Pollie Crackers

Longer-term readers (if any) might remember this column bemoaning the disadvantaged situation of the Weddin Shire being within safe seats, both federally and state-wise. Safe seats are not considered a priority by any government, either because the government already holds them by a healthy margin or the opposition does and no amount of largesse is going to change the way they vote.

The NSW government has given the lie to this observation in recent times with grants being much more available at the moment, but any past and probably present councillor will confirm its long term veracity. No fake news here!

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If further confirmation is required, the Fairfax organisation has just reported on an analysis of federal grant distributions over the last seven years of Labor and Coalition rule. The study found that in this period, the Labor government awarded 40% of infrastructure grants to marginal seats, which equated to a level of funding six times higher than for safe seats. The Coalition government awarded 20% of comparable grants to five marginal seats containing only 0.2% of the population, which was a rate three and a half times that for safe seats.

With community development grants, Labor gave 70% to marginal seats with 42% going to Labor marginals. In reply, the Coalition has awarded 70% to Coalition seats. Other evidence of skewed funding allocations was that Labor when in power gave eight times more to the Independents’ seats than to Coalition seats, and in doing so had 80% of eligible applications in Coalition seats declined by the Minister for no good reason. Actually they might argue that there was a “good” reason – Labor needed the Independents’ votes to stay in power, but as usual the electorate at large was the big loser.

Most of us shake our heads and say: “Well, that’s politics!” That will be true for as long as we accept it, and for as long as grant distributions are made in secrecy without a transparent system of accountability. History shows that trusting politicians as a group to do the right thing is usually a forlorn hope.

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Another probable example of pork-barrelling political decision-making is the transfer of the national pesticides authority to Armidale, which just happens to be in the then Minister’s (and deputy PM’s) electorate of New England.

There may be good and sound reasons for this move, over and above the simple decentralisation of a government department. For instance, is Armidale the location of the headquarters of the national pesticide manufacturers?

Is there an associated brains trust of scientists in Armidale which can assist the government employees with ongoing learning, professional development and research? Is there a group of complementary companies or government agencies which work with the pesticides authority in doing its job? The answers to these and other related questions have yet to be set out, all of which makes the cynics amongst us inclined to see only the most likely answer – it is a feather-bedding exercise by a powerful politician.

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The staff of the authority are clearly unconvinced that the move is in their best interests. Canberra itself is not much more than an oversized country town, not greatly dissimilar to Armidale but with many better facilities. Many employees would have personal problems because their partners may work or their children may attend a local school, but the biggest objection seems to be with professional development and career advancement. The best and brightest are reported to be moving overseas to further their careers, but meanwhile the department is having to try to entice the others to make the move. Apart from relocation costs of up to $55,000, a disturbance allowance of $1,000 and bonuses averaging 6% of income are being offered, provided they stay for 2 years. The result looks like being a higher paid staff of second stringers. It may be good for Armidale, but is it good for Australia?

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As a general principle, the relocation of suitable government departments and agencies to regional centres seems to have merit to the Feather Duster. The caveat is that it needs to be done properly and professionally, with due regard to maintaining networks and staff alliances with similar organisations, and with real identified advantages. It should not be an ad-hoc decision by a politician to bolster his or her local standing.

So this week’s gratuitous dedication goes to the Hon Barnaby Joyce, Member for New England, leader of the Nationals and deputy PM, and is the once popular song by Ned Miller titled: “Do What You Do Do Well.”

Actually, with the latest news, there could have been a totally different theme for this particular pollie’s follies, but I might leave that for another time. If he survives.

Feather Duster No 3 – 

T Lobb