26/06/2007 - 22:00

Soft option a costly choice

26/06/2007 - 22:00

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Software is the stuff that makes computers run smoothly. How ironic, then, that ‘soft options’ cause business, and wider society, to run roughly.

The best recent example of how taking the easy way out has hurt a lot of people is the sudden realisation in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra that there is health and safety crisis in Aboriginal townships in the north.

Briefcase is not a sociologist but he’s been to Kalgoorlie, Roebourne, Halls Creek, and other places in the north often enough to recognise a crisis when he sees it. In fact, it was staring everyone in the face at least 30 years ago.

One of the problems was that anyone with white skin who dared say anything (or even think it) was branded a racist.

Once bitten, even people who held sympathetic views, walked away leaving a complex problem to people who insisted on adopting a soft option when a tougher approach would have had a much better outcome – and long before the crisis we see today.

What’s happened to Australia’s Aboriginal people makes Briefcase sad, not just because of what’s been revealed in the latest inquiry, but also because it’s just the latest example of how taking the soft option in anything never, ever, works.

Let’s consider a few examples – starting with a few examples where soft options failed miserably and did more harm than good in business.

•••

Property and mortgage trust failures. Over the decades that Briefcase has watched this example of soft options, he has lost count of the number of times stupid investors chased higher-than-average interest rates on their life savings.

While sensible (code for ‘not greedy’) people are prepared to accept a fair return on their money, in exchange for quality and perhaps a government guarantee on their bank deposits, the dopes of the world chase an extra few percentage points.

In a number of cases this has triggered government (taxpayer) rescues – a classic soft option approach because of the political effect of a few hard-luck stories told in front of a television camera.

What a difference it would have made if a hard line had been taken from day one. If governments had made it clear that people so brainless as to risk their life savings with a dodgy property trust or mortgage broker – offering 10 per cent when the going rate at the bank is 6 per cent – were on their own…it’s down the plughole they go.

Criminal law works partially on an example setting principle so why not the laws governing investments?

Soft option treatment of greedy investors is, from where Briefcase sits, no different in principle to the soft option treatment of any lawbreaker – Aboriginal or white.

•••

Nuclear power. Thirty years ago the Western world faced a choice of embracing a power source which is tricky to manage and easy to vilify. Most countries took the soft option and caved in to the nonsense arguments of the anti-nuclear brigade and now have a polluted, and over-heating, world to deal with.

It’s asking too much but Briefcase reckons someone should ask the anti-nuclear campaigners when they are going to apologise for being a prime cause of global warming.

Denials, of course, will fly. The anti-nuclear mob will say the problem is the demand for energy in the world. Far better if we learn to live a low-energy life.

Try telling that to three billion Chinese and Indians who want Western world living standards. They want energy, and they’ll get it – the problem today is that they’re getting it from coal and oil rather than the best available low-pollution source, nuclear.

•••

Brian Burke. Oh, what a difference we would have today if certain people on the left side of politics had adopted the hard-nosed approach of those on the right when it comes to cutting friends adrift.

For whatever reason, the left sees ‘mateship’ as a belief more powerful than religion. Perhaps they even see it as a form of religion. But, when it became crystal clear that Burke was a questionable (to say the least) operator some two decades ago, and that his way of doing business was unacceptable, so much pain would have been saved.

In the late 1980s it was Burke, as much as Alan Bond and Laurie Connell, who created the disaster known as WA Inc.

How on earth then could anyone allow Burke to resume his lobbying business, which has proved to be (again) so detrimental to the reputation of WA.

The answer (again) is the soft option approach. Our beloved premier, Alan Carpenter, believed it was safe to let Burke resume trade with government employees and ministers in a classic example of being nice and making a mistake, rather than being nasty and getting it right.

•••

Water choices. This is one where WA got it right by biting the bullet and investing in desalination. Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane got it horrible wrong and took the soft option of praying for rain.

The result: Perth and the South West (except farms) have been waterproofed. The other capital cities are on perpetual water restrictions – assuming global warming is here to stay.

•••

Education. A soft option disaster of immeasurable dimensions that has damaged a generation (or two) of Australians, particularly those who are unfortunate to attend government schools.

Soft options adopted (and failed) include the removal of a teacher’s disciplinary powers in preference for a “reasoned debate” with juvenile delinquents, which is what some of the little horrors are, even if it’s politically incorrect to call them that.

Dropping of difficult subjects because the poor darlings might have to work hard. And now, the farcical attempt to restructure the entire system in an attempt to artificially manipulate better exam results through a joke called outcomes based education.

The problem in schools is that we perpetuate a belief (false) that everyone can be a winner, and that all men and women are created equal.

That’s garbage. Briefcase learnt long ago that there a lot of people smarter, taller, faster and better looking than he is – and he’s learned to live with it.

•••

“The universities are a sort of lunatic asylum for keeping young men out of mischief.” Bishop Mandell Creighton

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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