There was a scene in the classic political satire Yes Minister in which the redoubtable arch bureaucrat Sir Humphrey Appleby reflected on the profound shifts in public policy that occur from time to time:
…I have served eleven governments in the past thirty years. If I had believed in all their policies, I would have been passionately committed to keeping out of the Common Market, and passionately committed to going into it. I would have been utterly convinced of the rightness of nationalising steel. And of denationalising it and renationalising it. On capital punishment, I’d have been a fervent retentionist and an ardent abolishionist. I would’ve been a Keynesian and a Friedmanite, a grammar school preserver and destroyer, a nationalisation freak and a privatisation maniac; but above all, I would have been a stark, staring, raving schizophrenic.
This scene came back to me in a flash after I heard the news about the Government’s policy shift on the SEQ water utilities:
The incredible thing about politics nowadays is that profound policy shifts – such as this one and the Rudd Government’s abandonment of the emissions trading scheme – are being made by governments of the day, and we don’t have to wait for a change of government. This strikes me as careless.
Our governments are not getting the advice they should be from their political advisers. The water reforms would naturally result in higher water charges, as action on climate change would result in higher electricity prices. Savvy advisers would have picked this up and alerted ministers that, while the particular policies had merits on economic grounds, they would be politically toxic and ministers would be well advised to fully think things through. Clearly our governments need better advisers.
It’s unclear what will happen to the new water utilities. Given the community’s hostility to Allconnex on the Gold Coast, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s disbanded. On the Sunshine Coast, the Unitywater CEO is appearing stoic (Will Unitywater be disbanded?), saying the show will go on, but his obvious displeasure came through in his not so subtle hint that politics has won out:
“Despite today’s announcement by the Premier, which is a political issue, our staff will maintain their focus on delivering exceptional service to our customers,” Mr Black said.
Obviously this is all going to cost a lot of money. It’s also a bad look for Queensland. Let’s hope the Government can find some better advisers.