Thursday, November 16, 2006

Does the NSW Ten Year Plan meet New England's needs?

My previous post on the NSW Government's new ten year plan looked at New England's needs in order to set a benchmark against which the plan could be considered.

Overview of the Plan

The State Plan aims to deliver better results for the NSW community from Government services by setting clear priorities for Government action, "with challenging targets for improvement to guide decision making and resource allocation."

The Plan focuses on five areas of activity of the NSW Government:

  • Rights, Respect and Responsibility - the justice system and services that promote community involvement and citizenship
  • Delivering Better Services - the key areas of service delivery to the whole population (health, education, transport)
  • Fairness and Opportunity - services that promote social justice and reduce disadvantage
  • Growing Prosperity Across NSW - activities that promote productivity and economic growth, including in rural and regional NSW
  • Environment for Living - planning, environmental protection, and arts and recreation.

The Plan attempts to identify specific, measurable priorities for Government action that will help the Government "achieve each of the results over the next 10 years. These 34 priorities will drive the actions and decisions of Government."

Approach to Plan

Each section of the Plan includes analysis relevant to Greater Sydney, this now appears to include Newcastle, and then the rest of NSW.

In analysing the Plan my sole focus is on New England and its longer term needs. To this end, I have ranked some popular political concerns low simply because, while popular in political terms, they do little to address New England's longer term needs.

I have broken the analysis up by the activity areas as defined in the Plan.

Rights, Respects and Responsibilities

This, the first section of the plan, is its law and order section. Its goals are defined as:

  • Keeping people safe through reduced rates of crime, particularly violent crime and reduced re-offending
  • Building harmonious communities through reduced rates of anti-social behaviour and increased participation and integration in community activities.

I have put this entire section of the plan aside as lower priority in terms of New England's longer term needs. Yes, there are law and order issues in parts of New England. However, problems such as criminal activities among young Aboriginals in certain communities flow from economic and social disadvantage and can only be rectified by reducing that disadvantage.

Delivering Better Services

The goals for this part of the plan are defined as:

  • Healthy communities through timely access to quality health care, improved survival rates and quality of life for people with potentially fatal or chronic illness and improved health through reduced obesity, smoking, drug use and risk drinking
  • Students fulfil their potential with increasing levels of attainment for all students and more students completing Year 12 or recognised vocational training
  • An effective transport system with an increasing share of peak hour journeys on a safe and reliable public transport system and with reduced road fatalities relative to size of NSW population
  • Customer friendly services with increased customer satisfaction

Among these goals I have put aside the last, customer friendly service, as a subsidiary objective relative to New England's needs. While important, it is something that should be done anyway.

Delivering Better Services - Health

Specific priorities on the health side are defined as:

  • Priority S1: Improved access to quality health care. Specific target performance benchmarks are set for access to emergency departments and elective surgery. The Plan also points to increasing access to services in rural and remote communities through implementation of the Better Rural Health Plan. These services include cardiology, renal dialysis and cancer treatment. There is also a commitment to develop new models of care to expand access to specialists and their services in rural and remote communities.
  • Priority S2: Improve survival rates and quality of life for people with potentially fatal or chronic illness through improvements in health care . The state wide target is to reduce the number of potentially avoidable deaths for people under 75 to 150 per 100,000 population by 2016. There is a commitment to further develop clinical service networks to improve access to specialist services for rural communities, including expansion of specialist outreach services, transport initiatives, diagnostic and therapeutic video conference support and innovative health programs for indigenous and non-indigenous people.
  • Priority S3: Improved health through reduced obesity, smoking, illicit drug use and risk drinking. Again measurable state wide targets are set.

In broad terms, achievement of the objectives set for health will benefit New England depending on current performance gaps in New England and the final results in New England. The problem with state averages is that an average improvement may be achieved through an improvement in Sydney with no improvement elsewhere.

A further difficulty lies in the fact that the health plan is not really a plan, implementation details are light, but a set of performance objectives.

Delivering Better Services - Education

Specific education priorities are:

  • Priority S4: Increasing levels of attainment for all students. Targets here are defined in these terms:
    1. By 2008, reduce the number of lowest-performing students in literacy and numeracy in Years three, five, seven by 10 per cent in 2008, with further 20 per cent reduction by 2016.
    2. By 2012, increase the number of students in Years three, five, and seven meeting or exceeding national proficiency benchmarks for literacy and numeracy by 10 per cent with a further 5 per cent increase by 2016.
  • Priority S5: More students complete Year 12 or recognised vocational training. The target here is defined as an increase in the proportion of students completing Year 12 or recognised vocational training from 82.7 per cent in 2005 to 90 per cent by 2016.

As with health, the education targets are limited but worthwhile and should have positive impact depending on the exact starting position across New England as compared with final outcomes.

Delivering Better Services - Transport

The first priority area here deals with improved performance on NSW public transport. The discussion and targets (S6) are largely irrelevant to New England although there may be some benefits to Newcastle and the Lower Hunter where public transport is important. I do not have enough specific knowledge here to relate the indicators used to the on-ground position.

The second priority area (S7) focuses on road safety.

Overall, there is little in the transport section that really addresses New England's longer term needs.

Fairness and Opportunity

The Plan states that the Government will overcome cycles of disadvantage through its goals of:

  • Strengthening Aboriginal communities through improved health and educational outcomes for Aboriginal people
  • Opportunity and support for the most vulnerable through increased employment and community participation for people with disabilities and improved outcomes in mental health
  • Early intervention to tackle disadvantage through embedding the principle of prevention and early intervention into Government service delivery in NSW, reduced avoidable hospital admissions, increased proportion of children with skills for life and learning at school entry, and reduced rates of child abuse and neglect.

To improve outcomes for Aboriginal people the Plan (F1) established two key targets:

  • Close the gap between Aboriginal and all students in primary school numeracy and literacy rates by 2016
  • Over five years, reduce by 15 per cent hospital admissions for Aboriginal people who have conditions that can be appropriately treated in the home.

The Government considers that its existing Two Way program will meet these objectives, so no further action is proposed. Given that New England has a significant Aboriginal population, these are important targets. However, it is not clear to me that they can be achieved in the absence of economic growth to address economic disadvantage.

The second priority area (F2) targets increased employment and community participation for people with disabilities. The set objectives are to:

  • close the gap in the unemployment rate between people with a disability and the overall community by 50 per cent by 2016. This is equivalent to around 6,000 jobs
  • Increase the out of home participation rate of people with a severe or profound disability to at least 85 per cent.

Again, achievement of these targets in New England depends upon the the availability of jobs and hence on economic development.

The third priority area (F3) targets improved outcomes in mental health. The set objectives are to:

  • Reduce re-admissions within 28 days to the same facility
  • Increase the percentage of people with a mental illness aged 15-64 who are employed to 34 per cent by 2016
  • Increase the community participation rates of people with a mental illness by 40 per cent by 2016.

The Government states that existing plans will achieve these objectives so no further action is required. I lack the knowledge to relate both targets and existing plans to New England's on-ground needs.

The fourth priority area addresses early Intervention to tackle disadvantage. The stated priority (F4) is to embed the principle of prevention and early intervention into Government service delivery in NSW. On the surface, this appears a worthwhile objective.

The fifth priority (F5) aims to reduce avoidable hospital admissions. The target is to reduce by 15 per cent over five years hospital admissions for people who should not need to come to hospital. This is really a health efficiency objective. However, built into it are actions such as enhanced support for carers that are important for New England given our aging population.

The sixth priority (F6) aims to increased the proportion of children with skills for life and learning at school entry. The Plan states that NSW, through the COAG (Council of Australian Governments) process, is working collaboratively to develop a measure of performance and targets. Measurement should begin in 2008. The Government will then set a target for increasing the mean performance of the child population in NSW by 2016.

This area covers a range of existing policies and programs targeting pre-school children. No judgements can be made at this stage as to any new future activities that might arise.

The seventh priority (F7) is to reduce rates of child abuse and neglect. The goal is to reduce the referred reports rate of child abuse over the course of the Plan. The Plan notes that this will be a significant achievement as there is an expected 10 per cent increase in the rate over the next two years alone based on current reporting trends. It is not clear from the Plan how this is to be achieved.

Growing Prosperity across NSW

This is the economic development section of the Plan.

The first priority (P1) is increased business investment. Overall priorities are stated as:

  • Maintain and invest in infrastructure to support our growing economy
  • Cut red tape
  • Increase participation in education and training
  • Maintain the State's AAA rating.

Targets are stated as:

  • Continue to increase business investment through making NSW a more attractive place to do business
  • Increase tourist visitation to NSW by 10 million visitor nights by 2016.

The only new measures proposed are:

  • We will develop strategies to focus Government attention on high wage, high skilled, export oriented industries that have the greatest potential to thrive in the future in NSW. The Plan makes it clear that this is to be an innovation, not industry development, strategy.
  • We will investigate ways to encourage Australians, particularly NSW residents, to use their accrued leave through short breaks. This would provide a basis for stimulating regional tourism.export oriented industries that have the greatest potential to thrive in the future in NSW

Given that existing policy approaches are not presently delivering the results that New England needs, this area of the Plan offers nothing to New England.

The second priority (P2) is to maintain and invest in infrastructure. The set targets:

  • Maintain average annual growth rate in capital expenditure of 4.6 per cent nominal over the next decade (2015-16)
  • Develop and report measures of maintenance effectiveness.

Beyond a commitment to consult councils on their needs, this part of the Plan is very much status quo. There is nothing in it that relates specifically to New England's needs other than a passing reference to the Pacific Highway.

The third priority (P3) is to cut red tape. There is nothing in it that relates to New England's key needs.

The fourth priority (P4) aims to get more people participating in education and training throughout their life. The set target is to increase the proportion of the population aged 15-64 participating in vocational education and training from 11.7 per cent in 2005 to 16 per cent by 2016.

In addition to current activities, the Government proposes to consider three new things:

  • Increasing Investment in our Training
  • Flexible delivery of training
  • A Focus on mature workers to increase engagement

While these things may aid NSW as a whole, there is nothing in the Plan relating to New England's specific needs.

The fifth priority (P5) is simply to maintain the State's AAA rating.

The sixth priority (P6) is increased business investment in rural and regional NSW. The target is simply defined as working through Regional Coordination Management Groups (RCMGs) and Regional Development Boards, and with local government and local representative groups to set business growth targets.

The only new approaches under consideration are a possible regional innovation strategy plus some wishy washy words about innovation in primary industry. This part of the Plan does not meet New England's needs.

The seventh priority (P7) is defined as better access to training in rural and regional NSW to support local economies.

At present, VET participation in Regional NSW is well below the Sydney level. The target is to increase to 250,000 (presently 228,000) the number of people in regional areas participating in VET by 2012, with an aim of 300,000 by 2016. The Plan notes that this target can only be achieved through joint effort and funding with the Commonwealth Government and industry.

The only new measure proposed is consideration of improved linkages between training and the needs of local industry. Now it may be that existing measures will allow the target level to be achieved simply through the application of more money. However, on the surface the Plan appears weak in this area.

The Plan also does not address the specific needs of New England including scope for cooperative action across New England's regions.

Environment for Living

The final section of the core Plan addresses environmental and life style issues.

The first priority (E1) is a secure and sustainable water supply for all users. A number of measures are proposed to achieve this.

This priority is driven by the problems that Sydney and certain other parts of NSW have been facing on the water supply side. New England is the wettest part of NSW. The proposed new Hunter dam, for example, is intended to supply water not just to Newcastle but to the central coast. Given this, I simply do not know at this point just what this priority area actually means for New England.

The second priority (E2) is reliable electricity supply with increased use of renewable energy. The targets are defined as:

  • Achieve average electricity reliability for NSW of at least 99.98 per cent (presently 99 + per cent) by 2016
  • By 2010 10 per cent of electricity consumed in NSW will be from renewable sources (presently 6.1 per cent) rising to 15 per cent by 2020.

No new measures are proposed to achieve renewable targets. There appear to be no particular implications for New England.

The third priority (E3) is cleaner air and progress on greenhouse gas reductions. Cleaner air is very much a Sydney problem, although there have been some issues in Newcastle. Reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is a broader policy issue with, on the surface, no specific New England implications.

The fourth priority (E4), better outcomes for native vegetation, biodiversity, land, rivers, and coastal waterways, contains no less than 13 sub targets, most expressed in fairly general terms. This priority is actually both important and very complicated because the Government's habit of imposing standard approaches across the state can lead to strange results given the diversity within NSW.

I lack the specific information to be able to make judgements.

While there are some passing references to areas outside Sydney, the fifth priority (E5), jobs closer to home, is Sydney focused. The target is simply defined as an increase the percentage of the population living within 30 minutes by public transport of a city or major centre in Greater Metropolitan Sydney.

The sixth priority (E6) Housing Affordability is again heavily influenced by Sydney's needs. The targets are expressed as:

In Greater Sydney (Newcastle is included as part of Greater Sydney) Metropolitan Region:

  • 640,000 new dwellings over next 25 years to 2031 - of which 445,000 will be in existing urban areas and the remainder (195,000) in greenfield locations
  • Achieve 55,000 zoned and serviced lots ready for development by 2009.

In regional areas:

  • At least 300,000 new dwellings over the next 25 years, with an increased rate of infill development.

These targets, which imply that population in Sydney will grow at twice the rate of the rest of the state over the next ten years thus further widening the gap between the two, contain very little supporting information.

Over the last ten years, between 20,000 and 30,000 new houses have been built annually in Sydney, so the Sydney target appears to imply a substantial increase in Sydney building. I have no idea what the figure for the rest of the state means.

There is no linkage between the housing target and descriptions of current policies which all appear to focus on housing for the disadvantaged.

Housing affordability and availability varies across New England as do public housing needs. There is no linkage between these varying needs and this priority area.

The seventh priority (E7), improve the efficiency of the road network, deals with Sydney only.

The eighth and final priority (E) focuses on getting more people using parks, sporting and recreational facilities, and participating in the arts and cultural activity. Increase participation in recreation, sporting, artistic and cultural activity. The targets are defined as:

  • Increase the number of visits to State Government parks and reserves by 20 per cent by 2016
  • Increase the number of people participating in sporting activities and physical exercise by 10 per cent by 2016
  • Increase visitation and participation in the arts and cultural activity by 10 per cent by 2016.

This is potentially an important area for New England since it implies more people utilising improved facilities within New England. However, nearly all the examples used are Sydney focused, with only limited new activities that might have some benefit to New England.

Specific Regions

The Plan suggests that specific plans have been developed for individual regions. Looking at the material provided on regions within New England.

No new activities are proposed for the Hunter.

Proposals for the North Coast are:

  • Developing a cross-border taskforce with Queensland to examine the need for road, rail and other infrastructure to improve services between the border communities to better manage the impacts and maximise the opportunities for the communities of the Far North Coast of NSW
  • Continued investigation of improvements to rail line to maximise the use of freight on rail
  • Support vocational education and training by building better links between schools, TAFE and industry to focus on better skilling North Coast young people to address the skills shortages in the region
  • Providing a significant increase in public housing in the Tweed area to respond to population growth

Proposals to be considered for the Northern Tablelands/North West are:

  • Increasing the supply of people with the skills required by expanding businesses and emerging industries. A Regional Labour Market Taskforce consisting of government agencies, the University of New England and a cross-section of businesses and industries will lead this initiative
  • Developing specific strategies to improve the attraction and retention of professional staff, especially in remote rural localities
  • Establishing a Land-use Planning Forum to address the regional impacts of climate change (eg shorter growing seasons, water issues). Under this initiative State and Local Government agencies and local producers will work collaboratively to maintain a diverse and productive agricultural sector
  • Working in identified small rural towns with government departments, local councils and business to increase the training and employment opportunities for Aboriginal young people.


If you look at my simple analysis of New England's needs in the previous post, and then compare it to the Plan you will see that most of New England's needs are not addressed or addressed in a peripheral fashion.

In this context, one way of testing the potential value of a plan is to ask what the position would be at the end if every target were to be achieved. Here I think that we can say that at the end of ten years New Englanders will be at best marginally better off, more likely they will have seen a further deterioration in New England's position.

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