My online boss Tom Burton wants to revamp the webdiary and we’re in the market for ideas.
What got me thinking about this was a note from Fiona Ferrari (nom de plume). She wrote:
Margo, don’t let the megawork academic pieces take over the site. I wouldn’t like to see your page dominated by men doing Phds (‘the elites’) or it will start to look like an academic journal. Don’t get me wrong – I love their stuff, but I don’t want to see the page get too wanky with people trying to show how clever they are.
One of the best things about your page is the interactivity and conversations between contributors with different viewpoints and different experiences. Some readers won’t have time to read the long dense works. Others will lack the confidence to engage and contribute due to lack of education.
I would like this page to include more pieces from ordinary people – those who are not well-paid public servants and academics with insider access. And especially from people who feel marginalised – eg unemployed people, people on disability pensions, school students, poor farmers, refugees, prisoners, people who live in public housing in the western suburbs of Sydney etc. I want to see what these people say in addition to what our most brilliant, educated contributors have to say – and I’d like to see some genuine engagement between the two groups.
You’ve said you realized you were out of touch when the Hanson thing first happened and you wanted to get more in touch. Yes – this page is giving a voice to people who are not specialists or experts but who have ideas they want to test and that is wonderful. But do you really think you are getting more in touch with the views of socially disadvantaged, non-elite Australians?
Apart from the equity aspect, I like short pieces for other reasons. Sometimes a contributor can make a very profound, interesting observation in one sentence. Sometimes the long pieces do not facilitate the same level of interactivity.
I also really enjoy reading short exchanges between contributors where you toss in your thoughts, especially when you start arguing with them. It’s entertaining. (on that point, I think you used to do that more last year and I’d like to see you engaging with what people are writing like you used to).
“So my message is – keep the page full of diverse contributions and try to promote even more engagement between writers. Be intellectual but don’t let it get too wanky.
Tim Dunlop and Andrew Stapleton, the main protagonists in the dairy debate, also had some comments on the page.
As good as it is, this situation does show the limitations of your web-page. I seem to remember you writing early on of the possibility of the site getting its own web-board or discussion list? A feature like that would allow this sort of extended discussion to happen between your “readers” and free you from administrative involvement. You could then just enter discussions as you saw fit. I reckon it could add a useful dimension to your website experiment.
Andrew wrote: Here is the feed back on what I am looking for from the web diary. Firstly I read the page because I value your perspective … that wasn’t just a crawl. Regarding the mail you post on your page, there are many thousands of news groups and listservs on the net and these groups have permanent, long term residents who own and defend a bit of their territory.
These residents do continual battle with each other but the battle is more in the nature of a high school debate or religious argument than an exchange of views. Neither side will ever concede a point or allow their minds to changed because they aren’t listening to the other party, they are looking for vulnerabilities in the opposing argument to prove their superiority.
When I read Tim Dunlop and Cathy Bannister (responding to Andrew’s dairy piece) I felt the discussion had slipped into that newsgroup mode. I didn’t feel they had made an effort to understand my points, however badly presented, the points where interpreted as what they expect an extremely right wing person to say. People are free to interpret me however they like but when it appears on the SMH web site their interpretation has added credibility.
To me what would make this page outstanding is if you enforced an editorial standard throughout the work. You sent an email to me stating that you wanted to put my email on the page, along with that you could have said “please rewrite para. 2 an 6 they don’t make sense” or “I don’t understand that, make it clearer”. I’m not just talking about my work, I thought Tim’s original piece could have been done in 2 to 3 thousand words in a formal style (intro, body, conc and bib), been interesting and had far more impact.
I realize what I am asking for will demand more of your time and may well be impossible but as I said the net is primarily tera bites of unregulated opinion and insubstantial points of view. Applying some degree of rigor without censoring the ideas would set the web diary apart.
The webdiary is a beast driven by its readers, and I’m constantly surprised where you take it, from the debate on journalism triggered by Jack Robertson last year to this year’s dairy deregulation epic.
Both these issues, like the Greenhouse imbroglio and the One Nation phenomenon, will wax and wane but not go away. But I do need to keep the daily diary fresh, punchy, and topical, and I do take Fiona’s point that I don’t want to scare off people who feel intimidated by the longer, more densely argued pieces.
I feel that the dairy debate and the wider issues it raises, is of top quality, and I hope that by putting it all together, it will become a resource used more widely than the readers of the webpage. The idea of genuine engagement rather than exchanging rhetoric, as Andrew notes, is exciting and maybe even useful. But it could drag down the spontaneity of the daily diary if each entry is put on the daily page.
What we’re planning is to broaden the idea of separating off a good debate like we’ve done with dairy, to other issues, like Greenhouse and the state of the media. The debate would begin in the diary, then be transferred. (Responses to Mark Latham’s intervention on dairy are flowing in – see the dairy update.)
There is no need to be intimidated by the diary. I publish most of what I get, and what I don’t publish is mainly stuff that’s been said before or doesn’t make sense to me. Lately, because the volume of emails has got so large, I don’t run some because the diary would be too long! I”m also starting to put entries in when they fit the theme of the day’s diary, so I’m holding some till the time is right.
I do edit for repetition and grammar, but I don’t edit for style, because it’s vital that the individual voices are clearly heard. So I disagree with Andrew’s idea that I become involved in that side of things.
Another innovation will be to have separate entries for our regular columnists, Don Arthur on the politics of ideas and Jack Robertson on the media. This will be especially useful when the election site gets up – I’m hoping we can work out a way to do instant feedback to these columns, so they’re interactive during the election.
We’ll also have a separate entry for the marginal seats reports, with updates from the writers before and during the election. (Please, I need more!)
So it’s over to you – any suggestions?
Today, Robert Lawton respond’s to Polly Bush’s piece on drug use (Webdiary Tuesday, April 10). Jack Robertson’s Meeja Watch looks at Stuart Littlemore’s demolition job on the far-right’s anti-ABC mantra, andRichard Thompson and Paul Walker also weigh in. Then to politician’s super (Webdiary Tuesday) courtesy of Don Arthur, Steve Yates and Fiona Ferrari. Richard Pawsey and Elen Seymour dive in, and finallyDon Wigan comes out swinging.
ROBERT LAWTON in Adelaide
Good gritty contribution from Ms Bush.
It seems to me though that there is a huge gap in the power of government to change patterns of drug usage. Between injecting rooms and more money for rehab, and legalisation/regulation of the manufacture and supply of currently illegal drugs, what can be done except ranting.
This tone is shared by the PM’s latest efforts as well as Bob Hawke’s hamfisted “Drug Offensive” (which I always felt reinforced the attractiveness of drug use as an act of rebellion… offensive is what a lot of young people like to be!).
Polly puts her finger on the problem when she talks of boredom and thwarted emotional/sexual needs.
Last year Dr Nick Crofts, Director of the Centre for Harm Reduction at the Macfarlane Burnet Centre for Medical Research in Melbourne said that supervised injecting rooms, needle exchange programs, and heroin trials were potential Band-Aids, when the real danger came from the chaotic social setting in which users lived. (The Age, 19.2.00)
Speaking at an Australian Drug Foundation seminar, he said the priority should be to “readmit drug users to the human race” by tackling social, economic and political inequities. Although he supported them, harm reduction measures had the potential to distract attention from a “higher level” of drug policy.
“If safe injecting rooms were to work, and overdose deaths decline, and street scenes disappear, much of the visible part of the problem will go away and the pressure to consider fundamental reform of bad policy will be weakened.”
But how to execute such reform, when the ability to slow social dislocation is beyond the power any government on earth?
Prior to this Dr David Penington, long term advisor on Drug Policy to the Kennett administration, had written of “the sadness epidemic”, the root of what was seen by government as the problem of drug abuse.
Anomie is at the heart of alcohol abuse, and every other illegal drug. The flip of alienation is tribalism, and the demonisation of drug users by government maintains that tribalism and sustains the illegal drug market.
How can we legislate for contentment, for meaning to life? Isn’t this something we must all examine, outside the parliamentary doors?
Watching the watchers
By Jack Robertson
Canberra Inside Out reader Cathy Bannister (WD, April 6) rightly notes Stuart Littlemore’s neatish coup in reclaiming Monday nights as his own, and on his own terms (fifteen minutes of fame once a week in perhaps the trickiest Meeja gig to sustain without turning into a self-caricature). There is a real risk in watching the watchers to such an extent that we ll all disappear up our own self-referential clackers, but now that the dust over the ABCs Media Watch has settled, its worth at least one quick decko at the net result.
Monday’s April 9 program took to a few of Abes more vocal critics, and so turned into something of a de-facto offensive defence of the much-criticised National Broadcaster. (Gail Jarvis might even have felt a tad vindicated?) Importantly, though, this was simply an unintentional by-product of the main theme a close squiz at a few of the leading thinkers associated with Melbournes Institute of Public Affairs.
The specific Littlemore story was a recent IPA-sponsored chat-fest in Balmain on perceived bias in the ABC, but its principle function was to provide the framework for a classic Littlemore deconstruction of the think-tank itself, an influential one about which I previously knew little (my pig-ignorance, incidentally, not IPA subterfuge – they’ve been around for fifty years; their illuminating website is at www.ipa.org.au).
Quentin Dempster, the sole representative at the forum who might have begged to differ from what seemed to be a general consensus on the issue at hand (predictable enough – yes, ABC bias is indeed rife), got virtually no air time. Littlemore and his team were evidently after different fish, and set out to hoist the IPA-underwritten free-thinkers elegantly on their own petards.
Thus we learned that many of the high-profile public intellectuals featured – Warby, Duffy, Pearson, et al – had various direct (or indirect) associations with this influential think tank; that the IPA describes itself as being in favour of free society and free enterprise, but in a market-oriented and general (as opposed to a sectional) way; and that it seems largely underwritten by corporations and individuals with rather similar aims.
Media Watch also whipped through examples of other articles written by the aforementioned speakers. For a public forum that was supposed to be open, the range of views on offer seemed a tad on the thin side.
Well, so what, we might ask? Public intellectuals have a right to get together, via whatever formal grouping, they see fit. Top level execs are also entitled to nurture and sponsor thinking that promotes their own or their company’s interests, too. And you have to concede that most of those featured are reasonably intelligent, informed, articulate and, presumably, genuine enough in their expressed views.
However – and it’s a great big bastard of a however – until this program, I had no inkling of the real nature of the mob that sponsored the forum. And crucially, this particular get-together was one that spawned a surprising amount of ABC-bashing in the ensuing broadsheet columns (a lot of it centred on ex-ABC staffer Pru Gowards contributions).
A disproportionate amount of coverage, in fact, given the spectacularly piss-poor public turn-out. In short, it all amounted to a blatant intellectual sting operation, running roughly as follows: a Corporate think-tank with vested reasons for criticising the ABC put together a virtually-private public forum in which various independent thinkers (most with anti-ABC track records) got to bash the ABC some more, after which they all nipped off home to their PCs, to hack out a few thousand words about how this earth-shattering Public Event demonstrated the serious extent of the problem of bias at the ABC.
I’m not suggesting there’s anything particularly sinister or X-Files to this sort of malarkey – pathetic is the word that springs to mind – but the truth is, all those powerful public thinkers came out of the whole grubby con-job looking like complete dickheads, largely thanks to Littlemore’s cool and timely skewering. Its utterly hypocritical for anyone associated with the Corporate-backed IPA to criticise ABC employees for supposedly being infected with some sort of Big Brother institutional bias. What’s Rio Tinto, then – an intellectually benign anarcho-syndicalist collective? And especially now, with Very Big Picture economic questions philosophical, sweeping, fundamental in nature – fizzing away at the hot heart of contemporary political debate, no fair dinkum intellectual who aspires to the status of free and open-minded thinker can possibly afford to have anything to do with such a blatant vehicle for the promotion of established economic agendas.
So the important result of this Littlemore was that people like me are now at least clued up on the IPA, and, if we want, we can duly modify the way we receive opinions aired by thinkers associated with it. On balance, as Cathy B pointed out, it does indeed seem that the Pated One is now even better-placed than before to kick some serious media jacksy.
On the other hand, for me the best outcome of all the Media Watch double-clutching of the last six months is that Paul Barry, one of the toughest reporters in the country, is back fulltime at the hard news coal-face, which in my opinion has always been his rightful manor. Anyone with the cojones to take on the Kezzas, the Bondies and the Elliotts – snacking on tax-dodging barristers along the way – is, frankly, just a little bit wasted on media watch-dogging.
I watched Littlemore with great interest regarding the power of the IPA. I found his dissection fascinating and sinister in that a bunch of ultra right thinkers (?) can have such a strong hold on the media and sling so much filth at the ABC. I have noted over the years that people like this and politicians in particular in making criticisms like this tend to describe themselves precisely!
I’m wondering why some sort of definitive answer can’t be provided as to why right-wing journalists including your ABC cobber Michael Duffy perversely keep recycling innuendo, slander and smear that they most know full-well to be malicious, harmful lies of the first order.
I watched closely your own reaction a month or so ago when you debated an issue involving a cynical manipulation by Andrew Bolt of Lowitja O’Donoghue with Duffy.You seemed understandably surprised at what he ended up saying, it seemed to me.
Now the whole filthy lot of them have piled on to the ABC again with their so -called “seminar”, effectively ridiculed on “Littlemore”. When IPA propagandists are letting fly their hysterical self-righteousness why don’t they also occasionally demand that the same fair-go is extended to other (real) victims of injustice in this country?
I was rolling around laughing at your helpful advice to the PM. The super issue is just perfect. It raises all the right questions; about voters and what makes us bite (disturbing), about politicians who say that cheap beer is an ‘issue’ but MP’s super is a ‘distraction’ (hilarious) and about whether Margo Kingston longs for a shit-stirring populist politician who isn’t a bigot (maybe it’s you).
Your article of 17th April was interesting but I feel our politicians lack any imagination or courage to embrace such a selfless or radical move. Why change a system that one benefits so generously from? As an example of leadership it would certainly start to break down my walls of cynicism concerning our rather pedestrian political masters.
Maybe the fair Natasha could pick up the mantle and use it when dealing with the next Federal government. Oh well, one can but dream. Or am I being conned by another fairytale?
I shall still struggle on with my own superannuation juggling act of whether to put more in or pay off my mortgage or educate my kids. Maybe I should exercise my freedom of choice and become a politician.
You are on a winner with your super idea. But I’m a bit worried that you’re giving John Howard too much help – I’d hate to see him win the next election.
That old argument that politicians need more super to compensate for lack of job security is completely unsustainable and it infuriates me every time I hear it. We, the general public, have been living with job insecurity for at least the last 10 years and we cannot access our super. We can’t even get on the dole now without enduring long waiting periods.
This is not just about pandying to populism. Andren’s call to abolish the double standards is justifiable on grounds of fairness and equity. It is also justifiable on the grounds that politicians (who regularly make decisions which result in other people having less job security) should know what it’s like to face unemployment without a generous super cushion.
I want my political representatives to be feeling the full force of the winds of globalisation and economic rationalism when they are making these decisions, not to be thinking ‘it won’t happen to me, I’ll be safe with my super’.
I agree with you that Peter Andren has been very clever in framing his legislation around the ‘freedom of choice’ mantra so beloved of the Liberals. But even if Andren’s legislation somehow gets through, I don’t share your confidence that most politicians would choose the 8% scheme over the 69% scheme. There is safety in numbers and as long as most of them didn’t jump ship they would be safe. I can just see Peter Andren being the only one to choose to give away his entitlements.
I see the Andren bill not as the solution but as a catalyst for a total overhaul of politicians’ super scheme, so at a minimum their entitlements are brought into line with those of public servants and they can no longer access money before age 55.
Now it’s up to the media to give Andren’s proposal wide public exposure. I’d love to see the media push Howard and Beazley into a corner on this one. I don’t know what the Democrats’ and Greens’ policies are on this but my suggestion to them is to support Andren and to do it very publicly.
RICHARD PAWSEY in Melbourne
I agree with the analysis you reported on Late Night Live. Hanson is spot on. She may espouse unappealing policies, but her political antennae are unerring (You wonder what the big Parties get for all their expenditure on policy advice!).
Everyone I speak to in my middle Melbourne circles is out for revenge against the incumbent pollies – particularly those associated with the 4 major parties. They have presided over policy settings that have increased our job insecurity and made most of us increasingly anxious about income security in old age. While they lever us into deregulated markets they cloak their own entitlements with protectionism.
“Electoral volatility” is about all we have available to express our concerns about this inequity, and this is why I think Hanson is right in her understanding of “revenge” electoral behaviour.
ELEN SEYMOUR in Canada
I thought I would wade in with a couple of comments on Jordan Serena’s statement of Australia’s advantages (Webdiary Tuesday)
Jordan: In 2000, we are still one of the best, if not the best. Our dollar has collapsed, but if you don’t go overseas and buy Australian, the impacts are relatively small on a personal level. We have gotten greedier though – the first home for a family was always a starter property – two maybe three bedroom, no ensuite. Now, a four bedroom house is considered par for the course. One car was great to have, now two is a bare minimum. Getting a job was before the prerogative, now it is the job, the title, the career and the money, thanks. What ever happened to waiting a little bit?
I’m inclined to agree,but don’t blame us Gen-Xers for wanting it all NOW- we learned it from the Boomers during the excesses of the 80’s – remember?
Jordan: Our industry has become much more efficient. Pity we don’t have enough of it. Canada, a bigger country with 30 million people, has the distinct advantage of being next door to the USA, and as such attracts a lot of dollars that way. However, it is also one of the seven biggest world economies, and participates in the G7 forum. What can’t we aim for this sort of mark? Oh. I forgot – the unions and the wharves… But hang on! The UK still has powerful unions, as do most of the other EU countries, and they seem to do OK. Germany has the highest per capita labour costs in the EU for blue collar workers, yet by delivering quality, they still manage to sell their products.
It’s not the wharves or the unions! Probably never has been. I work in tax so I can tell you exactly why Canada and Ireland etc are booming economies – low corporate tax. Really, really low PLUS R&D concessions. Canada and Ireland are riding high on multinationals coming in and either performing R&D (Canada ) or centralised service provision (Ireland). This makes companies not only more likely to want to open shop, more likely to stay and more likely to do something in that country other than have a “shopfront” – which is almost all Australia gets. AND more likely to pay their fair share of tax! This is what can really be done to make Australia competitive again…but I pity the politician/party trying to sell that message to Australians – I remember the loud squeals of people when the current Federal government did lower the corporate rate by the teensiest tiniest amount. At the very least people should realise that higher corporate taxes does not always equal more corporate tax dollars paid!
Jordan: The GST – in terms of levels of taxation, Australia’s GST is low – my time in Germany was shared between 7% GST on food and 16% on everything else. The way in which the GST has been introduced is what is criminal about it – it has killed small business, and in no uncertain terms, is creating the recession no-one said we had to have, but we think we have anyway. The point is, though, the GST must be seen in the context of total taxation reform – yes, we have received a tax cut (watch this space for the next one in the Budget), but my level of overall taxation has still a long way to go before it can be compared to Sweden, Germany or other members of the EU.
Don’t know about Europe but the personal taxes in Canada are relatively high – the MRT is comparable to Australia but the GST and PST (provincial sales tax) in Ontario total 15%. But the real killer is that legal tax minimisation is not as straight forward as in Australia – the good old deductible if not personal or capital in nature – is non-existent to the ordinary employee in Canada making apparently comparable rates actually higher in real dollar terms. So don’t complain too hard – you have to look beyond just the numbers in the taxation rates tables!
Jordan: Health and health insurance – we aren’t doing too bad, but I am sure we will do much worse in coming years unless spending is increased to ensure proper funding and – heaven forbid – new hospitals and people to staff them. Health insurance is still cheap, when compared to the US or Europe, and Medicare is a system that has worked well. Perhaps we can increase contributions somewhat to better finance the hospitals/health sector, provided it is used ONLY for that purpose, on a sliding scale, with the rich paying more than the average Mum & Dad, plus 2.4 kids.
Beware the public system that seeks to minimise treatment costs by pushing cheaper treatment options and not telling or taking away longer term (read expensive) options! Don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s only the private sector that wants to do this!
Jordan: Lifestyle – best country in the world, and don’t believe any American, Canadian or South African that tells you differently…
Yep – and the best food – fresh, plenty of variety and cheap! Oh and if that labelling debate ever gets stirred up again, forget it. Companies in Oz have it easy compared to their Canadian counterparts – companies here have to have French and English on every food label (actually on anything read by the public). Imagine that Pauline! (Cheap but irresistible shot).
Since disclosures of interests are in order, I’ll declare mine. I am an ex-DEET CES network staffer, having gone out on a redundancy when the Howard Govt closed the CES in 1998. I live on a partial pension and partial dole.
As I am now aged 58, no employer wants to know me even though I’d rather still be working to help support two highschool children. I still go for plenty, but know enough about the labour market not to get too dispirited for too long when my applications are ignored.
Politically, I am essentially a Dunstan-type social democrat, which in the modern atmosphere makes me feel like the late Bill Weekes (who was the only academic I can remember to advocate industry protection at the height of the tariff abolition push a decade back).
I suppose everyone likes to feel that what they’ve done in their life hasn’t been a complete waste, and I’m no exception. My earlier career was with SA Tourism in Sydney throughout the Dunstan era. At the time I felt some real pride in what my state was doing. It even gave me minor celebrity status at parties. I was convinced then that governments could play a positive role in improving people’s lives.
It’s a view I still hold today, even if it’s tempered by the blinkered limits of bureaucracies and career politicians. By the mid-70s this view was under attack firstly from John Singleton’s Workers Party (a favourite memory of that era was of a smartly-dressed young business executive getting off the bus at North Sydney proudly displaying a large sticker on her briefcase saying, “TAXATION IS THEFT”. No doubt many barristers today still hold that view.) and later from the Milton Friedman apostles.
Neo-classical economics theory dominance was one of those unfortunate accidents of history, a bit like Lenin managing to get hold of the Russian revolution. A chain of events led to it
The oil price hike challenged stabilities previously taken for granted under Keynesian theories.
The leading government post-war economic advisers (Keynesians) were retiring and the next generation wanted to make a mark.
Trades unions in English-speaking countries had become arrogant and overplayed their positions, safe under protection policies. Thatcherism and its variants arose as a reaction to that.
Businesses, large and small, started to resent the cost of welfare state conditions and what seemed an excess of regulations. Reaganomics, even though it never really seemed to make much sense, was a reaction to that.
The principles of Friedmanism (trying to control the economy through the money supply rather than government intervention) thus had great appeal, especially amongst media tycoons (who hated paying tax more than most).
Price mechanism seemed better for allocating resources than regulations.
Reporters keen to keep their jobs or get promoted soon got and spread the message. So it gathered momentum.
It coincided with an urgent need to restructure the overprotected Australian and New Zealand economies in the wake of the Asian Tigers. The two dynamics got hopelessly intermingled.
My objections to it under whatever name – economic rationalism, Friedmanism, neo-classical economics, Thatcherism, Reaganomics – were both intellectual and ethical. It was based on a misreading of history: that the robber baron era of the late 19th century and its associated laissez-faire economics was a golden age in human progress.
True, America leaped ahead in this period, but it’s questionable how much laissez-faire economics and the robber barons had to do with it, apart from creaming off most of the new wealth. Science, agricultural science, engineering and inventions were where the real progress and wealth generation occurred. Britain and Australia made similar progress with more regulated and interventionist governments.
As it gathered momentum it took on a religious fervour, similar to Marxism half a century earlier. As with that, many assertions were generalised without much empirical evidence to back them, but heck, you had to have FAITH.
One, which perhaps because of my declared interest I always found offensive, was that governments nearly always got it wrong and on the rare occasions when they were right their timing was wrong. So governments were better off doing nothing and leaving it all to the market.
These types of views, perhaps not as openly asserted as they were in the late 80s and early 90s, still prevail in the federal bureaucracy, in what passes for thinking in the major political parties and in most of the economics and finance departments of higher education. Ultimately, however,
the contempt for public employees (a legacy of Thatcher) will backfire.
The best example of that effect was illustrated in the parting remarks of the much-maligned Meg Lees. As Margo pointed out, she and Andrew Murray won major concessions from the Liberals on food and basics, on removing some of the balance tilt to the wealthy, and in allocating money for greenhouse (for which the govt which had opposed it is now claiming credit).
Without these concessions Howard would certainly be facing the total wipeout that the Canadian Conservatives experienced. As it is, he is still on a hiding to nothing, as Meg has just experienced, but the parties will survive thanks to Lees and to Labor’s coy caution.
Lees mentioned that if Tax and Treasury hadn’t been so mean and penny-pinching in their interpretations and so slow and inflexible in their responses to genuine business concerns, the anger (which has come more from businesses – which had wanted such a tax – than from consumers) might not have been so great.
The relentless demoralising attitude by senior bureaucrats and politicians to public employees is largely responsible for these departments not being up to handling industry’s concerns.
Simply put, not enough public contact staff are employed because of the ideological obsession with reducing public service numbers. Compounding that problem has been the centralising of decision-making (as industrial democracy was abandoned), meaning that the few people unlucky enough to be out in the coalface can’t make any real decisions. I don’t know what happened in those depts but I’d bet quite a bit of money that Meg was right.
I expect that similar misadventures occurred with the GST implementation, except that they were on a much more massive scale. It seems cruel that Lees has copped some of the flak for that, while Labor has been quite happy to see the GST implemented, with no intention of removing it, while others get the blame. At least they can say they opposed it even if they are keeping it.