Thursday, October 4, 2007

Standing Committee on State Development Sept 24, 2007

Standing Committee on State Development:
Inquiry into aspects of Agriculture in New South Wales
Monday September 24, 2007 – 11am

Parliamentary committees conduct hearings that are investigative in nature and endeavour to clarify and expand upon submissions made to parliament. A representative is called as witness to answer questions on the issue at hand and their evidence is most generally carried out in public hearings. Should private evidence be required or there be a question unable to be answered the witness is able to apply for a written or closed session.

As an extension of and complimentary process to State Parliament all information supplied is privileged and held in the same regard as all other formal Parliamentary proceedings, although from my perspective a Committee hearings atmosphere and proceedings were a lot more ordered and held in higher esteem. In the case of the hearing held on September 24, Richard John Pearson, Executive Director of Rural and Regional Planning was examined in regard to various aspects of agriculture in New South Wales. Parliamentary standing committee’s procedures by their very nature vary to those of a Question Time sitting and the discussion of agriculture’s contribution to the economy, the industry’s capacity and growth prospects and initiatives being implemented offers an example of how these proceedings are carried out.
As a general observation I found the committee hearing format to be highly informative in its in-depth explanation of issues and I found much more focus was placed on government initiatives and programs rather than attacks on the opposition. Witnesses are made accountable for their department’s activities and must provide thorough, informed discussion topics and explanations.

I will admit I am ignorant in all areas of agriculture and land rezoning and thus as previously mentioned, the experience was somewhat dense and confusing for me. However I must say the lack of shouting over one another (the most common activity I found in Question Time) and more detailed explanation meant I was educated on the topic... uni work teaching me something who would have thought?? Ok so I am no expert but it was a start.

The session opened with the Chair, The Hon A. Catanzariti welcoming those present and noting that ‘Committee hearings were not intended to provide a forum for people to make adverse reflections about others’ and that witnesses should avoid naming names. This was quite a turnaround from Question Time proceedings and one which I noted gave the process the integrity I originally expected from formal government procedure. Mr Pearson was then given the opportunity to give an opening statement before official questioning began.

The Department of planning’s initiatives in order to protect and ensure the continued growth of agriculture as an industry that creates 87, 000 jobs for NSW and in 2003-04 was worth $8.6 billion. These initiatives were significantly focused on non metropolitan areas particularly the Central West, Wollongong, and the north coast and hunter regions.

The translation of State planning and development means a framework has been put in place for these areas in an effort to fulfil a state wide strategic campaign and ensure unplanned growth is kept to a minimum and sustainable, productive change achieved, as a means to expand the industry with profitable and beneficial outcomes.

Johnston’s approach was methodical and structured to ensure the committee were clear on the foundation of the strategic plan and whilst customised to meet demands of various sectors, were introduced for the overall benefit of the state at large and the industry’s continued productivity. Supporting studies and documentation were offered and ‘tabled’ outlining recommendations, and previous research, indicating to me that the committee hearing process is more one of analysis and explanation rather than legislative action and bill amendment.

Then ensued specific questions from The Hon. Melinda Pavey and from the Chair, specifically focusing on Local Environment Plans, the role of regional councils and reporting system amendments that the committee proposed should be adopted. To the latter it was suggested that perhaps better time management and resource control could be taken advantage off should some control and responsibility be offset to regional powers. This was perhaps the first and only contentious issue of the hearing, being met with some derision on Johnston’s behalf, who defended his departments handling of the large number of applications and suggested that delays in approval were more a result of activity further down the line.

Hon. Micheal Veitch then posed questions to Johnston, addressing the clash between urban growth and redefining land use. Veitch supported his question by first offering a background on the issue to ensure his question was specific and relevant. His argument was that the department’s submission lacked the flexibility to introduce new initiatives and address this issue. Considering the growth of Sydney’s populations and increased expansion of housing estates on the fringes of the metropolitan area his question was in critical need of being addressed.
Johnston acknowledged room for amendments to current systems which to me suggested that standing committee hearings are a more productive exercise. The collective discussion of ideas, current processes and initiatives I observed proved to be a great benefit to the sitting and objectives .

The sittings closing stages focused on baseline situations and specific time management issues whereby report submission and questions on notice, to be answered by October 5, were ordered. The witness and Committee were dismissed at 12pm.

Facebook trumps them again..

Note.. Since writing my last entry, and wasting a little more of my precious work time on the infamous Facebook, I have stumbled upon a ‘Group’ dedicated to the Coalitions Advertising program, its title Anti Liberal Party taxpayer funded advertisement/propaganda blitz pretty blatantly gives away its political tendencies but it was an interesting example of politics becoming firmly entrenched in social media. The Group is dedicated to ‘those who are firmly against the abuse of Australian taxpayer’s money being used on Liberal party propaganda’ and once again the campaigns description as a ‘weakly disguised information campaign’ is mocked. Seem’s Minchins ‘activist, reformist’ government isn’t quite cutting it for the social media savvy demographic.

See for more information

QT September 18

Question Time on September 18 reaffirmed one thing for me, politicians will say and do the most random, inconsequential things to make a point or perhaps more likely, not make a point and deflect attention from their inability to answer the question. What got to me though was, why if you do have a substantial and valid answer continue the ramble and lose the upper hand?? I understand its all about elevating oneself and ones party above the opposition but really to the na├»ve viewer (maybe I’m the only one that fits in this category – its highly likely) it makes the whole process relatively pointless.

Now to ensure I don’t do the same thing and just babble, leaving you sitting there saying, what on earth is she talking about, let me get to the point... I am speaking in reference to the battle between Labor Senator McEwen and the Coalition’s Senator Minchin (Minister for Finance and Administration) in regard to advertising spend in the year leading up to the 2007 Federal election (where this year begins and ends we still don’t know, but that’s a whole other story). McEwen questioned Minchin whether the alleged $500 million figure was an accurate description of advertising spend in the past 12 months and if so, was it valid considering it amounts to six times as much spent on rural health and 5 times that spent on mental health.

To begin with Minchin’s response was calculated, forthcoming and might I say clever. He argued Labors figures were inflated and their argument tired. In fact Minchin argued, in bringing the topic up, the opposition was only reaffirming that the government was fulfilling its responsibility to inform its citizens of policies and programs and their ‘advertising’ was simply a means of insuring this information was communicated. Simply ‘you are purely reflecting that we are an activist, reformist government’, a scathing shot met with jeers from the opposition and great support from Minchin’s barracks. Now it was here that things slowly started to back pedal... Minchin went on to support his argument, and at the same time take a stab at Labor’s careless attitude to budgets, when he stated the Coalitions total advertising amounted to $171 million only. Small change really when you consider Labor’s state governments have spent approximately $354 million over the same period on advertising. Minchin argued whilst it was true they had spent the majority of their advertising budget on IR Workplace reforms, private health insurance and climate change, Labor state leaders (Beattie, Rann and Bracks) had simply spent a much larger chunk of their significantly smaller budget on advertising themselves. However in the same sentence and with no particular follow up Minchin proceeded to launch an attack on the aforementioned premiers saying they fail to supply public transport, or supply water. Full stop, finished, that is all. Moving right along…

Now I can understand the sentiment or assume he was getting to the point that; Labor spend an awful lot of money on advertising themselves when the money could be better spent improving transport services, providing sanitized, clean water and generally supporting their citizens but Minchin simply drifted off and his message lost its oomph and therefore had little effect. Now I’m pretty sure I have just don’t exactly the same thing but the whole thing baffled me. Here were our nation’s leaders arguing incoherently with no resolve or might I say achievement in having said anything at all. Someone tell me what’s the point in staging such a sitting when no actual questions are answered and even the jibes hurled at one another dissolve into the abyss??

What was interesting however was the story published in Monday’s (October 1) Sydney Morning Herald by Phillip Coorey ‘Slips ups leave Rudd vulnerable’ Coorey described the Coalitions advertising as an ‘egregious abuse of taxpayers' money’ and ‘thinly disguised as an information campaign’. Coorey see’s these campaigns as a means of stretching out the election announcement to save on actually having to run a campaign to gain the extra 5% of the population’s support they need to defeat Labor. Considering each MP has approximately $300, 000 to defend their seat however and the Liberal Party have a significantly larger number of MP’s you would think they wouldn’t have a problem – if money was all it took.

thanks and congratulations

I was highly entertained by the discussion on crime and the newly introduced DNA data matching program being streamlined across the nation during Question time on September 12. To me, rather than the Question and Answer process I expected from these sittings, Question Time continues to be a game of pass the parcel until your side gets a chance to advertise how wonderful its policies are, how all its work benefits others and apparently every Senator, as long as they are on your side, should be congratulated. I’d say there were more ‘I must give thanks’ and ‘the Senator should be acknowledged’’s than actual mentions of policy.

On a less cynical note this chapter was a relatively good example of Question Time being an opportunity to discuss and explain new policy or industry programs and re-iterate their benefits across a spectrum of departments. Whilst fairly biased (Senator Johnston, Parry and Ellison are all Liberal representatives) this chapter demonstrated how Question time is a good resource for the Senate as a whole, but more importantly as a means of keeping the public informed on government activity.

Senator Johnston (Minister for Justice and Customs) outlined the Commonwealths recently nationalized DNA matching program, CrimTac that allows DNA data to be collected across all states and compared, ensuring no matter where a crime is committed or perpetrator situated they can be identified and charged across state and territorial boundaries. In the first two weeks of operation 1, 900 matches were made, (a figure Johnston claimed as a personal victory rather than the combined efforts of state forces and law enforcement agencies actually matching the data)
Self aggrandisement aside, Johnston addressed an issue of wide spread concern. The program is mutually beneficial for both the public, law enforcement agents Australia wide and Parry, Johnston and Ellison will no doubt receive a ‘well earned’ pat on the back, but more importantly this was the first topic of discussion in the questions times observed so far that I actually found a clear and constructive discussion was made and effective policy explained for the public to understand. Congratulations guys, job well done

Costello puts his foot in it

whoops.. seems Mr Costello let the cat out of the bag and the Coalitions efforts to remain tight lipped on the topic of the Federal Elections date is no longer. Costello’s slip up stating 'this is the last time government will sit before the Federal election... (ahem) could be the last time' follows weeks of political infighting, leadership speculation and a stance to not name the date of the election despite considerable pressure from the opposition and continued speculation by the public.

Howards been 'tapped'

Question Time on September 11 came at a time when the Howard Government was under immense pressure to step up and make comment or more importantly actually answer the question everyone is asking. As Sky News reported John Howard had lost the backing of key ministers, and the general population wanted to know, ‘Who will be leading the Liberals into the next election? Parliament was in a tailspin and the media was playing it for all it was worth. The Daily Telegraph's three pages of coverage the next day read more like a comic strip rather than a committee hearing with more 'suggestive' photos than a night at the uni bar may have you collect. The ‘coup that never happened’ (Daily Telegraph September 12, 2007) involved a request from Howard to Alexander Downer to canvas senior colleagues on their thoughts on whether he should stay on as leader of the Liberal Party, an activity, Howard claims, is carried out regularly.
Well it seems this time the issue was a little contentious and word leaked to the media that these ‘senior colleagues’ weren’t so supportive after all. And so Sky ran.. far and long to the point were the Australians believed Howard was about to be ‘tapped’ and the government about to crumble in the face of in-house bickering and a rumor mill in overdrive.

Official comment eventually came from Howard himself, Brendan Nelson, Tony Abbott and Downer, who fronted the press gallery and publicly denied claims Howard had lost party support.
The paper in this case hit the nail on the head with a frame of Peter Costello during Question Time looking deflated and distracted however was the perfect reflection of the media attention paid to just how little support he has amongst the electorate, with only 28% believing he has the credentials to lead the party. As one of very few who declined to comment on the who debacle it begs the question, is he but one ‘senior colleague’ who’s silence speaks louder than words?

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

yes hello there..

the thought of trying to eloquently discuss my views on public affairs in such a public format scares me.. a lot. but here goes, enjoy