Sports rorts to be an indelible reminder - The Good Oil by Rod Brown

The sports rorts scandal will hopefully leave an indelible reminder to politicians of the risks of trying to buy votes.

I have some sympathy with Senator Bridget McKenzie who has borne the brunt of the criticism. She is a pretty good operator by all accounts and she got caught up in the game. The practice is so widespread that to see Labor now seeking the high ground is a bit rich.

The sad part is that public expenditure on sports, leisure and arts infrastructure is central to the proper functioning of rural communities. Footy clubs, netball courts, tennis clubs, art galleries, swimming pools, gymnasiums etc. are where people meet, share information and gossip, and get a break from the drudgery of the drought and their financial worries. In an ideal world, the users of these facilities would pay for their purchase and maintenance.   

The long-accepted rationale of federal involvement in sports funding is on community health and equity grounds, and to basically keep regional communities functioning on a reasonable level. However what has clearly happened with this rationale has been ignored or forgotten. Why else would anyone entertain North Sydney receiving federal funding for a swimming pool? But this is what happens when there are a reported 450 political advisers in Canberra who are pushing and pulling programs away from their stated objectives.

The nationwide outrage suggests that the Morrison Government might succumb to a Code of Conduct to control the behaviour of politicians and their staffers when they’re disbursing various types of grants. But such a mechanism won’t address the inherent problems with these grant programs, namely that they are a messy, piecemeal and time-consuming business. And it’s not only a frustrating process for councils and community groups, but it often puts them in competition with each other. This is the antithesis of regional collaboration.    

The real solution would be for the feds to exit this space altogether, and shift funds to state and local government. They have a better handle on their communities and could thus make a better fist of things. But we know this isn’t going to happen. In this light, I would offer up two suggestions.

The first is that federal funding for community programs should in future be clearly limited to areas outside the capitals and regional cities. The cities have the populations, poker machines and state governments to look after themselves.

My second suggestion is that program criteria should give greater weight to alignment with the Strategic Plans and project priorities of local councils. This would help rein in political interference. However program flexibility would still be required for special circumstances or left field proposals - bushfires are of course a very special circumstance.

Funerals in the Bush
The Sunday Telegraph ran an interesting article recently quoting the $10,000 cost of burying a body in Sydney. This is understandable I guess given the pressure on land. But a significant number of Sydneysiders grew up in the Bush, so why not return them to their roots? Likewise return them to the Wimmera, Darling Downs or wherever.

Perhaps we could channel the sentiments of Turkish leader Ataturk, when he made a promise to the families of Anzac soldiers - ‘wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom.’

I rang a couple of funeral directors west of the Great Divide and it appears that funeral costs are 15-20 percent cheaper out there. You could have a tour of the hometown, enjoy a lamb roast afterwards at the local pub and stay the night.  

Firefighting hubs?
A Cockatoo member in Neerim Junction, Victoria, says the days of voluntary firefighters are coming to an end. He suggested to his local MP that government should consider establishing a number of regional professional firefighting hubs equipped with aerial and ground mobile firefighting equipment. In slack times they could be used for hazard reduction efforts.

This seems a worthy idea. We are thinking about making a submission to the upcoming Royal Commission into the bushfires, and these hubs could be the vehicle by which the indigenous experience in fire and land management translates into real jobs and career paths for indigenous people. Having teams of rangers operating out of such hubs makes intuitive sense.

Williamtown PFAs
The recent bushfires have arguably reduced the attractiveness of living in, and establishing businesses, in fire-prone areas.
But let’s not forget the parallels with environmental contamination.

The impact of poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAs) around Williamtown, New South Wales, has finally reached an important milestone with residents and the Commonwealth agreeing to an in-principle settlement. It’s early days, but the enduring problem is that the affected land is worth little.

Our members in the region advise that the NBN roll out has also been halted and that significant industrial investments in such an otherwise highly attractive location have been shelved. PFA-affected sites are a worldwide problem, and it seems that the Williamtown experience is being watched because it’s a precedent of sorts.

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