Yesterday's post New NSW ministry simply listed the ministers in the new NSW Government. It is too early to know how the ministry might perform. In this post I simply want to list some of the things that I criticised over time in the way the previous government operated since they provide my measuring stick.
Ministers for Bits and Pieces
The previous Government had a bad habit of see problem, give it a ministry. This had little practical effect because the ministries thus created simply sat on top of existing structures and had no real meaning. It also gave some very long barreled and quite confusing ministerial titles.
Power of the Central Coordinating Agencies
The jargon phrase central coordinating agencies is used to describe central agencies, in the old Government Treasury and Premiers & Cabinet, that exercise broad control. These agencies have legitimate functions and can be important if you are trying to bring about change. However, over the last years of the ancien régime centralisation reached the point that those agencies became an almost impenetrable and doctrinaire barrier to real change.
Will this change?
Relations with the Commonwealth
The control exercised by the Commonwealth has become so great in recent years that the real freedom of the states is greatly constrained. That's a reality. One problem with the ancien régime is that it was not prepared to say no, this doesn't make sense, even when ministers and officials were well aware of problems.
I am not talking politics here, although that's an issue. Rather, I am talking about the detail of policy and program at an official as well as ministerial level. Crudely, it was often seen as better to get some money even though those involved knew that overall results might not be good.
Mr O'Farrell's problem here is that if he says no, then it will be presented in party political terms.
Over the long years of the ancien régime it became easier to respond to popular issues, to symptoms, than to either say no or bring about real change. Avoidance of political risk became critical. This affected every aspect of policy. It also affected the actual operations of government.
Crudely, more time was spent on developing risk management strategies, stakeholder engagement strategies, communications strategies, in ensuring that every box was ticked, than in original thought. The very systems involved in getting things done became so encrusted in barnacles, so inefficient, that many who wanted real change just left.
So how will Mr O'Farrell respond to this? Will it simply be an initial clean-out and then more of the same?
It's not easy. Sydney dominates NSW politics, and Sydney is a sometimes very unpleasant gold fish bowl. This is where Mr Stoner and the Nationals should come in because they have a degree of freedom. The Daily Telegraph or shock jocks may fulminate, but this doesn't necessarily affect opinion in a Kempsey or a Tamworth in quite the same way.
New England Issues
Because New England, Northern NSW, is not recognised as an entity, it tends to get ignored. This is especially important when it comes to cross-links among the regions within New England.
One of the points I have tried to make in my writing is that NSW as an entity has fragmented to the point that the only unity is the formal political structures. This makes policy development very hard.
In the new Government, there are three ministers with regional responsibilities for parts of New England - Don Page, North Coast; Michael Gallacher Hunter; and Kevin Humphries, Western NSW. Can these ministers cooperate? Do they even recognise the need for cooperation?
The appointment of Mr Gallacher has already come under criticism because he is not from the Hunter. I suppose that one point here is that he was Shadow Minister for the Hunter. We shall have to see.
I have written a fair bit on New England policy issues. This writing provides the benchmark against which I shall assess performance.
Anybody who reads this blog on a regular basis would know that I believe that New England cannot really advance without self-government. To that end, we need another referendum. However, that will take time.
For the present, we have to deal with NSW as it is. We have to hope that the new NSW Government can improve performance in a general sense, while also facilitating New England social and economic development.