Political philosophy in action

Author: Michael Daley is NSW Deputy Labor leader, Shadow Minister for Planning and Infrastructure, and Shadow Minister for Gaming and Racing.

 

Introduction

Firstly can I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, and pay my respect to their elders past and present.

Can I also thank the Fabians for hosting me tonight and extend my gratitude to Osmond Chiu and the organising committee and of course John Graham MLC who organised tonight’s address.

Tonight, I want to speak about political philosophy in action and I can think of no more appropriate an organisation to deliver such an address with than the Fabians.

The Fabians have always advocated a unique form of Labor politics one of gradualism, reformism and democratic advocacy.

Fabians have always sought to keep Labor true to its core mission: civilising capitalism.

And despite more than a century of shared history, the Fabians and the Labor Party are as relevant today, and as needed and required today in society particularly for those core values than they have ever been.

Across the globe long-accepted economic norms are being challenged.

Australia in no way is immune.

Stagnant wages and growing inequality have led many to question the institutions and organisations that have underpinned our post- war prosperity.

And politics is increasingly polarised fragmented by class and culture. In this context, the major political parties in Australia have a responsibility to provide certainty, stability and sensibility to our politics.

Certainty and stability in a political sense can be derived from many sources. One of those sources for political parties is the party’s DNA, its raison d’etre. Its core belief systems. Its very philosophy.

Naturally, a party’s philosophy has to bend in the wind, it has to be adapted for the times but it should not, cannot, ever be forsaken without losing the party’s identity.

And when a party forms government, its philosophy should be its beating heart, the core of its decision making.

Some argue that there is very little that separates the major parties. Some in the commentariat argue that political ideology that drove debates and reforms from decades ago has been replaced in Australian politics by the cult of personality and a self-centred identity politics that visit policies transiently.

This could not be less true.

The NSW Labor Party, born from that social movement of individuals, families and whole communities, has for over a century used the mechanism and power of the State to redress the balance through work safety laws, laws to ensure fair pay for the work people perform, the first anti-discrimination laws, the first consumer safety 

and advocacy laws, and so many acts of Parliament and the building of institutions that protect society from the unrestrained power of powerful economic players. Our history is replete with example after example of our party standing up for regular people.

Only last weekend at the gathering of the Party’s peak decision- making body in New South Wales we saw in action Labor’s reason for being.

The back and forth, to and fro, of annual State Conference.

Every motion, every speech, advocating for a better approach to Labor policy on crucial issues with equality at the heart of each consideration.

I didn’t for a minute agree with every proposition or speech that was put to that conference, but no one can say that any of them were motivated by selfishness. They weren’t. They were motivated by Labor’s core.

In contrast the Liberal Party is not a popular movement and never has it been. 

Menzies’ gathering of Australias conservative diaspora in 1945 was a reaction to the growing electoral success of our party.

Since their inception, the Australian Liberal Party has been about opposing Labor’s vision rather than arguing for its own. Without us, the Liberals have no purpose.

And with their partners the Nationals the party of the landed gentry theirs is not a coalition of the willing, it’s more a marriage of convenience and contempt.
Convenience for the big end of town and contempt for the average person.

Some might be forgiven for asking what role ideology and party philosophy might play in the workings of a State Government.

It is often suggested that unlike the Federal government, State Governments are managerialfocused solely on service delivery without philosophical direction.

I reject that. But with less than two years to go until the NSW election, I thought it time to examine that proposition. 

The Tories are in continual pursuit of smaller government. They talk about it in terms of economic efficiency. But smaller government really means dismantling the laws and institutions that protect people against more powerful economic actors.

It’s an obsession.

One they have applied ruthlessly in NSW since 2011.

Who can forget the front pages of the Daily Telegraph in the early days of this Government in 2011 deriding public servants as fat cats and bludgers?

O’Farrell promised to cut a swathe through their numbers and his Treasurers Baird and then Berejiklian did. Ruthlessly.

Together they sacked 15,000 government workers.

Many of the best and brightest were let go from departments like RMS, Transport, Department of Planning, Environment, Resources, Health and Education. 

In an interview with the AFR in 2011 as Shadow Treasurer, I warned that the Liberals’ decimation of this tier of the public sector would reduce its productivity.

I was derided by O’Farrell & Co as “the middle manager”. Well how is that going for them now?

Morale in the public sector is unfortunately at rock bottom.

Leaks from all departments are increasing daily. Productivity has declined, so too the flow of ideas. Just consider the legislative wasteland that the Parliament has become, fewer bills of less significance than ever before.

I know from Ministerial experience that the real policy grunt work that Ministers rely on, that Governments rely on, that is the lifeblood of ideas, often comes from that middle to senior level. The people who are moving through the ranks. They’ve got experience and enterprise, time under their belt in Government departments. They’re the ones that send the ideas up to the Ministers’ offices that are translated into legislation and Government policy. But this sector has been blamed, scapegoated and denuded, that well is drier than ever before.

But it is much more serious than just that dwindling brain power. Let me give you an example. We are in the middle of a housing affordability crisis. It is an emergency. You all know the statistics. Recently I met with the CEO of one of Australia’s biggest developers and constructors. I asked them the single biggest issue that is preventing them from bringing projects to the market quickly. That CEO said to me that the biggest problem is getting approvals from State Government departments.

And that’s a recurring theme from industry participants.
It now often takes more than a year to get concurrent approvals

from Government entities - Department of Planning, RMS, Sydney Water, Rural Fire Service and other departments.

It all comes back to a lack of personnel. The planners and so called middle managerswho assess these applications are simply no longer there.

The lack of personnel in government departments is now a significant constraint in housing supply, or, to put it another way, the Liberals' determination to achieve smaller government is now a defining factor in our housing problem.

Gladys Berejiklian tells us that increasing supply is the <i>only</i> answer to the housing emergency. If soby their own measure—the Liberals’ blind adherence to the belief in smaller government is now stopping people realising the Australian dream of owning their own home.

There is no way for the Liberal Government to gild this lily.

It is also having a budgetary impact.

As the public sector declines, the Liberals have directed an increasing amount of public funding to their mates in the private sector to do work previously done by government employees

Keep this context in mind: the Government is building a light rail from the city out Randwick and Kensington. They’re in serious dispute with their Spanish contractor. The contractor has lodged $340 million worth of claims they say arise from the government’s lack of planning and organisation, like chopping and changing the design every five minutes.

In March, year the Government awarded a $277,000 6-month contract to a private consultant from North Sydney to review changes to the <chrome_find class="find_in_page">construction schedule that they forced upon the contractor, to get an understanding of the commercial implications of changes made to the schedule. 

The consultant will deliver its report in January 2018, just a year before the project opens! This thing is half built and they are still designing it and trying to work out financial details and implications!

But that madness aside, why is there no-one in Transport, or RMS or Treasury with the skills to do this work? Answer - because they have all been removed.

You would think that with so much <chrome_find class="find_in_page">construction underway the government would have <i>some</i> skill in-house or <i>some</i> government employees to supervise and shepherd these projects through efficiently.

But no.

The price of this six-month contract would pay for two senior officers to do this work full-time.

In fact the sums are disturbing. In 2015/16 Financial Year the Government budgeted a whopping $135 million for external consultants. That blew out to over $200 million. This is the fourth year in a row that the figure has blown out. The budgets are astounding; the blowouts are even more astounding. 

The Liberals obsession with smaller government is a multi-million- dollar productivity-smashing brain drain.

The pursuit of smaller Government is wedded to the Tories’ belief in the primacy of the market. Unfettered and untempered by the public interest.

And it’s on this count that this Government has really led the citizens of NSW up the garden path, particularly on privatisation and energy policy.

Having sold the retail, the Government then turned its attention to generation, transmission and distribution.

The ACCC thank God for the ACCC warned about market share and that the Liberals’ arrangement would lead to higher bills for all NSW consumers, so Berejiklian and Baird took the ACCC to court.

Just last Thursday, Rod Simms from the ACCC reiterated his view that the arrangements that were put in place by the NSW government in relation to privatisation have led to higher bills for NSW consumers. One that costs consumers more.  

But then worse was to come. The Australian Energy Regulator handed down a determination to reduce electricity prices in NSW. So the government then took them to court too. They used taxpayer funds to pay lawyers to force energy prices up. They made a conscious decision to increase the budgets of energy companies at the expense of the family budget.

Now citizens are buckling under the weight of energy bills and the energy companies are making a killing. Thank you, Gladys Berejiklian.

The truth about public life and government for those of us that are elected representatives, is that we are mere trustees. With that comes the responsibility to govern beneficially and with respect for our citizens. Respect for one’s constituents should be a core belief of any political party.

Of ideology. One that goes to the intrinsic values of a party itself.

And with that comes a responsibility.

A duty to be transparent.

To justify and consult. 

To use public assets for the public good.

To treat every public dollar as one gained and held in solemn trust.

When it comes to these attitudes, there is a swagger about this government. A manifest arrogance.

Not only a disregard for ordinary people and their hard-earned dollars but contempt for ordinary citizens.

I believe very strongly in the duty of governments to apply public assets to the public good.

The “social utility” of assets if you like.

The Liberals believe that public assets have a duty too. To be sold.

They have sold $50 billion of all manner of publicly-owned assets in just 6 years. Electricity, ports, buildings and land, even LPI. Not even that was sacred.

Nothing is spared. Fifty billion dollars! 

They are in the process of wasting much of it. Rushing to sign contracts before the State election coming up. Imagine the waste that will result.

They are also in the process of perpetrating a criminal lost opportunity the selling off of public real estate.

The government, through Urban Growth, is redeveloping government land all over Sydney the Bays Precinct, Central to Eveleigh, North Parramatta and a number of other sites.

It’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do something really good with this land, not only in design terms, but to use the power of government to do something about housing affordability.

Under this Government’s usual approach, the land will be divided into lots and these lots will be sold to private investors, speculators and developers.

Nothing wrong with that, except in the context of a housing affordability crisis consider this: Up to 50% of these units will be purchased by foreign investors. 

Many of these properties purchased by foreign investors will lay empty. We know that from the latest Census figures.

Around 30-40% will be purchased by domestic investors armed with generous tax concessions courtesy of the Commonwealth.

What’s left will be unaffordable for all but the most cashed-up. Most will sell for more than the $650,000 stamp duty free threshold and will therefore be effectively out of reach of your average first home buyer.

In other words, the gain, the bounty, the return from this disposal of public land will be privatised. Public land, private benefit. The social utility will not be maximised.

Recently Luke Foley and I announced a vastly different plan.

We will set aside 25% of the dwellings built on former government land and 15% on rezoned private land. They will not be sold on the market they will be quarantined for low to middle income families, key workers, local people. Not foreign investors.

And they will be made available to those people at a discounted rate to rent or buy. An opportunity to get into the market. 

Under the Liberalsplan the public asset becomes a private return. Under Labor’s, the same asset is applied to addressing inequality.

This is based on a simple principle the sale of a public asset should result in a public benefit.

The public should get a return. The opportunity to own their own home is a most worthy return.

Labor will deliver that.

This is our philosophy in action.

 

Attitude

In Australian politics pride often goeth before a fall.

In 2019 I hope that will be the case. Because there is a born-to-rule arrogance about this government. A spoilt swagger. A sense of entitlement like never before.

A government with an affection for, an understanding of, an affinity for its citizens wouldn’t, couldn’t have come up with reforms like the 

Greyhound debacle, the sacking of councils, subjecting communities to dictatorial administrators.

Such a government wouldn’t have contempt for the importance of transparency and accountability as fundamental to good government.

The freedom of information or GIPA regime has been shot to pieces. Everything is withheld. The Opposition and media learn more from the ever-growing sources of leaks than from GIPA responses.

In infrastructure delivery their arrogance is breathtaking. This is a government that has been entrusted with billions of dollars from the sale of profitable public assets and its behaviour is like a bunch of drunken schoolboys trashing their way across Sydney in their daddy’s BMW.

The expenditure of public money should always be accompanied by a responsibility to justify the spending.

That responsibility is magnified with the quantum of the spend. Projects should be subjected to public scrutiny. Feasibility studies should be published. The master plans, business cases and options analyses should be released to allow an evaluation in the full light of day of the benefits and costs, the scale and magnitude of each and every project.

But not in Berejiklian’s world. All across Sydney Berejiklian is changing the face of Sydney with unjustified and unexplained projects. There is never a full explanation or sufficient genuine discussion. Contracts are signed in secret and then announced as exclusives on the six o’clock news.

This government thinks that they do not have to plan, they do not have to justify, they do not have to consult or explain. They believe that they can ignore advice, ignore communities and depart from norms that have been practiced for centuries in the Westminster system. Practices bedded down to ensure better Government, to ensure that that sacrosanct public dollar is spent wisely.

Well-established Cabinet processes are designed to ensure good government.

In the infrastructure process, good governments proceed this way: - They design a concept plan conceived of in a government department with the consent of the minister.  

Detailed designs are completed accompanied by detailed costings from Treasury.

A business case with full justification and alternative options is prepared. The whole lot is submitted to Cabinet, tested and turned inside out, examined and interrogated in every detail.

Fully robust.

If approved, a sum, a funding amount is approved.

Sacrosanct.

The responsible minister is threatened with death by the Treasurer to spend wisely and not to return with the begging bowl.

The plans are then advertised, community input sought, input which improves the outcome.

Based on feedback from the community, improvements are made if necessary.

Planning approval is then gained and the <chrome_find class="find_in_page">construction and operation is put out to competitive tender to keep the price down. 

<chrome_find class="find_in_page">Construction then begins supervised by experts in the department with the knowledge and experience to keep the contractors honest and on task.

This government has turned that process on its head.

Now there is no capability within government to properly cost projects, no rigour in the financial planning. If so, how could the light rail have gone from $1.6 to $2.3 billion and WestConnex from $10 to $17 billion? We know there are more blowouts on those projects to come.

Community consultation is a farce. The contracts on the South Eastern Light Rail were signed before community consultation and even before the project was designed! The design of that project is still not finished even though it is half constructed!

And once the <chrome_find class="find_in_page">construction begins on these projects there are no experts left to supervise the <chrome_find class="find_in_page">construction. I know many of the experts in the RTA who could do that stuff in their sleep; they worked for me as Minister for Roads. They led the world. We used to export them to Germany and the US and the UK to show others how proper infrastructure delivery is done. They are gone. They’re no longer in Government. Gladys and Co. didn’t want them. 

How could a properly functioning Cabinet preside over these debacles?

In planning it‘s the same.

The duty to preside carefully over a growing Sydney is being breached.

The Court of Appeal recently nullified a planning consent the government had granted to itself at Walsh Bay. A $210 million refurbishment of the Sydney Theatre Company space and redevelopment of the surrounding wharves. Local businesses took them to court. The court found that the government had failed to properly consider “<chrome_find class="find_in_page">construction-related impacts”, in layman’s terms, how much disruption and chaos they were planning to visit upon the local residents and businesses next door.

Is this for real? They’re building in a heritage protected area of Sydney, with Barangaroo under <chrome_find class="find_in_page">construction, in a hugely constrained area, with no traffic plan and they think they don’t have to consider how the DA, and the project, and the <chrome_find class="find_in_page">construction of it is going to affect local people and local businesses? 

Thank God for the courts; there to protect the citizens from the ravages of this impudent government.

And the courts came to our rescue again last week.

At the historic Rocks, nullifying a horrible decision of Environment and Heritage Minister Mark Speakman and granting a reprieve to the Sirius building. Another indulgent and arrogant decision, wholly emblematic of this government to put money before heritage and history; to choose the property play before people.

As the election draws nearer, Gladys Berejiklian will continue to jettison polices, jettison controversy, and try to roll herself up into a ball.

She will ditch reform and strut her stuff in hard hats and fluoro vests until Election Day.

But here is what should concern her colleagues and her supporters.

I’ll let them in on a little secret.

This is not a very good Government. They can’t implement. Neither policy nor project. 

And what should concern the Tories is that as an implementation minister, Gladys Berejiklian has been the biggest failure of all of the ministers.

The Southeast Light Rail is her project. Her baby.

As Transport Minister she conceived of it, procured it, presided over the so called community consultation, signed the contracts. Here is the state of her project as we sit here tonight.

  1. The cost has blown out from $1.6 to $2.1 billion. The Premier lied about the reasons for the blowout and got caught out.

  2. 800 trees along the route have been removed including century-old trees that saw the Anzacs off to war in 1915 and welcomed them home again.

  3. Bus stops along Anzac Parade are presently 400 metres apart. Young and old people have access to a bus stop. The light rail stops will be 900 to 1000 metres apart. 

  4. The light rail will carry only slightly more passengers than buses but 4 lanes of road space have been removed.

  5. Despite being under <chrome_find class="find_in_page">construction, traffic modelling has still not been done on major intersections. And the benefits and costs the Auditor General said should be published by last December? Still a secret.

  6. The project is sending businesses from George Street to Kingsford broke all along the route.

  7. The capacity of the light rail can never be expanded and like her trains to the Blue Mountains which can’t fit through the tunnels, this light rail can never be integrated into the existing light rail network in Sydney because it has different specifications.

And now she is running the entire show.

Make no mistake, this is a bizarre time. It’s not normal.

But it’s instructive - a full-blown study of cashed-up Tories in action.

A living display of what conservatives will do when they pursue their party DNA, their belief systems.

An incompetent, egotistical, contemptuous wrecking ball across Sydney.

That’s life under Gladys Berejiklian. How is that Liberal Party broad church looking now?

 

Labor’s alternative

The conservatives accept inequality as the natural order of things. It is not. Inequality is man-made.

Children aren’t born racist, or sexist, or cruel, or greedy ... These traits are all learned.

The unequal aspects of our society, of our economic relations, were made by those who held the upper hand, and this has been re- engineered and transmitted from one generation to the next. Labor tempers that behaviour.

If we are elected to Government in 2019 we will govern from day one in accordance with our century-old philosophy that puts, people, 

their interest, their hopes and endeavours and their rights directly at the heart of our decision-making.

We will seize the chance to ensure that broad consultation, transparency, and a commitment to act on the crucial issues of fairness and equity for the benefit of the people are not just essential Labor principles but the hallmarks of a good government.

Labor recognises that in a market economy, Government has a role to play to ensure that the market serves the interests of the people, and that to do so, from time to time it must be tempered, it must be civilised.

Labor seeks Government because our mission is never complete.

And we consider that good, effective and honest government is a fundamental right of each citizen.

We will start by restoring pride to the public sector and close the door on the endless stream of wasteful consultancies. We will nurture our workforce as an invaluable resource. We will stop the brain drain and restore skilful and talented people to each Government department. 

We will end the cloistered madness of the Berejiklian Government and restore integrity to the Cabinet processes.

We will act decisively on housing affordability.

We will be a Government that considers the good will of the people are valuable as civic assets of the State.

That is why it is so important that Labor seizes this moment in time for what it is an opportunity to present a long-term vision for NSW.

We have had so many successes over the last century. But there is so much more to do, because the settings and contours of our society keep changing through external social and cultural influences, and economic winds from other countries.

But one thing remains unchanging. Labor’s commitment: to provide social and political stability. To protect the vulnerable, to challenge the power of those who hold the economic cards, or think they do, and ensure that everyone gets a fair deal regardless of where you were born or live, who your parents are, or where they came from, their colour, religion or other beliefs, everyone should get an equal start and when life sends you challenges, when you face adversity, to ensure there is someone to catch your fall, to give you a hand up. 

This is our creed.

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  • commented 2017-11-10 16:33:41 +1100
    To say that the Liberal Party is a mere reaction to the ALP is a-historical – there are genuine ideological differences that characterise each party and to say otherwise will only make it harder to articulate the deficiencies in the ALP’s history that allows the LNP to continue to exist.