Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Colless on NSW

It has been great recently to read the writings of Malcolm Colless in NSW politics.

He had a point well made in criticising the current leadership of Barry O'Farrell.

Peter Debnam lost the last election because his only campaign theme was to cut public servants. I am increasingly frustrated by seeing the Opposition spokespeople on transport and health simply pop up on TV and say "shame" but I have yet to hear anything convincing about why the coalition would be different, let alone better. After all this is still the Liberal party which believes in small government which means less services.

More recently Malcolm Colless has attacked the "jobs for the boys" culture in NSW Labor. The article only dwells on the intention to recreate Agents-General positions, but the rot is great. Its apothesis is the appointment of John Robertson as an MLC, a ludicrous decision, but it runs deep in the public service. The most recent is the appointment of thenew Director-General of the Premiers Department.

The other nice thing about reading Malcolm is that somewhat unique feature of the media where journalists like Malcolm (formerly Canberra press gallery) move to management (Northern Daily Leader, HWT, Strategy and Government Relations) and then resurface as columnists. If only more occupations wer so flexible.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Train station conversation

If you live in the State of NSW you have been subject to some screaming headlines about the current Government over recent days and its mini-budget.

But it is interesting to note the most common stoic public response to this - as reflected in conversations on the train this morning. Large sections of the public think the solution is to get rid of State Government as an institution, not just change the set of currently elected politicians.

Today Tony Abbott has made his suggestion, change section 51 of the constitution. While his focus has been more on places where Federal?state co-operation is required - his suggestion does create a pathway that could lead to the eventual abolition of the States, as a central Government with the ability to make laws about anything eventually would.

The idea has merit, but we shouldn't fool ourselves into believing it solves much. As the early experience of Federation showed, and the 1910 Royal Commission into the Postal Service demonstrated, migration to a centralised model is hard.

And the issue of the need for "co-operation" doesn't go away, it just changes. Even if there is only one level of Government the co-ordination of the training of sufficient doctors and nurses with the availability of hospital beds, and the managing of the balance between hospital beds, rehabilitation beds and aged care facilities is a dfficult undertaking. But at least the proposal would reduce the ability to undertake the "blame game."

However more of the issues require us to think harder about the procedures and methods of co-ordination, and the ways incentives are constructed that can result in sub-optimal outcomes. If you remunerate a salesman just on how many units he sells and manufacturing on how low the per unit cost can be you can wing up selling al red widgets and making all blue. The same co-ordination issues occur everywhere, but our systems rarely deal with the need for the co-ordination to occur.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Internet Filtering

Antony Loewenstein writing in The Age on 10 November accused the Rudd Government of hypocrisy over its internet filtering plans. The accusation was based on the PM's earlier criticism of Chinese political filtering of the internet to journalists.

Unfortunately the Rudd Government's policy is being widely misrepresented. Ultimately the Government is trying to find a way to apply the same kind of classification system that applies to printed material, films and DVDs. It is partially hamstrung by the fact that the Howard Government lumped refused classification and varies restricted classification materials together in the definition of prohibited content in the Broadcasting Services Act. This means the scare mongers can rightly indicate that any plan would cover all this material, though the desire is really to stop access to the refused classification material.

Loewenstein refers to the clip on ZDnet below, which is worth a look. I must admit that I don't quite understand how the CEOs presented here have decided that their decision about what content might or might not be appropriate is more important than that of an elected Government.

The important thing to understand is that the "filtering" trial is not dynamic filtering that would examine the content of a site, it is about restricting access to known sites. The Government is also not naive to suggest that the filter stops everything, just as the ban on importing RC DVDs doesn't mean that one might not be posted to Australia in the guise of a classified film or even a data file. But the fact that can occur is no reason not to have the import ban.

This is a very sad case of the way a debate can be hijacked by sophistry. It is a little like the monarchists who successfully argued that the people should not be asked whether they wanted a republic and then having forced the republicans to choose one, the monarchists attacked the model (the politicians' republic) not the concept.

It would be nice to see the critics first agree that the Government is right in deciding that Australians should not be able to navigate through their browser to RC material. After we have that agrement we might get on to figure out how it could happen.