This isn't Yes, Minister - it's real life and it's our money
OPINION: By Colin Claridge
PRIME Minister ScoMo was out and about this week, steeped in the Christmas spirit.
While in Adelaide for the meeting with the state and territory leaders, he announced the city would become the hub for Australia's space industry - a sector that was brimming with so much potential back in the 1950s and 60s before government lost interest.
Now, instead of being one of the global leaders, we'll be playing catch up.
ScoMo's also waving about a healthy cheque book in the face of the premiers and chief ministers.
(Just quietly, I think there might be an election coming up.....)
When the PM was discussing funds for Queensland, I do hope there was room in his war chest to provide the premier, her ministers and senior officials with funding for training courses in how to read contracts and proper governance.
This week, we saw the release of Michael Ford's report into the debacle that is Queensland's brand new fleet of trains - trains which we've spent billions on and which have proven to be unfit for purpose.
The retired District Court judge was unable to attribute blame to any specific individual's responsible for this monumental failure in governance. That will come, no doubt, as a disappointment to many. Especially the state opposition; had they seen another opportunity to call for yet another transport minister to resign.
But the Westminster convention whereupon the buck of responsibility stops at the applicable minister apparently doesn't apply in this case, according to the Ford Report. The report however concentrated on highlighting an endemic problem in the culture of government: a fear by departmental underlings of reporting problems to their superiors.
Apparently, staff knew that the new trains did not comply with Commonwealth Disability Access laws, having been alerted to the fault in design by the firm building the carriages.
Unfortunately, instead of reporting this to their superiors, Transport Department underlings felt reluctance because of the culture that has been allowed to grow. A culture where proper governance is seriously diluted by senior management and government spin doctors whose sole function in life is to spread only the good news.
One wonders how ministers of the Crown can effectively perform their duties if all they are told is the good stuff.
This isn't Yes, Minister. But apparently we still have Sir Humphrey running about in departments, shielding their ministers from things they apparently don't need to know. The minister therefore doesn't have to burden himself with having to report the embarrassing stuff to parliament.
But this is the real world, not a much-loved British sitcom.
And this is real money, the money of the people of Queensland that is being wasted on repair jobs that shouldn't have been necessary.
The Transport Department was hoping it could quietly fix the problem down the track (no pun intended) but the truth has this nasty habit of revealing itself.
Putting aside for one moment the fact that this fiasco will cost Queensland taxpayers more than $300 million to fix, the Ford Report again highlights a problem we have with governments of the day: a culture driven by an insatiable need to continue feeding out to MPs and the people only good news. An obsession of the PR people to pump up the egos of their ministers. To bury the embarrassing, hoping it can all be fixed on the hush, hush. To quietly go away.
We ordinary folk know that's not how real life works. Most of us have to handle the good with the bad in life. We don't have PR departments to shield us from life's blows.
The last two premiers spent horrendous amounts on their public relations offices and as the electoral fortunes of both Bligh and Newman plummeted, it was clear the people saw through the smoke and mirrors. No individuals have been singled out by Mr Ford. But the culture which has led to this latest fiasco has been growing within the past three state governments. At least $300 million to fix this latest mess and who knows how much more by the time these trains will be ready for service in 2024? Money that could have been spent on, oh I don't know, Gympie TAFE buildings perhaps?
Or on keeping regional agricultural colleges open. Or keeping birthing facilities open in some central Queensland towns. Or maybe even on fulfilling the Queensland Government's responsibilities when it comes to maintenance of its regional roads and bridges, instead of relying on the goodwill of Canberra to pick up the shortfall.
It's perhaps relevant to also note Premier Palaszczuk's little tantrum just after the Ford Report's release. She's upset that Telstra has the audacity to charge the Queensland Government for the emergency text messages that were sent out during our bushfire crisis.
She's claiming that the bill will amount to some hundreds of thousands of dollars (although the Emergency Services Minister, when later pressed, admitted to not knowing what the cost would be) and that Telstra should do the warm and fuzzy thing and not charge for this service.
Seems quite reasonable to wonder if the Premier's outburst is some attempt to deflect attention from Mr Ford's bad news.
Instead of trying to shame Telstra into some sort of community-spirited exercise in debt forgiveness, the Premier should perhaps go back and read the terms of the contract the telco has with the Queensland Government.
But then again, the trains contract was also a document that the last three governments didn't bother to properly scrutinise either.
So I return to my earlier remark: I hope there is room in ScoMo's war chest to fund a training course for the Queensland premier and her officials in how to read a contract. Looks like she needs it.