Thursday, March 22, 2007

NSW Elections 2007 - Impact on New England

Photo: Gordon Smith, black snake.

I had not intended to run another snake photo. But, somehow, this seemed suitable.

I have argued strongly on this blog that New England needs to develop an effective voice, that current Sydney Government policies and programs do not meet New England's needs. For some examples see here.

In election commentary on my personal blog I have pointed to some of the strangeness in this election, arguing that that the election has been a policy free zone on both sides with all parties confusing lists of promises and activities with policy. I call this the supermarket or Key Performance Indicator approach to politics.

One of New England's problems has always been the way in which Sydney Governments from the second half of the nineteenth century have used the mess of pottage approach - a school here, a road there - to divide and rule, preventing the development of more integrated approaches.

Reading the on-line editions of papers across New England we can see that this approach is alive and well. However, the current Labor Government has taken the approach to a new level through its ability to recycle and re-package previous promises into apparently new promises.

People know that this happens, but the Government can get away with it because of its control over sources of information. In particular, NSW is the only jurisdiction in the country where past Government policy statements and press releases are not available on line. Comparisons are hard without information.

Am I being unfair? Well, consider this.

You will find NSW Treasury's costings of all the Government's promises here. Let's look at some of them.

Take the Country Towns Water Supply and Sewerage Program. The headline number is an extra $160 million. When we look at the details, we see that this money will be made available from 2011-12 onwards. But we also see that, to use Treasury's word, earlier spending has been "reprofiled". By this they mean that planned expenditure in the next few years has actually been reduced to help fund later spend. "Reprofiling" indeed!

Or look at the paper headed North Coast. This actually deals just with health. There are two pages of commitments. Looks good. The Treasury costings show new spend of just $500,000. The rest are earlier promises repackaged.

If you look at the policy promises entitled New England, really the Tablelands and Western Slopes, the several pages of policy promises has no budget impact at all because they are all previous commitments repackaged.

The Hunter promises are much the same, although there is some new money here to fund upgrades to the Maitland and John Hunter Hospitals. But that is the only new money involved in pages of apparent promises!

I haven't had time to go through all the costings, but these examples illustrate the pattern. I just feel depressed.

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