Tuesday, April 05, 2011

New England & the O'Farrell Government

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.

Administrative Simplification

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.


Miss Eagle said...

As we know New England is provided for in the constitution. I believe that a new state for New England should go from those areas you state up to about Bundaberg in Queensland and then the rest of Queensland becomes a new state. I certainly believe it needs to include places like Toowoomba, Warwick and Stanthorpe which have geographical similarities. I am a North Queenslander and a new state is sorely needed there. I compare a place like Townsville with a place like Darwin which is the seat of government in the NT. I think having self-govt can add quite a bit to a region. So I would advise you not to limit your thinking to a an older notion of the geographic locale of New England but to take it a bit further.

Another way of dealing with this is to abolish state and local governments and establish a two tier system of govt: national govt and regional govts which are established on the basis of geographical and community interests.

Greg said...

Interesting comments Miss Eagle. Abolition of the states is not the answer. They are too entrenched and all the existing states pre-date the Commonwealth. But certainly carving up the states into smaller states with common geography is possible and desirable.

Incorporation of parts of Sthn Qld and Nthn NSW is an interesting idea, but it would require the agreement of each affected region within each state as well as the agreement of each state. That is problematic. It is hard enough just to get NSW to agree to hold a referendum on New England. It has only happened once and who knows when they will concede another plebiscite on the issue.

Also I think that new states should generally be smaller so that no communities are too remote from their centre of government. A state that is one million km or more in area is way too large. The physically smaller states of Vic & Tas are probably good models as far as geographical size is concerned.

North Qld is also an obvious area for at least one and probably two new states.

Jim, I am interested to hear more of your thoughts on the fragmentation of NSW as an entity. I think that the dominance and centralisation of government and services in Sydney is a contributing factor to this fragmentation. It is certainly a cause of resentment for communities which feel remote and neglected.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Miss E and Greg. North Queensland does indeed need its own state!

Greg, I will bring the past posts I sis on this topic, along with an update.