Bogan sheilas and stupid men with beer guts

496696.1.highKevin Rudd’s announcement yesterday of a Special Economic Zone in the Northern Territory surely comes very close to the silliest election promise of the last decade, matched only by Tony Abbott’s almost identical promise a couple of months ago.

The only positive aspect of either policy is that as far as one can tell neither Rudd nor Abbott is actually serious.  They are merely producing shiny but worthless policy baubles in the hope that they might impress a few gullible voters in the highly marginal seat of Solomon.

The problem is that both of them are not only insulting the intelligence of Territorians but our memories as well. They must think we have a collective dose of Alzheimer’s Disease. They certainly wouldn’t have tried it 15 years ago, maybe not even a decade ago, because back then there were still too many Territorians with quite fresh memories of the financial fiasco that had occurred last time a “free trade zone” was tried as a magic bullet solution to the Territory’s chronic underdevelopment.

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How much does it cost to make sure income support recipients don’t waste their money?

Nobody knows exactly how much it costs to administer Income Management. But government estimates suggest that it could be as high as $150 a week per person in remote areas. According a recent report from the Australian National Audit Office:

… departments were aware that providing income managed services to people in remote areas would be more costly than providing services to those in rural and urban areas. The estimated costs were:

  • remote areas—between $6600 and $7900 per person, per annum;
  • rural areas—between $3900 and $4900 per person, per annum; and
  • urban areas—between $2400 and $2800 per person, per annum.

The estimated cost in urban areas works out at around $50 per week per person. The same amount welfare advocates want government to add to the single rate of Newstart Allowance. Continue reading

Darwin’s property market – a case study in muddled public policy

My post on the Territory’s recent mini-budget has resulted in an interesting comment box discussion about Darwin property prices.  At first blush general Troppo readers might not find it all that absorbing, but in fact the dynamics of Darwin’s property market provide an instructive example of the interplay between government policies and actions, market forces, demographics and a range of other factors.

Are Darwin real estate prices anomalously high?  How about rents, which haven’t really figured at all in the comment box discussion? This article examines those questions in some depth, and then explores possible public policy solutions.

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Hairy palms and letters to the editor

I haven’t been posting on Troppo much lately, mostly because I’m pretty fully occupied establishing with partners a new private legal practice in Darwin, Melbourne and Adelaide by early January.

However I haven’t been able to restrain myself from indulging in the first sign of madness, namely writing letters to the editor of the local Northern Territory News.  They mostly seek to debunk its current lowest common denominator populist crusade against the entirely responsible economic policies of the new Mills CLP government.  The NT News currently sees itself as the propaganda arm of the ousted Labor regime, which is rather bizarre given the biases of the Murdoch press elsewhere in Australia.  Unfortunately the editor didn’t see fit to publish my last effort, and he probably won’t publish this one either, so I’ll post it here instead:

Dear Sir

Although there are valid concerns about some individual spending cuts announced in the Mills CLP government’s mini-budget, its overall direction and settings are in my view modest, responsible and appropriate. As many would know, I am anything but an uncritical CLP apologist.

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NT election 2012 – a watershed moment in Australia’s history?

[This was written on Sunday.  An edited version was published at the G8 universities site The Conversation late this afternoon.]

The Northern Territory’s Labor government led by Chief Minister Paul Henderson was swept from power at yesterday’s election by Terry Mills’ Country Liberals.  Where Labor previously held 12 seats in the 25 seat Legislative Assembly and held minority government with the support of  Independent Gerry Wood, at the time of writing it appears that the Country Liberals will now hold either 14 or 15 seats with Labor retaining either 9 or 10.

The remarkable feature of this election result is that it presents two completely opposing aspects, with dramatically contrasting results between the towns and remote bush communities. In the urban seats in Darwin, Palmerston and Alice Springs and the seats of Nhulunbuy and Barkley (centred on mining towns), the status quo has prevailed. Labor retained all of its existing seats and indeed even achieved swings towards it in a couple of seats.

Labor’s campaign strategy was to pour resources into limiting an expected anti-Labor swing sufficiently to retain its own marginal Darwin seats while targetting the northern suburbs Country Liberal seat of Sanderson which its polling said was vulnerable.  There was a pro-Labor swing in that seat of around 2.3%, not enough to win it for Labor.  The overall swing against Labor in urban areas was around 4%, significantly less than the 6% shown in a poll a couple of weeks ago commissioned by the local Murdoch outlet the Northern Territory News. In other words, Labor’s strategy worked almost precisely as intended in the towns.  Had bush seats followed suit it would have been seen as a masterful campaign.

The federal implications of the NT election appear to be minimal.  A swing of that magnitude probably reflects federal factors to a limited extent, as well as a muted local “it’s time” factor after 11 years of local Labor rule, but does not suggest that the Labor “brand” has been irretrievably damaged.

However, the picture in remote Aboriginal community-based seats seats could scarcely have been more different.

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The Good-Hearted Curmudgeon versus The Nanny State

By sheer chance, on Sunday I found myself listening on ABC Classic FM to part of the 18th century opera ‘The Good-Hearted Curmudgeon‘.  In her inimitable way, Jen couldn’t help suggesting that the opera might have been named after me. Little did I know that within an hour or so I would accidentally find myself rehearsing the lead role (though perhaps without the good-hearted bit).

We went for a family outing to a Darwin Festival concert at the Gardens Amphitheatre, featuring Kate Miller-Heidke and Megan Washington.  It was partly to celebrate Jen’s 50th birthday, so we took along a picnic basket including lots of yummy Greek cakes, candles, tucker and bottles of water.  We knew we couldn’t take alcohol and intended to purchase it at the Amphitheatre bar.

However as we went in we discovered that everyone’s bags were being searched, and we were required to empty out our bottles of water. Presumably the government organisers thought this might somehow stop teenage binge drinkers from smuggling in spirits disguised as water.  As neither of us look or act as if we’re likely to be secreting gin, vodka or similar beverages, I rapidly mounted my high horse (conveniently tethered nearby as Gore Vidal once memorably remarked).

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A decent man stretched beyond endurance

I wrote recently about the prevalence of personal smear tactics by both major parties in the current NT election campaign. It is one of the more repugnant aspects of modern politics, exemplified at federal level by the current Ashby v Slipper shenanigans.

Last week the tactics of smear and sleaze rebounded on one of the parties, namely the Henderson Labor team, in a big way. A new Independent candidate named Peter Rudge announced that he was standing in the hotly contested Darwin suburban seat of Nightcliff, which is being vacated by the retiring ALP Speaker Jane Agaard. Rudge had been convicted of manslaughter for the killing of a violent drug dealer in 1998.

Chief Minister Paul Henderson immediately went public and condemned Rudge’s candidacy, saying that he would consider legislative change to require candidates to publicly disclose any criminal history. Implicitly he was accusing Rudge of trying to keep his criminal record history secret. However, among other problems, the very story which broke the news of Rudge’s candidacy was headlined Convicted killer joins election race with ‘one promise’.  Obviously Labor wasn’t going to let inconvenient facts get in the way of striking a “tough on law and order” pose to impress disengaged swinging voters. The CLP was evidently equally willing to smear Rudge despite the fact that he appears to pose little threat to either of the major parties.

However that was only the beginning. Someone, most likely the CLP, knew or discovered that Ken Vowles, Labor’s candidate for the seat of Johnston11. KP: arguably the most vulnerable current ALP seat with the retirement of incumbent Minister Dr Chris Burns. [] also had a criminal conviction skeleton in his closet.  They tipped off the Northern Territory News. Vowles had been convicted of assault and resisting arrest in his youth 20 years ago after he had a fight with another bloke who he discovered in bed with his girlfriend.

You wouldn’t have thought such a revelation would do any significant harm to Vowles’ election prospects, in fact it might even enhance them with some voters. However presumably the Labor strategists thought it would make Hendo look rather sloppy and hypocritical to have condemned Peter Rudge for supposedly failing to publicly disclose a criminal conviction when his own party candidate had done likewise (albeit that the apparent gravity of the two convictions isn’t really comparable).

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Tracking the intersecting NT fear campaigns

One of the more fascinating aspects of the current NT election campaign from an afficionado’s viewpoint is the phenomenon of intersecting and overlapping fear campaigns by the two major parties. Spin doctors take exactly the same set of facts (in this case NT net debt and deficits, which I dealt with in an article a couple of weeks ago) and then reassemble them for their own opposing purposes to scare the pants off voters.

The phenomenon is perfectly exemplified by an article 11. KP: To read it in full copy the first sentence or so of the “teaser” into Google and then click on the first search result link. [] in The Australian on Monday reporting the official commencement of the election campaign. The CLP seizes on debt and deficit and predictably blames Labor for it, studiously ignoring the demonstrable fact that most of the problem (as with all States and Territories) is caused by reduced GST receipts in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis.  More interestingly CLP leader Terry Mills proposes a solution involving slashing public service numbers, which seems a courageous move in a Sir Humphrey Appleby sense given that Darwin is a public service town to almost as great an extent as Canberra.  However Mills seeks to sidestep political suicide by claiming that supposedly only senior highly paid public servants, who he characterises as ”employed simply to promote the interests of government” will be in the firing line.

Predictably ALP Chief Minister Paul Henderson retaliated with his own fear campaign, pointing to the current wholesale public service-slashing activities of the new Campbell Newman government in Queensland:

“What the Liberals all do, and what Terry Mills will do, is lie to public servants before the election, then sack them after the election,” Mr Henderson said.

Mills is certainly walking a political tightrope on public service cuts. Here is his rationale:

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Do we need a “one punch” homicide law?

“One punch” or “king hit” homicides have been in the news recently, especially since the killing of young Thomas Kelly in Kings Cross in Sydney a couple of weeks ago. In the Northern Territory dreadful events of that sort have been frequently discussed ever since the killing of off-duty police officer Brett Meredith in a Katherine nightclub a couple of years ago. The issue was back in the news early this week after an 18 year old boy was allegedly “king hit” on Darwin’s nightclub strip and ended up in hospital in a critical condition.

The issue was further highlighted when Country Liberals MLA John Elferink was apparently the victim of an unprovoked street assault (also on the CBD nightclub strip but in daylight and in front of TV cameras no less) while (re) announcing a CLP policy to introduce a “one punch” homicide law (modelled on WA) if elected.

I mentioned all this in an article on the NT election a couple of days ago but it merits a post all by itself. A commenter named Jenny observed:

How is one punch legislation silly? It would act as a strong deterrent.
Brett Meredith died from a punch in Katherine two years ago and if it was in place, perhaps that young man from the weekend would not be in such a bad condition. Perhaps the offender would have thought twice?

The first thing to say about Jenny’s comment (with which I have some sympathy) is that Brett Meredith’s attacker Michael Martyn WAS found guilty of manslaughter, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. However he was only sentenced to 3 years and 8 months imprisonment with a non parole period of 1 year and 10 months, which looks grossly inadequate to me.

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