On the face of it, the Murray-Darling basin plan has all the hallmarks of a “good policy”. It has a clear objective: to cap extractions from the river system, so as to ensure the basin’s long-term ecological, social and economic sustainability. It’s backed by scientific evidence and has considerable public support, both in cities and […]
One of my most esteemed teachers, the late L. J. “Len” Hume, said to me once that he enjoyed his job, “provided they leave me alone”. He was referring to the freedom academics then had (in the 1980s) to develop their own style of teaching, scholarship and research, free of managerial or administrative oversight. Hume […]
A friend was telling me how her neighbour had proposed that a group of home owners in their street should sell up together, so a developer could put high-density housing on the land. Luckily, in this case, the zoning did not permit it. But the pressure to go after the dollar is constant and unremitting. […]
My neighbour on the plane was an Indonesian, going home to Jakarta, after having spent many years living and working in Australia. “What takes you back?” I enquired. Like most Australians, I tend to assume that anyone from a developing country who gets the chance would prefer to live and work in Australia. “Job opportunities,” […]
The world is a more complex place than it used to be, and it’s generally accepted that governments need to work more flexibly than in the past. It’s all the more surprising, then, that, in the case of the national broadband network, Australian governments have opted for an old-fashioned, top-down, high-cost solution to the problem […]
I was coming home from Sydney in the bus and, as we rolled down Northbourne Avenue, a conversation broke out about light rail. As most people are either still asleep, on their smartphones or plugged into one device or another, any sort of conversation at this point of the trip is unusual. But the choice […]
It’s often said that in order to manage something, you need to be able to measure it. When it comes to making public policy though, even measurement is rarely straightforward. Far from being clean, crisp and unambiguous, the numbers become political. Take climate change, for example. Like most people, I am inclined to think there […]
My dad was an engineer, in the electronics business. He despaired of what we would now call the political class – the politicians and their advisers who periodically blew the ‘high tech’ trumpet and then did nothing to follow through. The politicians expected the businesses to be there when the country needed them, but the […]
Given its importance to our economy and society, there is surprisingly little discussion of the pros and cons of immigration. The one exception, of course, is boat people. For the number of people involved, or even likely to be involved, we were, until the flow stopped, obsessed by the threat of people arriving on our […]
One of the first people I met when I came to Canberra, more than 30 years ago now, was a public housing tenant. Let’s call her Patricia. Patricia was a formidable lady from Cooma (a source of many formidable people). She was a widow and she worked full-time. She didn’t earn much but it was […]
Managers are advised to be decisive. But, sometimes, the best thing to do is nothing.
Policy agendas are curious beasts. There are always more ideas running around than most political systems can process, so some “get up” while others are overlooked or ignored. When it comes to implementation, the channelling process can be even more selective. Take climate change, for example. Scientists have been raising the alarm about it for […]
On the western fringes of Belconnen, a new development project, Ginninderry, is taking shape. The development will see more than 5000 houses built within the ACT and (ultimately) a similar number across the border in NSW. While the developers have consulted extensively with residents of the adjoining Belconnen suburbs, few Canberrans will be familiar with […]
There is no doubt that plebiscites are powerful indicators of public opinion. As the Brexit vote showed, when the people speak in this way, it is impossible to ignore. Paradoxically, the power of plebiscites to address highly charged issues, may also be an argument against them. Here in Australia, Labor and the Greens opposed a […]
In the year 2000, Colombian politician and academic Oscar Tulio Lizcano was kidnapped by the guerilla organisation known as the FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and spent almost 3000 days in captivity in the jungle. Eventually, with the aid of one of his captors, he managed to escape, and emerged, exhausted, muddy, and […]
I am not sure which is worse – when politicians deliver on their election promises, or when they don’t. Over the past few weeks, the major parties in the ACT (if we are to believe them) have committed enough funds to send the territory budget into fiscal overdrive for years to come. Health, which at […]
One of the great joys of living in Canberra is its setting. Most of us are familiar with the blue silhouette of the Brindabellas. But equally important are the ridgelines and wooded slopes of the National Capital Open Space System and, to the west and south-west of the city, the varied scenery of farms and […]
An old professor of mine once said that when engaging in public policy debates, it was important to engage each side’s arguments at their best, rather than their worst. Considered from this vantage point, how should we evaluate the arguments, pro and con for Canberra’s tram?
While decluttering recently (it’s been that sort of summer), I re-discovered a little booklet put out by the Commonwealth Greenhouse Office in 2000 called Global Warming: cool it. While the Greenhouse Office has long since gone to the bureaucratic graveyard and global warming has morphed into climate change, the booklet is full of wise advice about […]
January is a good month to be in Canberra. The weather is warm and the streets are quieter than usual, as most of the population has left for the South Coast. Indeed the quietness of the streets is a useful reminder as to just how car-dependent our city is. It is a dependence that Labor […]
When I taught public policy, one of the key ideas I tried to put across, was that when you create a public policy, you create a system, and vice versa. One of the reasons, I argued, that policies often produced surprising effects was that the links between different parts of these systems were not well-understood.
Governments necessarily operate bureaucratically, which means that the types of systems they run are disguised by the myriad classes and classifications they use to process reality. Usually, the insiders know what is going on, although for those in government trying to keep control of it all, it may take time to catch up with some effects. But for those on the outside, it is much more difficult to piece the data together.
There are essentially two kinds of novel set in the past. In the first, we follow the fortunes of a real person, such as Henry VIII’s Chief Minister Thomas Cromwell, the protagonist of Hilary Mantel’s celebrated trilogy. This is a flexible genre, in which the portrait does not have to be accurate to be convincing: witness Peter Carey’s brilliant impersonation of Ned Kelly in True history of the Kelly gang. These works stand or fall according to the psychological interest they create.
Canberra’s Mr Fluffy disaster reminds us how very bad governments can be at managing risk. The decision, 25 years ago, to attempt to remove all the asbestos from roof cavities seems both too little and too much – too little, because as we now know, loose fibres remained, and too much, because in seeking to eliminate the risk, the governments of the day were simply creating further problems in the future.
While at the everyday level the ties could hardly be closer, Australians and New Zealanders take little notice of each other when it comes to politics. New Zealand’s recent general election, which resulted in the return to power of National party leader John Key, attracted little attention this side of the Tasman. Yet there is much to be learned, in both political and policy terms, from our Kiwi neighbours.
If, like me, you like listening to classical music on the radio in the wee small hours, you will have noticed, a couple of months back, a big change in the service offered by ABC Classic FM.
It is said that when the government changes so, too, does the country. After going to all the trouble of getting elected, governments want to see as many of their objectives as possible implemented. The problem is, in the world of public policy, constant, politically induced changes do not produce good outcomes.
Through budget cuts and deregulation, the Coalition government may well be about to make life more difficult for Australia’s universities (no mean achievement). But we should also acknowledge that the system it inherited is the product of decades of bipartisan financial fiddling, poor management (by both universities and the educational bureaucracy) and political opportunism.
When Jon Stanhope was in charge, ACT Labor presented as a steady-as-you-go hard-working government, a touch arrogant in its days of majority power, but certainly not revolutionary in its approach or rhetoric. With Katy Gallagher as Chief Minister, and the Greens Shane Rattenbury in the cabinet, we have a government that is unique in Australia – and possibly, the world – in its zeal to transform the city in which its citizens live.
With the coming to power of another federal Coalition government, it seems likely that Canberra’s high growth rates of recent years will come to an end, at least for the next few years. While there is understandable concern about this change in the city’s fortunes, in the longer run all the indicators are that we will have a much bigger city than we do now.
While there are few consolations for no longer being in government, one that will appeal to Labor is that it no longer has to deal with the asylum-seeker problem. It’s now up to Tony Abbott to ”stop the boats”. As Labor’s perceived failures in this area were Tony’s ticket to the Lodge, it’s unlikely the […]
How serious is the ACT government about implementing the much-discussed Gungahlin to City light rail project? Treasurer Andrew Barr’s recent musings about borrowing the money to build it will have sent shivers down the spines of many ACT taxpayers.
It would be a great pity if the Gonski reforms to school funding were to become casualties of the current, heightened period of inter-party rivalry. Prime Minister Julia Gillard has deliberately stoked the flames by spruiking the dollar amounts that may, or may not, apply to schools systems in each state and territory. In doing so, she diverts attention from the underlying principles of the reforms which, in calmer times, the Coalition might have had much less difficulty in endorsing.
When I first began to study political science in the late 1970s, we were preoccupied with understanding the phenomenon called ”the state”.
In practice, this meant grappling with the writings of some difficult Europeans – not just Marx, but later thinkers such as Habermas, Althusser, Gramsci and Poulantzas. In those days, when the structural connections between the economy and politics were perceived to be of the first importance, puzzling about the nature of the state in capitalist societies seemed entirely natural. The Australian state seemed a particularly apt subject for study. Of the many authors whose works we read on our history, whether they were men or women of the left or not, none doubted that economic development was the main theme of the story – the economic and the political were closely intertwined.
The Taj Mahal is one of the world’s most beautiful buildings, visited by millions every year. Shah Jahan’s favourite wife, Mumtaz, whose mausoleum it is, may have simply worn out after giving birth to her 14th child. But the building itself, especially in the dawn light, does not disappoint. It is magical.
I have never known an organisation that would not have been improved by a few well-judged changes. Not, I hasten to add, re-structurings or purges, just the addition of a bit of common sense to the pot pourri of accepted practice.
Bob Carr is clearly relishing his job as Foreign Affairs Minister. He could scarcely conceal his delight when, a month or so ago, he announced that Australia’s campaign to secure one of the non-permanent seats on the UN Security Council had been successful. Australia’s bid was supported by no less than 140 member nations.
After more than 10 long years, the war in Afghanistan must rank as one of the most frustrating Australians have ever fought. The Prime Minister is determined to see the job through, which means staying the course until our forces are pulled out in 2014. However, in private, I doubt that she, or her advisers, believe that any form of sustainable government will have been established by that time.
One of the most difficult jobs in public administration is that of the regulator – the person (or agency) responsible for implementing the rules. Do your job too uncompromisingly, and the regulated are on your back (or complaining to the politicians). Do it too leniently, and the problems the rules were designed to deal with, are likely to multiply. And that’s your fate when the rules are well-set. Regulators often find that the system they are trying to manage evolves more quickly than their legislation envisaged. The result is that the legislation either becomes a dead letter, or is amended repeatedly, often by patching it up with bits of regulatory gaffer tape. As fast as one loophole is closed, another is discovered (or opened) by those eager to see how far they can go.
My brother and sister-in-law have two children, plus a dog and a cat. They can just about manage the children, but the animals are something else. Recently, at midnight, the cat dragged itself up the stairs to the adults’ bedroom, and promptly started convulsing. There began a frantic visit to the emergency vet, which saved the cat’s life but just about destroyed the family’s bank balance. It turned out that my sister-in-law, in a rush as mothers tend to be, had used dog anti-flea powder on the cat, thinking that one would do for the other. My brother was indignant. Why, he demanded, had she not read the instructions? These, when reviewed, clearly stated that the product could be toxic to cats.
Why throw out a perfectly respectable source of revenue – stamp duty – and thereby narrow your tax base?
As his recent budget demonstrated, ACT Treasurer Andrew Barr is an ambitious politician who intends to leave his mark on the territory’s public finances.
Nothing wrong with that, except that the Treasurer’s plan (eventually) to replace revenue from taxes on conveyancing (stamp duty) with revenue from rates suggests more reforming zeal than common sense.
It seems that Canberrans are taking to apartment living. There are apartment blocks, either newly built or going-up, in Belconnen, Civic, Woden and in other locations such as Kingston. The real estate industry says the market can’t get enough of this kind of housing. But what’s the place of high-rise (let’s say, more than 15 […]
Recently, Baroness Warsi, a Conservative Cabinet minister in Britain’s coalition government, and also a Muslim, criticised what she saw as a trend towards ‘militant secularisation’ in European society. By this, she meant that religion was being downgraded in the public sphere. Europe, she wrote, should be more comfortable in its Christianity and less timid about […]
Beyond composting the kitchen scraps and making sure the bottles and paper go in the yellow bin, most of us find the going tough, Jenny Stewart writes. Despite what Shakespeare may have said, there’s a lot in a name. Canberra’s tips, once the site of weekend recreational outings with the trailer, have long since morphed […]
The so-called obesity epidemic is a more complex picture than the statistics would have us believe.
Who’s heard of the Australian obesity epidemic? One way or another, most of us are vaguely aware of the growing fatness of Australians, if only when we ruefully try to get into last year’s swimming costume. Doctors warn of the rising incidence of diabetes and other conditions associated with being overweight.
I don’t know anyone who enjoys performance assessment, either having it done or doing it. At one stage in the public sector, many agencies offered performance pay: a salary top-up for those who were considered to have performed well. Although this practice seems to have died away, having one’s performance assessed is still important. Payment of increments, for examples, rather than being automatic as it once was, now depends on at least satisfactory performance. (Only senior people in the financial sector, it seems, are paid bonuses even when their company does badly.)
The Queen’s visit serves to highlight how much Australia has change – and how much we’ve stayed the same these past 60 years.
The Queen’s 16th visit to Australia has come and gone, reminding us how much – and how little – has changed in the 60 years since she ascended the throne. Most Australians my age can remember the tremendous to-do of the first and second royal visits, the breathless anticipation, the flag-waving, and if you were lucky, the gloved hand glimpsed through the window of the passing Roller.