18 July 2009

End of the line

Here is a prime example of why a return to "old-fashioned journalism" (i.e. quoting from press releases and interest groups, add a touch of hysteria and stir) is utterly worthless in understanding a complex issue, and asserting the role of journalism in helping readers toward such an understanding.
The State Opposition has vowed to scrap work on the $5.3 billion CBD Metro project if it wins office in 2011.

Contracts for the metro are set to be awarded over the next 12 months, and construction work is due to be well under way by the time of the election.

Brian, do you have any experience of NSW government at all? If you know enough to bleat about the Eastern Suburbs line, you'd know that:

  1. $5.3b is optimistic at best, and likely to be a guess;

  2. I bet passenger forecasts are not reliable either; and

  3. By the time we get to scheduling, what is there to do but laugh?

There is no point being a journalist if you're just going to pass on what's fed to you, rather than examine it a bit and report on the examination. If you're going to put nonsense under your byline people will think you're a fool, viz:
If the project were then stopped it could cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars for broken contracts ...

Yeah, far better to piss away $5.3 billion dollars we don't have on a route that can be cycled in minutes, Brian, than cut our losses with a bit of compo.
... and result in further damage to the state's reputation as a place to do business.

After triumphs such as the Epping-Chatswood stump line and the Lane Cove Tunnel, ending a farcical proposal can sometimes seem like good sense - and what better environment to do business in than one in which mistakes are not only admitted but not perpetuated?
Instead of the CBD Metro, which would run from Central to Rozelle, the Opposition wants to build the North-West Rail Link, a 23-kilometre line linking Rouse Hill with Epping, by way of Castle Hill, for $3 billion, and the $1.2 billion South-West Rail Link, both of which the State Government shelved.

So? Liberal policy different to Labor's, says our man on the spot, Brian "Scoop" Robins. A story to please John B. Fairfax, perhaps, but doesn't help the rest of us.

Like I said, Brian, the route from Rozelle to the city is well served by buses and is cyclable. Hell, you could walk it. There is an assumption that the idea of a rail line would be universally popular the length and breadth of Rozelle, but this would be a mistake: the drilling over the course of many months would irritate even the staunchest supporter of the State Government ALP - let alone the prospect of million-dollar terraces going the way of that block of flats into the Lane Cove Tunnel.

Why don't you hit the streets of Rozelle yourself and ask them, Brian, rather than wait for David Campbell's spinner to feed you story ideas. After you've done that, stop by one of Rozelle's many excellent cafes/pubs and consider how few Liberal votes there are to be lost or gained over this issue, and why the Liberals are taking the position they're taking:
"We believe we are doing this in the best interests of the state," said the Opposition spokeswoman on transport, Gladys Berejiklian. "It's unethical of [the Government] to sign anything substantial ahead of the elections when key stakeholders are saying 'we don't think the CBD Metro is a good idea'.

"We want a termination clause inserted, to allow us to extricate ourselves from these contracts."

For the Liberals, this is a high-risk strategy. Going on the front foot early and deciding which contracts will go ahead and which won't robs Labor of the power of incumbency. However, it also puts Labor in the position of blaming the Liberals for everything that goes wrong and positioning their ideas as an alternative to the paralysis of the status quo - it's an odd strategy but it worked for Bob Carr, and the Liberals never worked out how to counter it. I don't believe they've gotten any wiser, I just hope Rees isn't as lucky as Carr was.

Note how Brian removed "Labor" and inserted "[the Government]", as though that august institution were above mere politics.
The Transport Minister, David Campbell, said the Opposition's decision was insincere.

"This is simply a political game being played by [the Opposition Leader] Barry O'Farrell," he said.

Ohhh Dave, he looks pretty serious to me. If the Rozelle line goes to the dogs it will be a pretty damn sincere indictment on your ability to make decisions and have them stick - remember what happened with power privatisation? Nobody remembers how sincere or otherwise O'Farrell was, but you guys did lose a Premier over it. Besides, you're a former Labor Mayor of Wollongong - is it possible that you simply wouldn't know whether or not you were being rorted, and that it may be best for you that way?
The construction contract is scheduled to be awarded by June next year, and the operations contract by September 2010, with work to be well under way by the end of 2010.

The fact that our mate Brian swallows this whole is the first indication that he's covered in Labor pocket-lint: no Labor project has even gone that smoothly, nor will do so. The second is that there are no quotes from, or references to, the Greens - a party with no small presence in Rozelle and one which has consistently opposed this project.
"I've already advised my members that with a change of Government the metro would be shelved, replaced by the North-West Rail Link, and they didn't bat an eyelid," the head of the Civil Contractors Federation, David Elliott, said.

David Elliott doesn't need to wait for Brian Robins to know what's going on - he and Gladys Berejiklian used to work together in Peter Collins' office and they know one another well. Note the complete lack of concern from the industry representative though, and contrast it with the sheer hysteria from Brian:
For the successful bidders, the cost of losing contracts after work has begun, not to mention the cost of putting together tenders for multibillion-dollar projects like the metro, which can cost a consortium $20 million for each large contract, will prompt some groups to reconsider working in NSW.

Participating in a tender process over a highly-politicised issue is always a speculative venture, Brian, and if they can't lose $20m and stroll on then they are in the wrong business. If David Elliott said they aren't batting an eyelid, where is the source of this despair of doing business in NSW?
To limit the potential for any damages claims, the Opposition could give winning bidders for the metro "preferred tenderer" status for the North-West and South-West Rail Link projects, but their position is still unclear.

You mean: it's not legally binding.
Following chronic problems with other big-ticket projects, such as the Cross City Tunnel and the Lane Cove Tunnel, both of which were based on wildly optimistic traffic forecasts, and other projects such as the Airport Link, the damage to the state's reputation when negotiating big projects involving the private sector is clear.

It sure is. NSW Labor understate costs and overstate usage of their pet projects. Chuck them out.
"Last month South Australia abandoned an $800 million private-sector-funded prisons project, just as it is about to turn to the private sector for a $1.5 billion hospital project, raising questions about the likely level of bidding support for the hospital work," the head of a large construction group said.

A weak ending to a weak article:

  1. South Australia is the second-smallest state in the Commonwealth, NSW the most populous. NSW will lead the country out of recession so get on board with a team that will be making decisions.

  2. Berejiklian and Elliott and even Dave "They're bluffing!" Campbell were quoted and can be held to account for their words. Brian's "source" (let us assume this person exists), "the head of a large construction group", can't. Interesting to see if this talking "head" is a big Labor donor and/or a member of the winning consortium, or just a whinger from Adelaide.

  3. The party in government in South Australia wouldn't be the same party governing NSW now would it, Brian? Is South Australia a better place to do substantial business than NSW? Really?

The Sydney Morning Herald has done a lot of work on Sydney's transport needs generally, and the silly Rozelle proposal in particular - Brian references none of that, expecting us to believe that Labor the NSW State Government has some sort of monopoly on Business Confidence. He hasn't made his case: business will work with whomever the voters of NSW elect, without batting an eyelid, and if they lose here they'll pick up there. That's business, Brian, and it's politics; and it's your job to report on both without fretting about the (soon to be replaced) State Government.

Whether or not Brian Robins has pleased Labor spinners with his effort here examined, this is poor journalism, poor public service - and if this is an example of journalism today then it truly has no future.

1 comment:

  1. derrida derider20/7/09 2:26 pm

    Yep, really lousy journamalism.

    I just cannot understand either the policy or politics of NSW ALP's inner-city transport fixation. It's the outer suburbs that have the really gaping transport needs, and it's those same outer suburbs that make or break NSW governments.

    Where are the western suburb Labor MPs in all this? Don't forget Sydney's centre by population is now at Parramatta. Oh, I forgot - they're all Sussex St fly-ins that see their role as representing their inner-city Labor faction rather than their electorates.

    The NSW Liberals, BTW, are at least as biased to the inner subsurbs - just different inner suburbs, that's all. I can't see Sydney's problems being eased by either party in government.