24 February 2010

How we are governed

Two articles today cast light on the way we are governed, and the way that government is reported by mainstream media.

This one showed the utter bankruptcy of parliamentary press gallery reporting. Question Time in NSW's State Parliament focused on a rehashed plan which was actually due to be delivered this year. It hasn't been, and so nothing this government says is worth listening to. All Damien Murphy will have achieved here is a rocket from Keneally's chief of staff for all Labor backbenchers to sit up like meerkats when the cameras are on, while Murphy and others can slump and yawn and play with their mobile phones. Who said the fourth estate don't have an impact on the big issues, what with Damo on the job.

Disinterest is the correct response to a government that has lost credibility. There is one thing worse than having Joe Tripodi apparently bored by government, and that is having him take an active interest in it. What if Tripodi wasn't fiddling but engaged in some sort of nefarious activity on behalf of some shadowy figure? Geez Damo, that might require some journalism. Where would you get some of that?

It is no longer necessary to cover the NSW State Parliament as no news will come out of it (and any news that does will be available by avenues far from Macquarie Street). The fascination with Keneally's media presence is a phenomenon interesting only to people who work in media. She can't get anything done, she won't get anything done; anything else is just the politico-media complex having itself on. If there's one person less worth listening to than Keneally, it's David Campbell; the man who didn't realise that Wollongong Council was corrupt achieved nothing by filling up Question Time with non-information about a bullshit plan, even though people like Damo regard him as some sort of tactical genius by substituting his own non-answers for those of his Premier.

Mind you, the White Lady Funerals line is a mighty good one.

This article is one of the most thoughtful articles on Australian politics in some time, a successful attempt to cast new light on an issue that has been done to death by less imaginative collagues in the journosphere.

It was possible for the insulation rollout to have been more tightly executed, to refuse to give public money to unqualified and uninsured businesses, and to mandate OH&S and other safeguars (everyone else who gets government money has to jump through hoops and fill out forms).

Carney's point about bushfire policy is well made, practical and sensitive. It shows up not just the amateurism but also the shallow thinking of Catallaxy in shying away from this issue, except for the odd snark.

The calculus is: a social problem has emerged, it is up to the government to produce a solution, through policing and diplomacy and education.

With successive governments representing themselves as having all the answers to all social problems, and with major political parties actively dissuading volunteerism in public life, it's hardly surprising that we've come to this. Libertarians bristling about "the nanny state" is as pointless as Marxists denouncing the profit motive: it belies a fundamental misunderstanding of how societies work, and if you don't understand that it's probably best if you're excluded from running things.

Carney is wrong about increasing passivity toward government. There are two areas where an increasingly educated populace is closely scrutinising professionals who were once trusted to get on with the job, demanding answers and second-guessing their every move. Health and education professionals report increasingly querulous and rebarbative patients/parents asserting their rights, while at the same time being micromanaged by bureaucrats who don't understand their profession and the latitude it needs to function. I wish there were more of it and I think technology will make this kind of scrutiny easier in some ways, harder in others.

The point about big government is to work out what you want to do and then put in place the resources you need to do that. Where you have a major social issue that swallows lots of resources with little to show for it - war, Aboriginal disadvantage, alcohol as both social and anti-social, skills shortages - governments need to call on people for help, and be big enough to withstand criticism from media and opposition in the process. Media is often unhelpful in framing those larger issues and yet wonders why it is increasingly ignored.

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