Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Clash of Symbols

Full story here
Hmm. Sounds ominous.
Oh dear. I take it that this will shortly lead to the downfall of the O'Farrell government? NSW politics in crisis. Elekshun nao?

Maybe not.

Fred Nile sits in the Upper House along with fellow Christian Democrat Paul Green. Much like in the Federal Senate, the status of the Upper House has no direct relation to the stability of the government itself. O'Farrell does not have an outright majority in the Upper House with or without the CDP, and he doesn't need one.

He has no (public) written agreement with the two conservative minor parties (the CDP and the Shooters and Fishers). That's not just because he doesn't need one - he promised he wouldn't before the election. As Labor put it in their glossy brochure that I wrote about previously:
Moreover, the Coalition hardly has the CDP votes in the bag. One would expect the CDP to support most O'Farrell bills (both being from the same wing of politics), but one would also expect them to extract their pound of flesh from time to time.

Such is the major party/minor party relationship. Twas ever thus.

Why is it, exactly, that Nile is in such a frenzy? It's this:
See the story here
As I've explained before, it makes no (direct) difference what anyone in the NSW government says or thinks about the gay marriage debate. O'Farrell's position is a purely symbolic one - something he has said for the headline.

That's fine. If journalists are willing to publish a few positive pieces about O'Farrell being in favour of gay marriage, then good luck to him.

Nile's little tantrum is not quite as obvious. For all his flaws, Nile is not an idiot. He knows that O'Farrell's words make no difference to anything. Homosexual people will not be able to marry their partners until Federal Labor supports it outright or until the Federal Coalition makes it (at least) a conscience vote - and neither of those things will happen until it is electorally expedient (if even then).

So why is Nile throwing his toys? Simple.

Can you imagine the calls Nile must have been getting over the last few days? His star is hitched to the Coalition wagon - and I think it is safe to assume that his supporters are absolutely ropeable at O'Farrell. And they are surely letting Nile know about it.

So he has to kick up a bit of a stink. Once the fuss dies down, Nile will continue to support most of the Coalition's legislative agenda, and will continue to demand concessions as and when it suits him.

Two flagrantly symbolic and utterly irrelevant acts. Can you tell the two Houses aren't sitting at the moment?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Paper War

I posted a little while ago about this document from Labor.
Since then I've had no luck getting any references from Labor. I've been told that people employed by the two major parties read this blog - if that is true, the Labor-employed ones have been keeping mum.

I've sent several tweets the way of @NSWLabor and even direct to @jrobertsonmp without success. One shadow minister who promised to chase it up for me then failed to do so.

You can make of that what you will.

In the interim, I contacted O'Farrell's office and asked if they had a response. I was, within a matter of minutes, graced with this document:

I still hope to come back to Labor's document and invigilate it thoroughly - but, for the moment, time forbids. What I can do, however, is weigh the two documents against each other and see if one comes up trumps.

For the moment, I am going to leave aside any issues that are only covered by one of the pamphlets. I'm a little more interested in the divergence between the two pamphlets on issues they both see fit to trumpet.

Workers Comp



The divergence is clear. The Coalition's changes hurt injured workers, but resulted in (potentially) reduced workers comp premiums. The position you take on that is essentially an ideological one - although it is worth noting that the Coalition has been unable to communicate the positive on this change, perhaps having adjudged that it will never be popular politically.




Yes. Well. This is a difficult one. There is a great deal of opinion out there that suggests that money spent on first home buyers grants and the like is simply wasted, delivering no actual benefit excepting that it relieves many buyers from the burden of saving for a deposit. I am skeptical that Labor could in any way justify the claim that first home buyers are in any way "locked out" of the market.

It is certainly true that pure supply and demand mismatch is one of the major causes of Sydney's brutal property prices - whether new approvals and land releases will have a material effect on price (as the Coalition begs you to infer) is a difficult to say.

At the end of the day, there is no one right way to deal with the issue. I don't believe that Labor's criticism carries any real weight, but equally I don't think that the Coalition can prove that their approach will have a material effect either. Further, there are negative consequences that flow from land releases that complicate the issue.

Public Transport


I'm going to put aside some pretty serious problems I have with Labor's statistics here. What is clear for the two documents is the Labor is saying "More Expensive!" whilst the Coalition is claiming "Better." There's no way to resolve that definitively.



This is a difficult one. Both parties are guilty of not providing references, and both rely heavily on anecdotes. Labor focusses on overall budget, Coalition focusses on staffing numbers. Which one means better health-care? Who knows.


This one is a little funny.



First of all, Labor is using exactly the same spurious accusation that has been used to such effect by the Federal Coalition.

What I really like is this: the Coalition concedes that the budget position has deteriorated - but their response is "We may be in deficit, but we're in EXACTLY AS MUCH DEFICIT AS WE SAID."

Yeah no.


Both entirely anecdotal. Both prove nothing at all.

So what?

It's impossible to compare the two pamphlets properly. Without references (from either side) I can't check the reliability of the claims. Assuming both tell the truth, each pamphlet simply seems spins the data the way they want.

So we're left with empty assertions and no real evidence. If only we had journalists who had the time and resources to chase up all the details. If only.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Rainbowing on a Parade

The old saying is that no good deed goes unpunished. I think the O'Farrell government has learned that in spades over the last week.

The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras happened, as it does every year, on the first Saturday in March. At some significant (and, it should be noted, controversial) cost, a pedestrian crossing was painted in Rainbow colours.

It was a apparently a real highlight of the parade:
Pic from the ABC
Apparently, the pictures of the crossing were popular:
Of course Greenwich isn't literally quoting a figure - but any assertion that the cost is outweighed by the benefit is obviously a made-up stat. It may well have been boosting tourism - personally I'm skeptical, but there is absolutely no way to test that assertion.

Even before the crossing was installed, it was clear that it was going to be temporary.  This is from Clover Moore's personal website, published on 26 February, the week of the festival:
Even before the festival, a petition to keep the crossing was gathering signatures. At the time of writing, over 15 000 people had signed it.

Notwithstanding that, the crossing is being removed. Why? The below are extracts from a letter (Page 1 and page 2) written by the Roads Minister Duncan Gay in reply to Ms Moore's missive asking that the crossing be retained:
The audit mentioned was a pre-condition of the crossing being installed in the first place, as Moore explained on her blog:
Personally, I suspect that the condition that an audit be undertaken was at least in part to equip the government with an independent assessment of the danger posed by the crossing, having anticipated a fall-out. But maybe that's just the cynic talking.

Anyway, the letter goes on to explain more clearly precisely what it is that was observed on the crossing:
Interestingly, at least one of those incidents was NSW Upper House member (and budding Federal Senator) Cate Faehrmann:
Faerhmann tweeted a picture of the stunt:
No doubt when Faerhmann sat on the street she was sober. There is equally no doubt that many others would not have been, which is likely to have been the cause of the incident mentioned in Gay's letter.

Put simply, as long as the crossing was there, people were going to do reckless things on and around it. So much is patently obvious.

The government never promised to retain the crossing - in fact, its removal was a precondition to the installation. And yet, this has been the reward (at least on twitter):

But most ridiculous reaction of all?
Shocked, I tell you! Shocked!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Unions United?

So this was a little predictable:
The unions are massive losers in the donations reforms that were brought in early last year. I've said what I want to say about the merit of the changes here and here.

One would like to think that constitutional challenges like this are a waste of time. The government generally gets high quality advice on these matters and would seem well equipped to adjuge what changes are likely to pass constitutional muster.

Sidenote - my all-time favourite Boston Legal quote:
The problem is that legal advice on the constitutionality of laws is often difficult to give, and working out likely position of the courts on such matters is often little more than guess-work. Even the most carefully drafted laws can fall foul.

Even more so (ready yourselves for a bombshell) governments can sometimes take a "Let's just see what happens!" approach to controversial laws.

I don't know enough about NSW Constitutional Law to have an opinion as to whether the laws are likely to be struck down in part or as a whole, and I'm not going to try and offer one. It will be interesting to see what kind of arguments the unions are able to advance as to why they should be able to pay those enormous affiliation fees to the Labor Party.

I think it is safe to assume that the O'Farrell government will be prepared to throw large amounts of money in legal fees at this case to try and make sure the laws survive.

This action demonstrates just how concerned the union movement is about these laws. It was argued during the hearings on these laws that companies will simply encourage their employees to make donations to sympathetic parties (ie the Coalition) - in theory nothing prevents the Unions doing exactly the same thing.

This litigation is going to be expensive for the Union movement - in fact, it will be very expensive. In short, it's pretty clear they are worried.

I imagine this pleases O'Farrell greatly.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Reesing Back in Time

So. Nathan Rees?

I've written before about how Labor should be considering whether John Robertson is the right person to lead them towards the 2015 election. In short, I don't think he is.

There is an obvious second part to that discussion though - who if not Robbo?

Yesterday I saw the first article attempting to answer that very question - kindly spread around by O'Farrell himself:

The article can be found here
It's an interesting proposition. Did Rees get a fair shake the first time round? Can a former Premier be an effective Opposition Leader? More importantly, would be wise for Labor to hark back to their time in government?

Given this is the first piece I've seen suggesting who the next Labor leader could/should be, I was interested in taking a closer look at what Anna Patty had to say on the topic.

One of the more interesting aspects of the ICAC hearings (other than a bit schadenfraude) has seen how various Labor figures have sought to propagate their own version of history. Some have been more subtle than others, but I don't doubt that most have given evidence that sought to ensure their own interests were protected - whether those interests are overtly political or not.

It's no different to what we saw after Howard lost office - people giving interviews and writing books.where they sought to advance their version of history. Of course, when it comes to ICAC one has to be careful, given the very heavy penalties that follow if one is proven to have lied.

Naturally Rees was no exception. In particular, he has been keen to remind the public that he was dumped as Labor leader shortly after sacking Tripodi and MacDonald from his cabinet.

We have also been reminded of his words on the morning he was replaced by Kristina Keneally - "I will not hand over New South Wales to Eddie Obeid or Joe Tripodi". Even more famously, he said that whoever the new Premier was that "they will be a puppet of Joe Tripodi and Eddie Obeid" - an accusation that dogged Keneally for her entire time in office.

That's all true. The problem has been that, for whatever reason, Robertson has not been an effective opposition leader, for the reasons I wrote about last year.

That may be true. The problem is that, along with the public being able to "see" Rees as leader, they will inevitably connect him to the Labor they kicked out so resoundingly 2 years ago.

Even if Rees is right about his record, the opportunity he had, and who is to blame for Labor's time in office - does the average voter care about that distinction? To be honest, I doubt it.

The biggest challenge for Labor in 2015 will be proving to the public that the Labor who they so hated by the end of their time in power has changed - that Labor is ready to lead again and do so well. And I am sceptical that a previous leader is the person to do that.