Monday, April 30, 2012

Failing to plan is a plan to fail

It sounds like something your father might say as you wave him goodbye and set off on your “gap year” experience in an old Combie Van. “A failure to plan is a plan to fail, son!” you hear him yell as your $1,500 mobile home backfires as it putts down the street and you wonder if you tied your $2,000 surfboard on the roof rack tight enough.

Who knows if that’s good advice for a young person these days. But one thing’s for sure: in politics, it certainly helps to at least look like you have a plan - especially when you are racking up debt at the speed of the current Western Australian Government.

So it is very surprising that when Premier Barnett was last week asked to respond to New Labor’s 20-year State infrastructure strategy, he said:
“This Government doesn’t do that… It’s so much Labor: set up new bodies, new organisations, new committees, lots of plans, lots of glossy documents…”

Now, with my empathetic hat on, I feel for the poor bugger. I mean what can you say when your primary competitor gets the jump on you like that? If they have a 20 year infrastructure plan and you simply don’t, I guess it’s hard to say, “Yeah, great idea – we should have thought of that!”

But quickly ripping that empathy hat off my balding head, I say hell yes Premier, you should have!

In fact, the empathy hat shouldn’t have been used here because the state’s peak business lobby, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry who hosted the New Labor launch last week, have been calling on the Government since its election to do just that. In each of its 2009, 2010 and 2011 “scorecards” on government, the CCI identified the need for a long term infrastructure plan. In fact, this snippet from their 2010 scorecard shows they couldn’t have been more explicit:
“The Government must introduce a state infrastructure plan, to provide greater certainty about future projects and assist with the prioritisation process.”

So back to what I said in Friends, non-friends and enemies - why would the government not only ignore (and therefore probably irritate) their typically conservative friends at the CCI AND provide a massive opportunity for their opposition to wander in a pick some rather influential low hanging fruit?

Arrogance in the belief that Labor won’t win the support of the CCI? Maybe, but that would be stupid in the current political climate that allows the Nationals to propose a government with the ALP…

Poor political judgement? I hope not - Premier Barnett used to work there so I really do hope he knows just how influential the CCI can be…

Fear? I think we’re finally on to something…

I remember as CoS to the Minister for Mental Health, we received an order from the Premier’s office to change the name of a document proposed by the Drug and Alcohol Office before it was allowed to go to Cabinet. The order was to change the word “Plan” to “Framework”.  When I questioned the command, I was told the Premier didn’t like the definitive sounding nature of “plan” – or “strategy” as was my second choice.

Ok, out with the empathy hat again…

I guess I see the point: If you call something a “plan” or even a “strategy”, you set yourself up for questions like “Why didn’t you follow your own plan” at some point in the future. If, like Premier Barnett, your primary goal is to just keep the sailors and sail the ship nice and smoothly, why would you tell anyone where you going – just in case you changed your mind?

Empathy hat gone, for the last time I promise…

The answer Mr Premier is quite simple: at the moment, you are our captain and we sailors do just want to be happy – but since we all own shares in the ship you are steering, we will all work much more efficiently if we know in which direction you plan to sail.

It doesn’t have to be glossy Mr Premier, but people (and lobby groups) find plans very reassuring - and reassurance is not what we take when we hear our captain is steering us toward $23 billion of debt without even consulting a map.

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