Thursday, 24 February 2011

Coal and Gas forum in Wollongong - breaches of Caretaker Conventions

Today there was a Department of Planning Coal and Gas forum in Wollongong. The event was billed as a "consultative meeting" by the NSW Dept of Planning.
They didn't want to hear what we said (despite statements to the contrary). They simply wanted us to hear what their message was (of course).
What a farce!

Public Servants were put through their paces, to make the Minister (or the Government generally) look good. 

Their answers were a mixture of bluster and sycophancy. Long on rhetoric, but short on detail. They certainly gave wrong answers about the draining of the Woronora Reservoir, and failed to understand carefully worded questions about removal of radio-nucleotides from contaminated groundwater, as a result of drilling.

They certainly did not satisfy that half of the audience who were clearly "environmentally conscious". Nikki Williams and her supporters from the NSW Minerals Council, and the guys from the CFMEU might have been pleased, though.

  • To start with, the largest landholder in the region, the Sydney Catchment Authority, was not invited to attend, either as a participant (it is a Government agency after all, and it is meant to be a "whole of Government process" as the Minister, Tony Kelly, told us), or as "victim" of the Dept of Planning's appalling Mining Approvals procedures.
It is a nonsense for the Labor Government to pretend that they are calling for detailed Submissions, (due in mid April, after the election), when the Government is 5 weeks out from a State election. 

Worse, today they put themselves in breach of the long-established Caretaker Conventions The opinions expressed on Caretaker Conventions in the linked article are from the ALP's own favourite policy advisers - Hawker Britton. I haven't made that advice up - but it accords entirely with my own personal understanding.
And anyway, what's the point of the Government going through this elaborate charade? If the current opposition gets in, they will drop the whole idea, as "tainted" by having Labor's fingerprints all over it. And rightly so, too.

As a former Federal Public Servant, one from the days when Public Servants were trained to give "free and frank advice" *** I was both fascinated and appalled to watch the reality of the political process in action in NSW today. 

How can senior DoP officials possibly be expected to give straight answers to honest questions from the public when the Minister, and the local Member are sitting in the room watching them "perform"? That is a clear abuse of the neutrality of the Public Service.

Democracy? I don't think the NSW Government understands the meaning of the word.


After several hours of "stewing" over what we were put through, today, I have come to the following conclusion:- What we witnessed today was clearly a joint job application for positions in the Mining Industry, in anticipation of the defeat of their current employer, the NSW ALP Government.

Today's meeting was held in the "Diggers Club" in Wollongong, the centre of BHP's empire, in Australia. I thought (in advance) that the choice of venue was simply a large RSL meeting room. But to watch the performance of the Dept of Planning "boys", the penny has now dropped. It was a collective Job Application. They were so totally "pro-mining", the choice of venue was appropriate.
The name "Diggers Club" takes on a whole new meaning.

Denis Wilson
Robertson NSW 2577
Chairman, Australian Water Campaigners
(The foregoing is my personal opinion.)

*** Caretaker Conventions.

The Caretaker Period
The formal period during which the caretaker conventions operate dates from the dissolution of the Legislative Assembly until the election result is clear, or, in the event of a change of Government, until the new Government is appointed.
The NSW Government assumes a ‘caretaker’ role during the period immediately before an election to ensure:
  • decisions are not taken which would bind an incoming Government and limit its freedom of action;
  • important decisions are not made by Ministers who cannot be held accountable once the Legislative Assembly has been dissolved;
  • the neutrality of the public service is protected; and
  • state resources are not being used in election campaigns, or to advance the aims of a particular party.

*** Free and frank advice

It is the responsibility of public servants to provide honest, impartial and comprehensive advice to ministers and to alert ministers to the possible consequences of following particular policies, whether or not such advice accords with Ministers’ views.

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