already eye watering, and connecting closer to the city would increase the cost several times over.

The obvious problem that raises is that the North Shore line is a crowded one - and one where capacity cannot be increased much more. For safety reasons, there is a limit on how many trains can head across the Harbour Bridge in an hour - and we are pretty much already at that limit.

In other words, for every NWRL heading across the bridge during peak hour, a North Shore service would need to be cancelled.

Now, that problem can be partially alleviated by the fact that many people who would usually get a North Shore Service from a station south of Chatswood could hop on a NWRL service.

But, as I type this blogpost sitting on a North Shore train, I can assure you that many, many people get on North Shore trains well north of Chatswood.

Moreover, under current population planning for Sydney, councils have had to find space for new residents.  At least on the North Shore, they have been finding that space by cramming apartments blocks in and around the train line. As those block are completed, even more people are going to be heading to the station to get to work.

This is not a new problem. It has been plainly obvious ever since the line was announced.

Presumably the O'Farrell government decided that it was all too hard. We haven't yet heard accusations of O'Farrell favouring the residents of his seat (a seat which covers just about every North Shore Line station north of Chatswood, but it surely won't be long.

So what is the government's new plan? The NWRL will simply be a shuttle running between Rouse Hill and Epping.

It's an awful plan. First of all, this may deal with the problem of having to squeeze the NWRL services over the bridge - but how does O'Farrell think these people are going to get to the city? They will need to hop onto a train heading to the city via Chatswood. More services will HAVE to be put on to deal with the extra passengers.

True it is that the new plan includes a new line a few km east of the North Shore line to scoop up some areas not presently served, and plans for the much needed new harbour crossing. But these plans are over a decade in the future. Construction of the NWRL will begin during this term. Heaven knows how many terms it will taken for this new harbour crossing to move off the plans into the real world.
Photo by @sarethebear, the ABC's new NSW politics reporter
Of all the options available to O'Farrell, short of cancelling the NWRL altogether, it appears to be worst one possible.

But there can be no doubt - none whatsoever - that this broken promise is going to be one that that he is never allowed to forget. Whether he'll be forced to regret it will probably depend on whether his opponents can lift their game and make some criticism stick.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Working for Change

The WorkCover reforms were passed through the Lower House yesterday, and I understand that they are presently before the Upper House.

I'm going to leave the merits of the changes to other people, or at the very least to another blogpost. They are designed to reduce the cost to the taxpayer, and inevitably people are going to disagree about the sacrifices made to allow that to occur.

I think most people would agree that the system is, to use O'Farrell's words, in "dire financial straits" - but there is a predictable difference as to who should suffer as a result - injured workers, or corporations?

The Right's position is not without merit - NSW exists in a country-wide and, indeed, a global market for investment. If the price of business is too high, business will head elsewhere, which will mean less jobs for the very people who are the "victims" of these changes.

But I haven't read or properly understood the legislation yet, so that's really all I can say. Which brings me neatly to what I did actually want to write about - the way that the legislation was passed.
First of all, it should be said that the changes did not suddenly appear right out of the blue. A Joint Committee has been sitting to evaluate the present position.
As indicated, a report was prepared and tabled on 13 June, some 6 days before the legislation was made available.
The committee was asked to review the scheme and consider both the performance of the scheme in protecting workers, but also the financial stability of the scheme.

The committee reccommended 27 reforms, which range from abolishing journey claims (recommendation 3), abolishing the right for family members to claim for nervous shock (recommendation 4) and increasing the thresholds for permanent impairment lump sums (recommendation 20).

Yesterday (19 June 2012), the daily schedule had this planned for the afternoon:
Around lunchtime, my Twitter timeline was flooded with complaints about the new Workcover bill that had thumped onto desks all over parliament house, along with the news that it would be debated and voted on that very afternoon.

During Question Time, several Dixers were lobbed at the Government in relation to the proposed changes to Workcover.
As best I am able to tell, the bills were tabled in the house at approximately this time.

Then, at just after 3 o'clock, this happened:
Naturally enough, the motion to suspend orders passed easily, and at 4:23 the debate commenced.

Robertson delivered the first response following the 2nd reading speech, and immediately described the move as the government seeking to "ram this legislation through the House in a mad flurry before the rising of the House for the winter recess."

After hours of debate on the bill, at 10:44 Andrew Stoner moved the following:
As I said, I don't want to get into the merits of the bill. What I do want to comment on is the way that the government was able to "ram through" the legislation.

In a time where party unity is everything and where a Coalition member crossing the floor to vote for the other side would be sheer political suicide, what exactly does the debate accomplish?  The bill was always going to pass.  There was not a single person in the chamber, I would suggest, sitting there with an open mind. 

In those circumstances, the only benefit that could be gained by delaying a vote and prolonging the process is that the Left would have had more time to pontificate about why they are opposed to the bill.

This all comes back a nagging frustration with our present system - the manner in which parties routinely and almost without exception vote as a unified block means that whatever the government wants from the Lower House, the government gets.

It forces one to wonder what the point of having a Lower House is, to be honest. This is not a unique reflection - the present voting pattern is hardly anything new. It's one of the reasons that I would be very happy if NSW had a minority government (as it did after the 1991 election) - we might actually see some real back and forth between the various parties about what is actually good for the state.

True it is that the Upper House tempers the power of the party in control of the Lower House.  But it shouldn't have to, at least not to the same extent. In any event, the fact that Guns and Moses (The Shooters and the Christian Democrats, for those not in the know) align so closely with the O'Farrell government means that there is seldom any drama or intrigue in the lead-up to the vote.

Is there is a solution to this issue? I doubt it. Our present voting system (in particular, compulsory voting) is geared towards maintaining the power of the two major parties (or, at least, the Coalition and Labor).  Until the Greens grow to the point where they can hold the balance of power in both houses, or until the Coalition fractures, that appears unlikely to change.

But it's enough to make one despondent. Moreover, it's enough to make you say "Rammed through? Like more debate would have made any difference anyway."


Monday, June 18, 2012

A New (England) Beginning

It's hard to know what to make of Richard Torbay's recruitment into the Nationals.
In the Speacker's chair. Photo from here
On one hand, the "traditional" direction is the reverse - Robert Oakeshott and Tony Windsor were both Nationals before defecting.

Tony Windsor was elected as an independent in the state seat of Tamworth in 1991, having orignally sought pre-selection as a National. He eventually ran against the National candidate in the 2001 Federal election and was successful.

Rob Oakeshott was actually endorsed as a Nationals candidate and elected in 1998 in Port Macquarie. After disagreements on policy he resigned from the Nationals (thus losing a shadow-ministry) in 2002. When Mark Vaile resigned his Federal seat of Lyne in 2008 he ran as an Independant and won convincingly.

So Torbay certainly wouldn't be the first. But what chance does he have of suceeding?

Mumbletwits has written a great piece on that issue, and I'm not going to repeat what he has said. Read it.

The really interesting part (for me) is going to be the result of the consequent by-election in Torbay's seat of Northern Tablelands.

At the 2011 election, the results were as follows:
From Wikipedia
Those results were hardly an outlier:
Also Wikipedia
So we can rest assured that the Nationals should quite easily gain the seat. Given the general damage being done (rightly or wrongly) to the independent brand, there seems to be little prospect that some unknown independent could come from nowhere to take the seat.

It will be interesting to see what is made of the results. Given that the past results were skewed by an independant who had been sitting as a speaker from 2007 to 2011, Labor's vote (3.4%) could hardly be seen to be a fair reflection of their support in the region.

That said, if the ALP thinks they have a chance of winning the seat then they are hopelessly delusional. According to every poll since the election, their vote is still abysmally low. Labor's woes Federally are not going to do the State party any favours, and the Nationals will win the seat at a cantor.

Is there any way the Labor party can sell a result as a win? Sure. Their vote will increase to (at least) double figures - a farily pathetic achievement, but one that may wash with the less observant among us.

That said, one has to wonder whether any Labor members are starting to grumble about the astonishing lack of impact that Robertson is making on the electorate. Labor's numbers are not moving, he has zero profile, and despite O'Farrell making a number of unpopular decisions, no one seem to be moving out of the Coalition column.
Opposition Leader. No, seriously! Photo from here
I wonder whether the by-election (whenever that eventuates) may just be a momentum that is needed to replace Robertson with someone who can actually start winning back some voters from O'Farrell.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Goods and Services Budget

The NSW State budget was released yesterday with the usual fanfare.

Journalists were locked away for hours to pore over the documents and then breathlessly emerge like time travellers to frantically tweet and post articles telling us who the WINNERS AND LOSERS were, and the reasons that people would spend the next few days being very very outraged.

The budget is obviously a complex creation, and I'm not going to try and summarise the whole thing. If that's what you're after you'll find that information easily enough somewhere else.

I still view my task as a blogger to plug a gap that the mainstream media is leaving, and that's what I plan to do tonight.

So, what particular issue is it that is most deserving of further attention?

Cut from this SMH article
$5 billion??? That is an enormous number. To provide a sense of scale, that is an average of $1.25 billion per year, or more than 2% of the projected revenue for 2012/2013.

ALL gambling revenue in 2012-2013 comes to approximately $1.8 billion revenue. A similar amount will be received in royalties -  the amount paid by mining companies to the state for the right to mine our minerals (in NSW, mostly coal).

So I thought a closer look was required at how this enormous amount of money was stripped from our books, and why.

To start with, it's important to look at last year's budget to work out exactly how big the change was.
And this year?
The difference?
2012-2013: $1 424 000 000
2013-2014: $1 443 000 000
2014-2015: $1 394 000 000

That's a total of $4.3 billion just over the next 3 years - presumably the figure for 2015-2016 (not provided in last year's papers to enable a comparison) brings the total to $5 billion.

What do this years papers have to say about this?
Further on:
Chapter six of the budget papers tells us more about why the total GST collected by the Federal government is falling.

These reasons include:

  • People are saving more and spending less
  • The price of GST-exempt goods are rising faster than the prices for taxable goods, meaning we are spending a greater percentage on GST-free goods:
  • Finally, NSW's GST share has fallen from 30.9% to 30.7%
These changes are significant, and place enormous strain on an already stretched budget. The Coalition can't be blamed for it, but most punters are not going to understand or even be aware of the fall in GST revenue, meaning that whilst they won't be blamed for it they also can't use it an excuse.

How permanent the loss is also remains to be seen. Certainly the trend in food increasing in price is likely to continue.  Of course, that only serves to further highlight what utter folly exempting food from the GST was, but that is a battle lost.

This $1.25 billion per year will barely garner a headline, mostly because it is boring and no one is going to march anywhere because of it.

But it is important to contrast it to the viciously derided "Labour Expense Cap" that will result, apparently, in the loss of 10,000 jobs and result in compulsory redundancies. IT will save just $2.2 billion over 4 years, or approximately $500 million. 

THAT is just how significant this figure of $5 billion over 4 years is. And why it is a little amazing that it is not getting more attention.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Country Tale

I have said this before, but I tend to avoid using this blog to criticise articles published in the media. That's partly because many people, not least of all Andrew Elder and NewsWithNipples do a pretty good job without me joining in,

But I'm going to make an exception today for this:
It's written by a NSW politician on NSW politics, so I think it qualifies for an exception.

First of all, who is Catherine Cusack?
Member of the Legislative Council since 2003, resident of Lennox Head. a town hear Byron Bay. She was part of the Shadow Cabinet, but missed out on the Cabinet spot after the election.

Her piece is about the deal that the Coalition made with the Shooters last week. I wrote about it at the time, but in short the Coalition agreed to pass a bill allowing shooting in National Parks in return for the Shooters agreeing to back the Power Privatisation bill.

I thought it was ugly to watch, but something that a party in government has to make when they don't control both houses. In agreeing to allow shooting in parks, the Coalition broke a promise:
Paul Howes wrote an curious piece on the Shooters deal this morning. In short, he was saying that O'Farrell should feel free to break the promises, but not this one, because it was a stupid promise to break.

He doesn't clarify which promise O'Farrell would have been an acceptable promise to break in the circumstances, but I think we can assume that the Promises That Are OK to Break woud include Gillard's promise not to introduce the Carbon Tax.

But I digress.

Now, given that Catherine Cusack is an MLC, she doesn't have an electorate to keep happy. It's therefore rare to see MLC's making a fuss about anything their party has done, given that they only need to vote in a way that keeps the party happy. Why she is sticking her head about the parapet in this way is a little difficult to understand.

But let's have a closer look at what she had to say and try to understand what she is on about.
OK, a quote from a poet. Nice start. Not usually something that foreshadows good analysis, but let's see how we go.
I'm already lost, to be honest. The farmers don't have a problem with the legislation, but only the "attitude of inspectors"? Legislation that, just 2 paragraphs earlier, she described as "draconian"?

Native Vegetation Legislation is a vexed area as there are two deeply contradictory interests in competition - farmers and environmentalists. To suggest that the issue is as simple as the "attitude of inspectors" - well, I think that's a little simplistic.
Suddenly we're onto the Solar Bonus Scheme.  For those of you that don't remember, Labor brought in a policy that helped fund the installation of solar panels on private homes.

It's true that Labor bungled it - the allocated budget was massively exceeded and the scheme brutally oversubscribed, and the Liberals tried to reign things in. Their big mistake was making the changes retrospective, which quite rightly pissed off a LOT of people.

I truly don't see how this had anything to do with "thumping the Greens" - it was sold at the time as being about fixing the financial problem that the solar bonus scheme had become.

What I suspect is that certain elements of the Coalition either had it sold to them as being a chance to stick it to the Greens, or more likely that this was just one of the games that politicians like playing behind the scenes.
No news there.
It's hard to argue with that, if it is indeed what the Shooters said. A Google Search turned this up the below LateLine transcript from a story about the deal with the Shooters:
That is a pretty awful comparison. Volunteers they may be, but they're not the SES.
I truly don't understand Cusack's point here. Is it that this deal is going to cost the government too much money? I doubt it - whether or not you think it is a good idea, letting hobbyists kill feral animals much surely be cheaper than doing it yourself.

But is she saying that no one has possibly considered the financial implications? I just don't follow the logic.
Cusack seems to believe that the deal was made because it was a better way of dealing with the feral animals, or because they have not consulted widely enough.

There is probably not a single person in the Upper or Lower House (except, of course, for the Shooters) who thinks that allowing shooting in the National Parks is a good idea. This was a deal that the Coalition has to make - that's the only reason they voted for it.

Moreover, Cusack knows that the Premier made the deal to get the Power privitisation through and for no other good reason. Presumably (and she doesn't suggest otherwise) Cusack supports O'Farrell's infrastructure plans, and she knows that it will cost money.

So, what are we to take from this piece? I don't really know:

  • Native Vegetation Act is fine, but the inspectors are the problem
  • The curtailing of the Solar Bonus Scheme was all about "thumping the Greens"
  • We need to "budget" for the "costs" of the new "shooting in parks" scheme, and
  • Baiting is much better than shooting.
Why did she submit this piece? Moreover, what is she trying to accomplish? I truly have no idea. Her constituency is the party - which of them are going to be happy with this piece?

Perhaps she is just making some trouble. Time will tell if that will be what she accomplishes.