Doctor and activist


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Tag: NSW Politics

Value Capture and Equity in Infrastructure Development

3 February 2021

One of the ways to finance new infrastructure projects is to capture the extra value that they produce.  A rail line makes a suburb far more valuable, particularly the areas around the stations. As it is planned some areas can be sold, or the government can develop the central areas and charge higher rates or a percentage of the increase in value when the land is sold. Simply to buy the land, built the railway and let the developers make all the profit is just plain dumb and is why there are so few rail lines in Western Sydney.

But there seems no sensible plan. The Federal government paid 10 times as much for some non-vital land to a mate, and now seems to be squeezing smaller landholders as they compulsorily acquire the land. If the land is going to be worth a lot more because of the railway, the people who are forced to move should get a bit extra for their trouble. This is only fair.

What is needed is a public formula that gives a fair price when the land is acquired and some value capture for the taxpayer. Railways should be self-financing, with fairness for all.

It seems that the governments are both corrupt and inept.  With all the consultants floating around a formula should be proposed, debated, decided and implemented.

www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/sickening-to-watch-scale-of-acquisitions-for-airport-line-upsets-landowners-20210120-p56vjy.html

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Governments are Simply Bought

3 February 2021

As we observe a seemingly endless litany of government decisions that are not just bad, but are totally against the public interest and wants, we might wonder why. Are politicians less principled than formerly?  Are they of lower calibre?  Is it just all about marketing?

Some long-term trends have to be looked at. At Bretton Woods in 1944 world leaders considered how to lessen the chance of future wars.  The two world war had been because emerging powers  needed markets that were closed to them. So ‘Free Trade’ was the cry that would allow the world to benefit from the free movement of goods from the places that produced them most efficiently to where they were wanted. Governments would not be able to get in the way. This trend has increased, helped by technologies in transport that have lowered freight costs.  Countries that have done well have risen, countries that cannot get a premium on their products have gone down.  But multinational companies have been able to evade taxes and develop oligopolies that allow super-normal prof its.  Multinational companies are now richer than many countries, so governments’ power has hugely lessened in relation to these companies.  So the companies often tell the governments what to do rather than vice-versa. Really good people used to go into government with a vision for their country’s future.  Now these people often go into business, raising the question whether our politicians are second tier.  Marketing is also much more sophisticated, and targeting is very important. Once it is recognised that what determines an election is a few percent in a few seats, the question is how to change those few minds.  So research and election donations become critical.    I have spoken to Ministers who seriously believe that they cannot oppose the industries that are the key players in their portfolio area. And if they believe that, that will certainly be the outcome.

Decisions like the inability of Australia to oppose the coal industry in the Climate ‘debate’, to avoid fracking when the gas industry sold gas on the assumption that it could frack for more, cal mining under dams, property development that sells iconic museums or demands higher dam walls are examples of governments doing what monied donors want.  But the pork-barrelling to ‘look after our own’ is a new low in political behaviour.  It has been coming for a while. 

When I was in Parliament I followed up the award of a contract for disability services in the Hunter region, which had not gone to the incumbents who had been considered to be doing quite a good job.  Investigations showed that there had been an exemplary selection process done in the public service, with the incumbent narrowly winning from another provider in the area, both with scores in the high nineties .  The contract went to another tenderer with a score in the 50s. Scrawled across the file was a minder’s note, ‘This one more innovative- support them’.  The Minister did. The minder went off to be CEO of the winning tenderer.  The unsuccessful tenderers withdrew in disgust.  Sadly, this did not come out for some time, so the successful tenderer was then established and the unsuccessful downsized so the decision could not be reversed.   Someone in the office was temporarily stood down.  It was an example of Ministers over-riding neutral selection processes, which is now so commonplace that Gladys Berejeklian assures us it is normal and the Federal government also acts as if this is so. Perhaps soon there will no public service process at all; why bother making potential trouble?

So with government believing that they cannot act against vested interests and also able to buy power with marketing money, it is hardly surprising that industries donate, especially when there is nothing stopping them.  Ministers who are not particularly clever, but have good party connections can also leave politics for lobbying positions in the industries that they formerly were responsible for, having contacts in both the government and the responsible Departments.

As the power and the image of politicians fall, so do party numbers allowing more branch-stacking and nepotism.  Some years ago, Christians, noting their numbers falling in the census made a huge effort to get into the political system to maintain their privileged tax deductible status and school system, so now they are represented in Cabinet way more than in society in general. So there is yet another strong lobby within the system- the religion industry.

These problems are part of long-term trends with technological and economic drivers.  My own view is history is driven by these forces more than by anything governments want to do.  Politicians now have a career structure where their interests are different from the public interest and this will never be reconciled.  So we need a new conceptual framework.  The power must be taken from the politicians and given back to the people.  The government of Switzerland acts similarly to ours except that there are more political parties sharing power, so there is never an absolute majority with governments able to do whatever they like.  More importantly, the people have plebiscites quarterly at Federal, Canton (State equivalent) and local levels.  If there is enough signatures, an issue is put to plebiscite and the result is binding on governments. Legislation can be overturned if the petitions get enough signatures within a statutory time.  So governments govern, but remain aware that they cannot do what they like.  Politicians are all part-time and keep their jobs, which are also their post-parliament continuing careers.  They are also limited to 2 terms, so that they do not have a political career structure that they can put ahead of the public interest.

It is time to change the constitution to lessen the power of the governments.  Restricting political donations should be tried, but I watched as people tried to stop the tobacco industry buying influence. When TV ads were banned, they had ‘sponsorships’ around the grounds and it took 26 years to get rid of these as sponsored sport sang for its supper. Ethnic clubs, Sports Foundations, Rescue boats, Charities, disabled groups; all manner of potential lobbyists were gifted and sang for their supper or donated in kind.  If someone has money and wants to help you, and you want to be helped there are a million ways to get around impediments. Those who think a donation limit will stop the problem are frankly naïve, though I am not saying it should not be done.  It establishes a principle at least, so that we can chase the avoidances.  But more substantial change is needed, a new constitution to lessen the power of Parliaments on the Swiss model.

www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/hidden-donations-highlight-grave-weakness-of-australian-democracy-20210131-p56y70.html

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Gladys Has to Go 15/10/20.

I feel somewhat sorry for Gladys Berejeklian.   She is an intelligent woman who was born in Sydney in an Armenian family and according to Wikipedia did not learn English until she was 5.  Raised in Australia and reasonably intelligent, she was not married by the age of 24, which is often expected in a traditional Armenian community.  So she would have had a lot of pressure to succeed in politics.  To do this she had to please the men with power in the Liberal Party and its donors.

She may have been honest, but as Shadow Transport Minister she initiated the light rail project and then was responsible for it and the underground freeway project.  The cost of the light rail project blew out and the tunnels have gone from $10 to $18 billion.  Sydney is the last city in the world to be building underground freeways, and the opportunity cost is that we will now not have a decent metro network but the Roads lobby was stronger than the Rail lobby, so this outcome can be understood in a compliant political context.  Gladys is hard-working and took advice during the bushfires and COVID19 crisis, but it seems she was vulnerable to Darryl Maguire, the undistinguished ex-member for Wagga Wagga who is now before ICAC.

If it is true that she told him not to tell her things that he was doing and she saw developers that the relevant Minister refused to see for him, she is in trouble.  It is also alleged that Maguire asked her as Treasurer to see people who wanted to build the Wagga Wagga by-pass, which the Roads Dept. thought was not a cost-effective option, and such was actually built.   Building roads favours the builders, but also changes the land value hugely, so some developers stand to make a fortune.  Maguire was in ICAC today and part of the hearing was in camera, so the situation is not yet clear. 

As a person interested in the appalling job that iCare has done, and aware of the venality of its management and the fact that it paid for two US political advisers in Treasurer Perottet’s office, I wondered why there was no suggestion that he should resign.  A letter in yesterday’s’ SMH suggested that perhaps with Gladys’ personal situation as it is she was in no position to challenge Perottet.  We might remember that an honest man, Premier Barry O’Farrell, resigned for not remembering that he had never received a bottle of wine from a dodgy developer and being goaded into saying so as an unequivocal statement.  Standards have gone down a long way since then.

Gladys should go, so should Perottet, but sadly neither the NSW Liberals nor the Labor Party are replete with talent to replace them.

www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/glass-of-red-was-a-code-daryl-maguire-contradicts-of-former-minister-s-chief-of-staff-20201014-p5651q.html

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The Privatisation of the Land Titles Office

21 October 2017

The privatisation of the Land Titles Office will allow developers to search systematically for any land that can be bought. With the total emasculation of the NSW planning process, and a tax system which rewards land development over all other forms of financial activity in this country, this will result in the largest systematic transfer of wealth from the public to rich individuals that has ever happened in this State.

Well done the Libs- you have rewarded your donors admirably!  Tough luck the commons.

But having got all this easily and probably cheaply, there will quite a lot of support for the renationalisation as suggested by Jeremy Corbyn in England.  We are perpetually lectured about the need to have huge rewards for risk-takers as they might lose things. ‘Easy come, easy go’ might be the slogan for a new age, replacing ‘Once grabbed, always mine’, the inherent assumption of the privatisers.

I had observed Sydney Water put all its water plans on a computerised system. This had an highly developed mapping system with all the pipers and boundaries. It was not clear whether they had intended to use this for revenue or merely to keep track of their own facilities and works, but the system, which had been developed by funding from Water rates was taken from them by the NSW government and given to the Land Titles office and combined with the Land Titles Register. This combination was then absolutely State of the Art. It was the ultimate private monopoly as I warned in this post on 21/10/17, though at that time Jeremy Corbyn in the UK may have let a push to reclaim some of the more outrageous privatisations. That was not to be and he lost the UK elections dramatically.

What happened in NSW was a huge abuse of the private monopoly with a 1900% price hike as described a year later on 4/10/18 in the SMH.

www.smh.com.au/politics/nsw/unauthorised-privatised-nsw-land-titles-registry-hiked-fees-by-1900-per-cent-20181004-p507ri.html

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My second Obeid story. 29/6/16

I was in NSW Parliament and an old school friend wanted to meet for old times, so we went down to the coffee shop at Sydney Hospital.  As we went in Grahame Richardson and Eddie Obeid were talking together. As we walked past Richo was facing me, Eddie had his back to us. I nodded at Richo and went past.  My friend and I had rather a long chat, but as we came back, Richo and Eddie were still there.  I nodded at Eddie.  Richo, (who is a very sociable guy whatever else he may be) said, ‘Hello Arthur’.  I was a bit surprised he even knew my name, but he is good at that sort of thing. I stopped, turned round and replied, ‘Hi Richo’.  Then a sense of devilment took me and I added, ‘What are you going to do about Beasley?’  Beasley was ALP leader at that time and was not doing very well in the polls, and some people wondered when he would be replaced.

‘We are going to replace him’ said Richo.

‘And who with? I asked.  (No harm in asking).

‘Rudd’, said Richo.

‘He’s not much chop is he? Bit of a Bible botherer?’ I replied.

‘Best we’ve got at the moment’, said Richo.

‘That may be,’ I said and toddled off.

Seven months later Rudd replaced Beasley, and the rest is history.

Richo is not a man to stab you in the back- he stabs in the front, presumably smiling and telling you it needs to be done.  Eddie was the NSW numbers man, which is why no one moved against him.  Carr and Egan kept him out of the ministry, but when Carr went, he came in. Things went bad, and eventually when things were very bad, compromise Premier Nathan Rees tried to clean up the NSW Labor party, and drop Tripodi, a mate of Eddie’s. He failed and was then thrown out.  Kristina Keneally became Premier, just before the election with a good new female image, but of course NSW Labor was not fixable or saleable by then, and Barry O’Farrell won in a landslide, only to lose office due to forgetting that he received a bottle of Penfold’s Grange Hermitage from the property developer today said to have called on Eddie.

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Eddie Obeid. My First Story. 28/6/16

When I first got into Parliament in 1998 Eddie offered me a lift to Parliament.  I accepted. It seemed harmless enough. He had a car with a driver and lived not far from me.  Then he offered to give me some advice about how to get on in Parliament. 

I said, ‘Fine, Go ahead’. There was no harm in listening.

He said, ‘Arthur you are in a very little party, but if you vote with the (then Labor) government, we will give you a little win just before the election and you will be re-elected’.

I said, ‘Well, Eddie, you might think we are a little party, but we have a lot of policies that are important and if you help those policies, I will vote for you and if you don’t I will vote against you. That is my job”. 

He said, ‘No Arthur, you do not understand, we are the government’. 

I said, ‘That does not really impress me, my job is to change the government’. 

He gave me a lift the next 2 times and we had virtually the same conversation. He would say, ‘Arthur, you are not really understanding,’ (meaning I was not voting the way he wanted).  ‘You are a very small party and we are the government and if you vote with us, just before the election we will give you a little win etc’..   So  on the 3rd recitation of this I wondered what a ‘little win’ might be. I had got into politics campaigning against tobacco and I knew that what was needed to save a lot of lives was smoke-free air everywhere, especially in the pubs and clubs that were the bastions of smoking, and a big health campaign against tobacco. ‘So I said, ‘Well, what I came onto parliament for was to fix the tobacco problem, you could fix that at no cost. It is just a ban, and the health campaign would pay for itself in hospital costs almost immediately.  That could be the ‘little win’ you talked about’. 

He said, ‘That is a very big thing. We could never do that’. I said, ‘Well I guess its no deal then’. He turned up the radio and we sat without talking as Ray Hadley rabbited on. 

I did not get a lift in the mornings, but I kept getting a lift with him for some time in the evenings when we finished late.  He was quite friendly and I used to meet him in his office. But one day he said to me, ‘Arthur I give you a lift home and you do not vote for us.’  There was no answer to this.  Could anyone think that a lift home should change a vote in Parliament?  Eddie obviously did.  I figured there were some people who did nothing for nothing.  After that I took a taxi voucher.  The taxpayer had to cop the extra price of an independent mind in Parliament.

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