06 March 2008

Screwing Wollongong

If only Beth Morgan had hooked up with Joe Scimone, they could have had a good time and saved the people of Wollongong and NSW a great deal of embarrassment, money and time.

Much has been made of Wollongong Council, and the fact that an organisation only gets like that when there is no way of overturning the elite that runs it - in this case, the NSW ALP. Sorry Morry has done enough to get this matter off the front pages of media that marginal seat voters are going to read (i.e. not the Illawarra Mercury), but not enough to lose face for his faction of his party in the one Labor-voting part of Australia that yielded the least numbers of "Howard battlers".

Worse than having the mask of local democracy ripped away by Sorry Morry and Miss Hot Pants in the planning department is being dumped on by Chris Berg, the democracy-hater from the Eye Pee Yay.
Compared with other levels of government, there is little accountability and scrutiny of local government. It is no wonder it often makes expensive mistakes and is susceptible to corruption.

Local government is scrutinised heavily by state government. Much of its administrative effort is spent in filling out forms and otherwise being accountable. In many local government authorities this would have gotten worse after Wollongong - one of the country's biggest local government authorities - was sacked, as fearful administrators engaged in arse-covering at the expense of locally governing. Local government decisions on planning and other issues are subject to judicial appeal to an extent unknown at state and federal levels. It is much easier to get information from a council than it is from any state or federal jurisdiction. More people will have scrutinised local government decision-making processes more closely than any other level of government.

Once again, take the opposite of a Chris Berg assertion and it is likely to be true.
Part of the fault lies in the sorts of people who are drawn to council office. Local government politics tends to attract those excited by the machinations and manipulations of political life but disinterested in public policy.

Yairs, because Federal Parliament is some sort of Elysium where folk talk about philosophical principles, and state politics is full of policy wonks. Well spotted there. If anyone had weak grounds for snobbery, it's Chris Berg.
There is one good thing to be said for politicians motivated by ideological fervour: at least they want the best for their constituents.

That lovely Mr Stalin, beavering away in Moscow with the sole aim of getting schools and hospitals and sealed roads for rural Georgia. And of course, all those Coalition MPs with eleven years of ideological whiplash to work through. Nice line Chris, shame you hadn't thought about it.
A main cause of the corruption in local government is the often cited problem of lack of transparency and accountability.

There he goes again. Trot out a line once, and it's rubbish: trot it out again and again and it becomes a given. Or, so Chris Berg hopes.
Few media organisations are interested in the day to day goings-on of individual councils, at least until a corruption watchdog puts a councillor in front of a judge.

Yeah, because the media do such a fantastic job of scrutinising government. Kevin Rudd assembled an entire government behind closed doors and what dd the media report on? The living conditions of his dog and cat, because that's what Rudd's people gave them by way of press release. It's taken the NSW state parliamentary press gallery a decade to realise Labor are full of shit and couldn't run anything.
It is perhaps indicative that some of the earliest casualties of the sub-prime crisis have been local government investment portfolios.

It is perhaps indicative, Chris, of the accountability and transparency of local government that this has come to light so early. Less accountable and transparent organisations will have similar exposures, but we will have to wait for the media to uncover those.
Limiting political donations creates its own problems, not least that doing so tends to favour incumbent politicians who are able to harness the full resources of their government.

The Howard government's $200m ad campaign in 2007 worked so well in getting itself re-elected. Another Chris Berg pearler!
Most of the time, local governments are doing little more than imposing petty, nanny state, regulations: putting up noise restrictions for street parties; forcing us to use smaller rubbish bins; ensuring that nobody paints their front door red; and other similar important things.

Is this really what it does "most of the time", or are these just the things that make it to the attention of the watchdogs in the media?
Local government tends to resist urban infill, putting extra pressure on our already critical land shortage.

Local councils don't have power over transport and utilities and other infrastructure that might provide some ammunition in favour of such projects. Rather than focusing on power, what about focusing on the nature of the poke rather than the pig therein?
When councillors and their staff have the power to determine town planning restrictions according to their subjective judgment ...

And what else are they supposed to use, clear guidelines set down by enlightened state government? Planning law is so vague that virtually anything can b judged right or wrong, or simply overridden by a minister at any given time. There is no guarantee that a state minister is immune to offerings from alternately hopeful and grateful supplicants, either.

Chris Berg has, once again, identified a headline-grabbing problem, diagnosed it wrongly and suggested the wrong solution. Poor research, fella.

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