Three tips for the caretaker period - The Good Oil by Rod Brown

When Cormann, Cash and Fifield wandered, with grim faces, into the Senate courtyard on Thursday 23 August we knew that the right-wing had prevailed in its quest to sack the Prime Minister.

Interestingly, Cormann and Fifield have usually presented as sane and sensible politicians. Surely they hadn’t been duped by their nervous and gullible backbenchers? But sure enough, they announced their resignations and thus set in train one of the craziest weeks ever in federal politics.

I won’t go into detail about all the shenanigans, because we’re all broadly aware of how and why things unfolded.

But councillors and council staff should think and act carefully over the next eight months – that is until May next year when the next federal election is expected.

I humbly offer three pieces of advice.

First, the incoming Morrison Government will essentially be in caretaker mode. By voting out a democratically-elected Prime Minister, the Liberal Party crossed the line. The incoming Government has little moral or ethical standing, and numerous government decisions it takes could be overturned by an incoming Labor Government.

This means that local councils wanting to cosy up to this federal government should be very careful.

Secondly, the wafer thin majority held by the Morrison Government means that all sorts of expenditure promises will be put on the table in coming months. And Labor will surely be doing likewise.

My suggestion therefore is that local councils shouldn’t blithely note such promises, but instead ask for a substantiation of them!

For example, the Morrison Government is tipped to commit to a new dams program, to garner political support in regional Queensland and NSW.

Well if they play that card, local councils should immediately demand details of where, when and how much. It is your local economies and your votes at stake. Vague promises are worthless.

Another example is the assertion by the new energy minister, Angus Taylor, that he has only one Key Performance Indicator – to bring down energy prices.

A noble sentiment, but we need details.

We should be pressing him to nominate a target - if he cannot promise a drop in retail and commercial energy prices of around 30 percent then he isn’t trying.

An alliance of local councils in socially disadvantaged areas or with energy-intensive industries could surely lead the charge.
Thirdly, local councils could be on the front-foot, rather than allowing the feds to make the running.

An example is the recent statement by ALP powerbroker Albanese that a Shorten Government would re-establish the Major Cities Unit.
Many local councils would support this, and they could usefully make recommendations in the run-up to the election as to what its charter should be. After all, local councils are the closest to the action.
And why not balance things off with a ‘Regional Development Commission’?

Its charter should be to reinvigorate regional Australia, develop sensible investment incentives, lay out a regional city-town mosaic, create value-adding hubs, bed down new immigrants etc.
This would force the two major parties to think about whether they are truly responsive to the people.

The Labor Party says its roots are in the Bush. But the Nationals claim the Bush as its own. Forget the dreamin’ – prove it.

And think about this – our new Prime Minister majored in economic geography at UNSW. He should surely understand the issues affecting cities and regions.

Can we leverage this knowledge, or has it all been beaten out of him by his Treasury advisers?

Hewson’s hand grenade
While on the subject of getting the federal government focussing on things other than themselves, former Liberal leader John Hewson recently lobbed a hand grenade into the Canberra bureaucracy when he claimed it had ‘effectively been denuded of essential talent by years of spending cuts and efficiency dividends – many departments are now referred to as gutted shells.’

He added that the latest budget also boasts of tens of billions of dollars of infrastructure commitments and hundreds of billions to be spent on defence procurement.

But in both cases the cost/benefit processes have been inadequate, lacking essential transparency and not in accord with national priorities, with very poor accountability as the money is allocated.
Hewson is spot on.

I’ve been railing about this for years, which is probably why I chose to run this item. But seriously, the federal bureaucracy is a shadow of its former self and we should be imploring both major parties to turn this around.

Vale Turnbull
The treatment meted out to our 29th Prime Minister was disgraceful.
He made a valiant effort to find a way forward on energy policy, he ushered in same sex marriage and he got education and health failings off the front pages.

Critics will say he failed on asylum seekers, immigration, personal and company tax cuts – but gee the planets weren’t aligning for him.
But to my mind, his main achievement was that he treated people with respect, which is a scarce commodity these days.
And he went out with class and dignity.

Rod Brown is a Canberra-based consultant and lobbyist specialising in industry/regional development, investment attraction and clusters, and accessing federal grants. He also runs the Cockatoo Network.
Phone: (02) 6231 7261 or 0412 922 559
Email: apdcockatoo[@]