04/03/2010 - 00:00

Mismanagement writ large: Part I

04/03/2010 - 00:00


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Wanton waste and excess are all-too common among our politican overlords.

THERE was a time that, whenever I cast my mind back to recall what the word Canberra had conjured up during my childhood, the images inspired pride and admiration.

Mental pictures flashed through my mind of the Old Parliament House, War Memorial, Lake Burley Griffin, and the National Library.

Today whenever Canberra is raised I’m invariably inclined to recall that poignant Old English phrase, Ne’er-do-wells, which Google defines as anyone up to no good or generally thought to be worthless.

Has State Scene become bitter and twisted over the years of this reversal in perception?

Most definitely not.

Those who taught me - especially those dedicated nuns from southern Ireland - constantly warned against such predispositions.

And their advice remains heeded.

So why the 180-degree turn-around?

Simple; because Canberra is where one increasingly finds so much wanton waste and gross mismanagement by our political rulers, whose endemic money grubbing, spendthrift and wastrel ways are destroying a once-great country.

Is such a three-pronged perspective evidence of being bitter and twisted?

Again, most definitely not.

To help confirm this, consider some of the ever mounting evidence that supports those contentions.

Firstly, the money grubbing.

State Scene briefly visited Melbourne last month and, among other things, met-up with a former federal MP whom I’d known well during my five years there.

During our chat I inquired as to the whereabouts of another one-time federal MP.

Although his response isn’t quoted word for word, it’s pretty close: “Oh, he’s moved to Canberra and seems to be heavily involved with the association that looks after former MPs’ interests,” he said.

“From what I’m able to gather he’s spending most of his time trying to beef-up retirement benefits for us.”

Just how many former federal MPs are presently receiving parliamentary pensions and other perks?

What precisely are they costing taxpayers annually?

What are all their taxpayer-funded benefits? Do those benefits extend to their family members? And if yes, why and how much is all that costing taxpayers?

And while on this, why should former MPs draw taxpayer-funded pensions and perks anyway?

Why can’t they be like the rest of us – arrange their own superannuation and save for their retirement while drawing their handsome parliamentary salaries.

Because MPs remain aboard this taxpayer-funded gravy train after retiring or losing their seats until they die, there’s a tendency to assume money is something that grows in Canberra, a major root cause of so many other problems.

Furthermore, knowing this welcomed gravy train exists has increasingly become the main – that is, primary – motive for so many to join political parties and go on to help stack branches in their determined bid to become politicians to qualify for pensions and other perks.

What of the Ne’er-do-wells spendthrift proclivity?

The answer here is even less edifying.

Among other things, it involves the $43 billion National Broadband Network (NBN), deliberately announced as Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was returning to Australia to face penetrating questions about his treatment of an RAAF flight attendant, who he’d unjustly reprimanded because the aircraft was without the type of sandwiches he loves eating.

In typical Rudd government style, its spin machine pulled out a ‘big story’ to help bury the squalid RAAF flight attendant affair.

And again in typical Rudd government style, no business plan existed for this $43 billion program.

Ever since, Telstra’s mum-and-dad shareholders have been in limbo wondering how the NBN will impact upon their shares. Little wonder Telstra’s shares, held by more than 1.4 million investors, fell below $3 last month.

Even more serious is the fact that the NBN may be taking Australia into a technology that will be superseded by wireless.

If that occurs we’ll own a $43 billion white elephant.

The NBN program should have been firstly announced as an option, after which an expert open inquiry was conducted.

In other words, too bad about Mr Rudd’s potential and deserved embarrassment for misbehaving towards a flight attendant.

And lastly, what of Canberra’s ongoing wastrel epidemic? Where does one begin?

What of the 114-member delegation Mr Rudd led to Copenhagen in December?

Wasn’t one football team – 18 people – enough, rather than six teams?

What did that huge travelling circus cost taxpayers?

Has parliament received audited accounts outlining the cost of all airfares, hotel charges, and all credit card outlays by the 114 jet-setting bureaucrats, politicians, unnecessary spin doctors and other hangers on?

If not, why not?

All that was really needed in any Australian delegation was either Mr Rudd or Environment Minister Penny Wong – not both – and perhaps an assistant or two.

Instead, a scandalous 114 junketeers went on Australia’s biggest-ever governmental junket.

And what of the equally scandalous $2.45 billion roof insulation fiasco, which, to use Saddam Hussein’s memorable phrase, is, to date, the Rudd government’s ‘mother of wastage’?

The first thing to note about this is that environment department bureaucrats began pedalling this crackpot plan several years ago.

In early 2007 they’d convinced failed Liberal leader, then environment minister, Malcolm Turnbull, to get cabinet to agree to subsidised bats in roofs.

Then treasurer, Peter Costello, told Mr Turnbull to forget about the multi-millionaire voters in his swish Sydney seat of Wentworth having pricey homes insulated at taxpayer expense.

Unfortunately rock star Peter Garrett managed to impress successor, Treasurer, Wayne Swan, who we’ve not heard a squeak from since this fiasco was exposed.

So Canberra launched a spending spree that’s seen about 90 houses burned and four deaths. Thankfully the scheme has been halted.

But the really scandalous dimension of this colossal wastrel episode is that jet-setting Mr Rudd and Mr Garrett sat on their hands while it became obvious disaster unfolded.

Then, last week, Mr Garrett revealed he hadn’t even read a damning risk assessment report of the program he’d had since last April.

That report, by law firm Minter Ellison’s consulting arm, not only warned of the possibility of house fires and property damage by shonkie installation, but said his departmental boffins, who had been pedalling this scheme for years, weren’t capable of administering their bright and costly idea.

Being well-paid Canberra policy wonks with bright and silly ideas is one thing, knowing how to screw down a program’s nuts and bolts is another – something Canberra persistently fumbles.

So the crackpot idea Mr Turnbull attempted to launch – and is now thanking his lucky stars Mr Costello quashed– has meant four deaths, nearly 90 house fires, and $2.45 billion squandered.

Instead of all that taxpayer-funded jet-setting by Mr Rudd to lobby for a United Nations job, and Mr Garrett performing at rock shows, some hard yakka, including some hard thinking, in their Canberra offices is what’s required.

What makes all this even more bizarre is that Messrs Rudd and Swan, who are now running away from their internationally discredited carbon tax plan, are gearing up to run an election campaign whose centre piece will be, wait for it, competent management.

Next week, State Scene considers how the Tony Abbot/Julie Bishop team shapes up in the Ne’er-do-well stakes.



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