Monday, August 15, 2016

Monday Forum - as you will

This is another as you will Monday Forum. But first, a few observations on current events.

To say that the Australian census muck-up was annoying is an understatement. It wiped out an evening when I was meant to be writing a post. I got through and started entering, broken by a few interruptions. Then when I came to post I got a message saying unsuccessful, try again later. I did, a number of times. Finally, I thought I will just save and then come back later. I tried to save and lost the lot.

By then, although I didn't know it, the servers had been turned off. It wasn't until I went onto twitter that the scope of the problem became clear.

In process terms, this was an interesting census for a number of reasons. It was the first where people were expected to  lodge on line. It was the first in which issues of privacy became so very dominant. And it was the first total census delivery stuff-up.

In an interesting piece in the Sydney Morning Herald, Code Red: How the Bureau of Statistics bungled the 2016 census, Peter Martin examines some of the reasons for the census debacle. I wondered what you thought of failure and the surrounding arguments?

The data dump to the Guardian of several thousand incident files from Nauru continues as a major story. I commented previously on the way the Government's border protection policy was unravelling in at least political and public terms, a trend that I thought likely to continue given the approach adopted. The Nauru matter will continue for some time. Meantime, the future of the Manus Island camp continues as a  looming problem. 

Given how much we have discussed border protection here, I suspect there is not much more to be said for the moment. 

Only two topics out of many possibilities. I leave it to you to nominate what you like.     


Anonymous said...

Just a shout out for an excellent blog on the dairy farming industry - particularly the period back to about April this year. After Jim's recent economics posts, here's a view of one industry by one very cluey lady:


Sue said...

Hi Jim

I was lucky enough to get on before the ABS site was shut down.

So many issues arise out of the Census failure: the unedifying "heads will roll"; the use of private contractors; the failure to provide very basic information to the public; and, for the life of me, the silliness of some questions, let alone the privacy issues and the availability of information on other data bases.

Living in a company town as it were, there have been many debates about the recent cuts that the Abbott government made to ABS ($65 million has been mentioned) and the out-sourcing of IT systems to the lowest bidder. IT services have largely been contracted out across the service. The worst aspect is that sacking public servants, while popular outside Canberra, doesn't reduce costs or increase efficiency it just means there are more "contractors".

I feel very sad that the excellence of public sector work is not recognised until something goes wrong - it used to be an honourable career path chosen because people wanted to serve the public.

What do you think about Barnaby Joyce's proposal to shift PS staff to Armidale?

Anonymous said...

I found Greg Jericho's analysis of the Census stuff-up interesting:


Jim Belshaw said...

That's a good blog, kvd. My thanks. I have recorded it and will add it to the blog list. The milk one is interesting. Coops emerged originally as a way of assisting marketing, of giving farmers a degree of control. Then they started to get big and ultimately became another commercial enterprise. There isn't an answer, but the dynamics are interesting. I think that we last talked about this in the context of Fonterra. It also bears, I think, on some of the comments you have made about not for profits.

Jim Belshaw said...

Sue, I think that the Greg Jericho piece that LE cited captures a lot of the arguments re ABS in particular. I have been challenging the nature of "efficiency" dividends for a long time.

As a humble user, the progressive cuts made to the ABS and the consequent decline in the standard and availability of statistics has been a bloody nuisance. The various suggestions from ABS management that the census should be cancelled, deferred, turned into a survey, filled me with horror. I need to eat. I will continue later.

Jim Belshaw said...

kvd, did you watch the 4Corners program? I just did. What did you think about it?

Jim Belshaw said...

Sue, on the shift of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, you will remember the reaction when it was suggested that the Division I was in should shift to Queanbeyan. Absolute outrage.I have read the coverage in the Canberra Times and its much the same as those staff meetings I sat in.

As I understand it, the Authority will be housed in a new building on campus collocated with UNE's rural research operations, CRCs and Centres of Excellence.This is hardly a move to the sticks nor loss of access to fellow scientists and technical people, labs etc. The NFF is upset because it will cost them more to lobby, and that may actually be no bad thing. From a New England perspective, it will have a major gain in further developing science and technology and providing a vehicle for further growth at a time when so much is being further centralised.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I did watch the 4Corners on iView catchup and it captured some of the on the ground issues quite starkly. The woman who writes that blog featured very briefly in it, by the way.

But there's plenty of blame to share around all the players, which I guess will be played out in the various investigations now underway.

We have discussed over the years our joint admiration of the role producer co-ops have played in the development of many industries, and the (most times) unfortunate outcomes provided by going down the bigger is better approach. One common factor seems to be the hijacking of that business model by what I think of as a 'managerial class' which itself is divorced from the actual production side; and has its own agenda as to participating in the profits of the enterprise. On this specific Murray Goulburn example, the wonderboy MD collared some $10M over his short stint for leading them into the wilderness. It's a pity that some (most!) of that can't be clawed back in the same way as the farmers now face repayment of over-generous farm gate prices will be. But that's just a drop in the bucket anyway - which is why they (the wonderboys) get away with it.

It is just a shame that this particular industry is mostly family-driven, with specific farms being in families sometimes for many decades. My dairy farming neighbour of 13 years has only recently (June-July) sent his entire milking herd to the saleyards because he could not attract a share farmer to work the property. Some of his herd I actually helped pull at birth, and his herd was one of the more carefully bred operations on the South Coast, on a farm started by his grandfather. All gone now.

Anyway, the writing was on the wall a couple of years back when you could buy your $1 litre of milk, and at the same time happily pay more for the same amount of bottled 'spring' water.


Jim Belshaw said...

Hi kvd. Yes, I saw Maid Marion. The issue of conflicting values and imperatives, the associated question of when the organisation (and individual) becomes more important than the values or objectives of the organisation. There is also as you note the question of measurement. When AMP shifted from a mutual, the focus moved from the policy holders to the shareholders.

The story of your friend is sad. Coincidentally, when my grandfather finally achieved his dream in the latter part of life, he finally had to sell it because he could not find a sharefarmer and could not manage it himself properly because he was still in Parliament.

All this is probably worth a post, although I'm struggling to post properly at the moment.

2 tanners said...

Jim, the relocation is pure pork barrelling, and you know it. The concept is that the staff should all sell their houses, ask their spouses to resign from their current careers, pull their kids out of their schools AND move the authority further away from the Minister, decreasing its effective ability to give advice. Proximity to the Minister and the Parliament has always been bureaucratic gold. The lobbyists will still have that access, now unfettered by the ability of a Minister to call up an expert to front up to the office.

Let's see BJ propose instead that it go to a solid Labor district. Or a solid, costed-out proposal for the transfer. The only money it will save is from the resignations. With all due respect, RMIT and Melbourne University both have more distinguished schools of chemical research than UNE. Most of the testing facilities used to be in Victoria, not NSW. Why Armidale, if not for purely personal political gain?

2 tanners said...

I see the outcome of the costing, but not the costing itself, has been released. It doesn't make financial sense for the Government, nor for the families involved. Colour me surprised. Not.

Jim Belshaw said...

You can't expect me to adopt the same view as you, 2t. Cost-benefit analysis is, by its nature, biased to the past. It locks in what was, not what might be. Many of the same arguments were applied to the establishment of the Armidale Teachers College. In regard to your response, colour me surprised. Not

2 tanners said...

A few points, Jim.
1. No one to the best of my knowledge has acknowledged or responded to the arguments relating to spousal employment, uprooting the families etc. Particularly the 'family values oriented' Nationals. They also are doubtless not captured in the cost benefit analysis.

2. It turns out that the negative cost benefit analysis was already in the Government's hands before the election - some voters might have wanted to know how much was going to be blown to save BJ's political life (BTW, probably a small amount compared to what's been spent trying to swing or hold Eden-Monaro, by both parties).

3. That the Government STILL won't release it is fairly telling.

4. And finally, a good cost benefit analysis would put forward more than a binary "Armidale or Canberra". Where are the studies indicating why Armidale would be better than Melbourne, Bendigo or Werribee? They aren't there because the initial decision wasn't (at least in public explanations) based on a thorough study of the best options for the service.

And frankly I do expect you to take the same view - that regardless of any benefits accruing to Armidale, this was a political decision taken for political reasons and intended to benefit the decision maker as the primary motivation. In my business, we have a name for that.