The Good Oil by Rod Brown Why are governments so slow?

The COVID-19 vaccine roll-out has been slow. The construction of quarantine facilities outside CBDs is lagging badly. The lack of repatriation flights for Aussies stuck in India is lamentable. The paltry fleet of water-bombing aircraft is bemusing. The support for the rebuilding of bushfire-affected properties is snail-like.  

Am I being harsh? I don’t think so.

There are a host of reasons. Top of the list is probably a bureaucratic mentality shaped by hierarchical structures. This is exacerbated by our Westminster system of government, where the Opposition is geared to jump on political and administrative errors. As a result, officials spend days writing notes to Ministers and then waiting for a response. Officials are scared of making mistakes. And any senior officials with vision and chutzpa are in the minority.  

A parliamentary enquiry isn’t appropriate. The answer really lies in our political masters and senior officials agreeing on the ATTITUDINAL CHANGE required to enable governments to deliver promptly when they’re most needed.

And local government can be a key player in effecting this attitudinal change. For example, now is a great time for the feds and states to share the costs of buying and re-fitting a fleet of aircraft, and to base them at Canberra, Dubbo etc. for quick dispatch during the next fire season. Councils in fire-affected regions should be demanding their federal and state MPs form an alliance to fight for this. The cost would be one-fiftieth of our submarine fleet.   

In terms of the roll-out of quarantine facilities, I’m advised that various councils are doing a great job working with the private sector to identify and prepare likely sites. Don’t back off folks, and ensure the media and the general population are aware of your efforts. 

Lessons from Cairns 
I was in Cairns last month for a family get-together and the balmy weather and scented winds were a refreshing change. No Chinese or Japanese tourists in sight. No Yanks or Europeans. At a guess, I’d say the economy is running at 50 percent capacity. 

Much of the Cairns CBD is undergoing roadworks, especially the Esplanade – most of the shops along that strip are consequently closed. Hats off anyway to the feds and Queensland Government pumping money into the construction sector. 

Government support for the tourism sector is problematical. The $1 billion worth of airfare subsidies to select tourism-based communities is helpful I guess, as is the recently-announced $3.5 million to defray the relocation costs of Aussie workers to businesses north of Mackay. 

Anyway we stayed on Fitzroy Island, 45 minutes ferry ride southeast of Cairns. It’s rugged with lots of rocks, and not as commercial as Green Island to its northeast. The resort accommodation is top-class, as are the meals. And four of our wonderful waitresses were from Gippsland – Traralgon, Mornington Peninsular, Drouin and Cranbourne. And the cleaning staff appeared to be Torres Strait Islanders. Sign of the times. 

The only downside were the silly prices being charged at the island store e.g. $7.50 for a large bottle of Sprite, $5.50 for a medium-sized packet of Doritos. Should councils ever be requested for support from such resorts, ask them to first to desist from monopoly pricing – it damages your brand!

Strategies to avoid politicians’ boring speeches 
Politicians are often asked to speak at local functions, and their advisers feel compelled to write long-winded speeches for the said politician. The topics are invariably policy issues and achievements, and they go down like a lead balloon.  

I’ve mused on this before, arguing that councils should get on the front foot by clearly stipulating the topics that the politician should address.

Another strategy occurred to me last month at the Australian National University 60th reunion. It was marvellous because this particular footy club has always been a meeting place for callow youths from across the southern states. Around 2200 men and women have played footy there, and some became presidents (Nauru), state premiers, ambassadors, permanent heads, top spies and numerous ratbags.

But I digress. At this particular function, the guest speakers were interviewed by folk such as John Harms (sports journalist) and Adam Shirley (ABC radio). So rather than giving a monologue, the guests needed to respond to some in-your-face questions – and it worked a treat.

I can’t see any reason why this approach shouldn’t be applied to politicians. Provided the interviewer is on the ball, it would generate interest among the audience, thereby doing the politician a favour!

The highlight of our footy reunion was the boisterous antics of the female players. They’ve been a feature of the club for twenty years now, and there are 80 of them on the books. They ration their play because there’s only one women’s team, but they’ve created a real buzz. The old guys from the 60s and 70s attending the function just sat there with amazed looks.  

A third strategy to avoid boring speeches is to limit them to 8 minutes, and to warn speakers that they’ll get the ‘spoon on glass’ treatment at the 7 minute mark.  It focuses the mind.  

PS – Footy and netball matches go hand-in-hand in many rural communities of course. A marvellous tradition, and an incredibly important means of nurturing physical and mental health of our friends in the Bush.

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