Wednesday, May 27, 2015

That Australian life - the NSW nanny state

Tyler Brûlé's swinging attack on.the impact of Government restrictions on the texture of Australian life has attracted attention. I quote:
Australia is fast becoming "the world's dumbest nation" because of nanny state rules and restrictions, says Canadian journalist and magazine publisher Tyler Brûlé. 
He argued that Australians were increasingly being "mollycoddled" through health and safety laws, and that our cities were at risk of becoming over-sanitised. 
"This country is on the verge of becoming the world's dumbest nation. There will be a collapse of commonsense here if health and safety wins out on every single discussion," he said.
"People think it's a little bit nuts here."
I think that he is pretty right, although I would have thought that Canada suffers from the same disease. Here local government has become more and more a delivery arm of State based regulation and control. However, that got me thinking on a different if related topic.

It used to be the case that Melbourne was more restrictive than Sydney, Victoria more tightly controlled than NSW. Then things switched and I was wondering why. It wasn't until freer Melbourne with its growing life style started really threatening regulated Sydney to the point that Mayor Clover Moore that certain restrictions started to be relaxed.

There have been some really funny decisions in NSW, like creating a regulatory regime that encouraged drinking palaces while stopping pavement living. I am not talking about the clubs here, that's a different question, but the rise of the poker pubs along with the creation of cost structures that meant that only big venues could afford the regulatory cost burden. Yes, there has been a burgeoning of cafe strips, but itis very localised.  

So what is it about NSW?



Winton Bates said...

Jim, I think that Mr Brule has learned a lesson that I will never learn. If you want anyone to take any notice of what you say, it is necessary to say something that no-one else could possibly believe.

Anonymous said...

This is obviously a trending 'cause for concern'. I wonder what young Thomas Kelly would think of the thought that his experience of city life was merely part of the 'grit that made them interesting and surprising places'?

Your fella: "And I need to be able to open a pop-up shop in Surry Hills and walk on the pavement with my wine glass. To me that's actually important.

Ah, civilisation!


2 tanners said...

"What is it about NSW?" Come back to the ACT - ponds where dogs are banned because they might get sick from algae. Actually it's because they might attack birdlife but there are no recorded cases of that so that can't be used as the reason.

Jim Belshaw said...

Your comment on the Thomas Kelly case, kvd, captures the very problem that I have so often written about- just substitute toddler death by drowning (recent swimming pool regulation in NSW), young peoples' death on roads (NSW driver license hours), fear of death from bad food (ACT attempt to regulate sausage sizzles), possible death from contaminated` water (latest NSW regulation of septic tanks) or indeed the latest response on citizenship plus Bob's example.

Even when you present the evidence to show how silly particular regs or prospective regs are, it is almost impossible to defeat the Thomas Kelly argument. Young black kids in NSW are now 45 more times likely to end up in jail than their non-black counterparts, changes to bail laws play a major part in this, all this in the name of keeping us safe.

It just goes on and on. `

Anonymous said...

Yes, I almost knew how you would respond to that Jim. My fairer answer would have been the reported 40% reduction in incidents as a result of the lockout laws; that seems societally beneficial, so more justifiable - whereas TK's death is a great personal tragedy, however avoidable.

Sort of related, I have always thought that Mr Abbott's "shit happens" comment was perfectly appropriate given the circumstances/context of what he was discussing. But it was played for all it was (politically) worth by his opponents.


Jim Belshaw said...

He probably shouldn't have said it kvd for personal respect reasons, but as a comment it's correct. And it was played for all it's worth.

On the 40% reduction in incidents, one needs to translate that to actual numbers, look at the pattern in surrounding areas, look at the overall trend. As you know.

There is a subtlety thing in all this that links to my concerns about evidence. I am writing a lot of briefing notes at present. The first heading in the template that we all must follow is context. This sets the background plus the proposal. The second heading is risks. There we are meant to explain the risks that follow if we do or don't follow this course.

Briefing notes are meant to be limited to two pages, with supporting material in the attachments. I am the subject specialist. Between me and the minister there are five reporting levels excluding the Minister's own office, each with its own checks and views that broaden as the levels become higher. There is actually no mechanism that I as the subject specialist can actually personally brief higher levels, let alone the Minister. There is no scope for thought pieces that do not have a decision point but which might get the ultimate boss, the Minister, thinking.

Two problems arise.

Say you are dealing with a complex issue with multiple interacting facets that have a time component. It's not an easy issue, but one that requires thought and a calm head. By the time it gets to the Minister, all the subtleties have been stripped out. You are reliant on presentation by someone who does not know the details or interactions, someone that you have no contact with, to present the case you have defined.

Say a political problem comes up. one that requires a quick response on a key issue. By the time that it gets to the subject expert, assuming that it does, the boundaries have been set and there is no time to think.

Add to that the personnel instability that is such a feature today. I haven't counted properly, but in my present area of contract work I have had four heads of the mega-agency, four CE's of my smaller agency, eight or nine changes in direct reports. Each time there is a change, the new person has their own ideas and wants to set their own stamp.

I am in an odd position because I have been a senior official in a less structured world, so I know how things might be done.

When we talk here about evidence based approaches, I am constantly filtering that through the way systems actually work.There is very little evidence in it.

Take the latest swimming pool changes. The new NSW rules should not have been introduced in the form they were. You had top level political and bureaucratic reaction driving them. They were not going to work.They also created new legal risks.

Still, they were there so advice had to be drafted. The reactions cascaded down. Then the advice had to be changed because of the practical and adverse human outcomes in particular cases.

The rules couldn't be changed, that was a complex process, so application including blind eye was altered. In the end, we had just another load, another cost, without real result.

Anonymous said...

Swimming pool fencing laws are effectively a subsidy to businesses that supply and install fencing. It has entrenched thereby an additional hierarchy of rent seekers.


Jim Belshaw said...

Noted, DG. While I rail against regulation, I am probably more inclined to support it in certain cases than you. I support some swimming pool regulation. But it does create another vested interest.

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