Politas Blogger - Greg Barns

Barrister and Wikileaks National campaign director


August 2014


Last Saturday The Mercury published an interview Matt Smith did with the Treasurer Peter Gutwein.  Smith did a good job - he managed to expose Gutwein's blandness, his intellectual vacuity, and his lack of policy courage.  Despite constantly harping about the  'Labor-Green mess' he has inherited, Gutwein gave no indication he had any interest in seriously addressing Tasmania's absurdly large state sector and the drain it represents on the State's budgetary position.

According to Mr Gutwein state ownership of power and transport assets is a good thing!  The budget will not be back in surplus for six years, Gutwein told us.  In a world where a week is a long time six years is the never never.

There was no sense in the interview that Gutwein had any philosophical underpinning to policy.  Like the Premier Will Hodgman he stands for very little other than reactionary illiberal policies on the power of the state.

Contrast this with Michael Field.  On being elected to office in 1989 Field as the first Labor Premier in almost a decade took seriously his other role as Treasurer.  In language described by the media as 'remarkable' for its honesty and policy integrity, Field outlined the urgent need for Tasmania to reform itself.  Before being voted out in 1992, having paid a high price for his policy courage, Field produced budgets that slashed the size of the over weaning Tasmanian state.  He adopted the reformist policies of New South Wales Liberal Premier Nick Greiner in areas such as GBE accountability and financial management.  Field did so with the background of a shaky accord with 5 Green MPs.

None of this for Mr Gutwein.  Despite years in opposition this man and his Party has no economic policy framework.  It defaults to a populist left position on asset sales and its only budget policy of note is to freeze the wages of public servants.

And this is in the context of Gutwein's first budget - the one where he has the best chance of making his mark.  If only he had 10 percent of Michael Field's vision.

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March 2014


It is amazing that Tasmania's media allows the Liberal Party, in this State election campaign, to get away with fiscal fraud.  The media has accepted that the Liberal Party will find $500 million in savings and that they will be able to fund around $300 million in populist goodies. 

Why is the media accepting this fiscal lie?

And a fiscal lie it most definitely is because the expenditure outlined by the Liberals fails to take account of cost blow outs, running costs and the consequential and indirect cost to the economy and budget.

Take the $33 million of taxpayer funds to be spent on 're-establishing an international shipping link to Tasmania.  There is not a hope in hell that $33 million will see out this fantasy.  Subsidies for shipping companies or any other form of transport get bigger as time goes on because they become powerful rent seekers who threaten to walk away unless they get what they want from government.

Ditto the tourism industry which, like the car industry of yesterday, continually has its hand out for funds.  The Liberals $16 million to reach a goal of 1.5 visitors by 2020 will be double that within 3 years.  That is what the history of tourism spending in this State shows to be the case.

And let's not forget the new red tape layer, called the Department of State Growth and an Office of the Coordinator-General, based in Launceston.  This is an empire designed to grow like topsy because it will claim credit for every job created or business opened.  If only we had a bigger budget Minister, we could do so much more, will be its annual budget plea.  And which Liberal minister will say no?

The major fiscal lie is in the promise to put additional police and front line health workers on the payroll.  This will cost the state dearly.  It will be boosting numbers in the public sector for no purpose other than it is politically opportune to do so.  It will mean no efficiency gains, make work schemes and a bloated public sector.  In the meantime doctors' rorts in the public health system go unchecked.

The filling of the prison system with those who are convicted of offences that require mandatory jail terms has proven an expensive disaster in Victoria and it will here.  It costs around $120 a day to house a prisoner.  And then there is the social cost of a prisoner losing his or her job, families needing support and increased recidivism which also costs in dollar terms.

One would not mind if Mr Hodgman were going to sell government assets.  But the Liberals expect you to believe they can spend like drunken sailors, impose new layers of red tape, increase the public sector, blow the prison budget and hand out largess to businesses without raising taxes!  In fact, reducing taxes.

This is the stuff of Alice in Wonderland.  Yet the Liberal Party is getting away with it?  Why isn't the media critiquing Will Hodgman and his Magic Pudding club as it peddles fiscal fraud during this last week of the election campaign?

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March 2014


Dr John Tooth is a celebrated medico who established the ground breaking ADARDS in Tasmania some years ago.  Tooth believed in treating people with dementia in such a way so as to enhance their declining sense of being an individual.  Unfortunately politicians killed off ADARDS despite it winning plaudits from across the globe.

This week Tooth released a plea to Labor, Liberal and the Greens urging all of them to deal with the looming dementia crisis facing this fast aging state.  According to the ABS at "June 2011, there were 82,100 people aged 65 years and over in Tasmania, making up 16.1% of the state's total population. This was an increase from 13.8% in 2001. Tasmania had the highest proportion of people aged 65 years and over among the states and territories, just ahead of South Australia (15.9%)."

Calling it the "elephant in the room" in this election campaign Tooth paints a daunting picture of the increasing impact of dementia on Australia.

"The figures quoted by Alzheimers Australia in July 2013 are alarming. There are presently more than 321,600 Australians living with dementia. Unless international research finds a prophylaxis for the onset of dementia within the next few years, this number is expected to rise to 900,000 by the year 2050, that is, an increase of 1,700 new cases per week. Modern societies such as Tasmania will not be able to cope with this number of people with dementia. Most of these will be able to be accommodated in Commonwealth-funded nursing homes but the 2% who have difficult behaviour which has traditionally been the responsibility of the State Government, have (as usual in Tasmania) been neglected," Tooth says.

That 2% Tooth says are the people who need the most care and support from our community." The Commonwealth government will not accommodate them and as far as I am aware neither political party in Tasmania has any plan for their management.,' Tooth argues.

According to Tooth; "It is important that we now start planning for the accommodation of people with dementia who have difficult behaviour."  He is working on a new ADARDS on land at St Johns Park in Hobart.  This accommodation will house around 40 older Australians for whom Dementia has meant an undignified slide into problematic behaviour.

Tooth's new facility - essential health infrastructure-will cost about 20 million to build. Whichever party wins government on March 15 will have to face to rising cost of dementia care.  John Tooth's ADARDS reborn would be a wise investment and a good place to start.

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March 2014


When the Tasmanian state election campaign kicked off in late January the lobby group that represents local government, LGAT, issued a media release which was breathtaking in its arrogance.  

The January 21 release by LGAT President Barry Easther argued that there should be no mention of local government reform in the State Election
campaign.  "There are enough issues for the community to ponder about the way State Government services and functions operate without trying to confuse the issue by bringing Local Government into the State election debate," Easther said.

In other words, let us pretend that having 29 local governments and the red and green tape factories that each houses, has zero impact on the costs of
doing business in Tasmania.  Let us pretend that it is an optimal state of affairs for a State of 510,000 people to be saddled with local governments, many of which are barely functional and in some cases are broke.

If the Liberal Party were serious about economic reform in this State then it would be talking about local government.  It would be planning its merger
strategy now.  It would be committing to slashing this inefficient tier of government so that only those councils which are relatively efficient - Burnie, Hobart and Brighton spring to mind - survive.

But the Liberal Party, like the ALP in Tasmania, is not a genuine economic reform party.  It throws around trinkets and baubles; its leader Will Hodgman puffs out his chest and big notes himself with a first 100 days in office plan.  But where is the structural reform?

Local government is the obvious place to start.  Business in Tasmania has rightly been calling on political parties to commit to reduction in the size and scope of local government.  There are horror stories about local government red tape in planning and development.  

It is incumbent on the media following this election campaign to apply the blow torch to Mr Hodgman.  He has been getting a dream run from the media - today's front page story in The Examiner on Spirit of Tasmania fares reads like an advertorial - because no one is questioning him on the serious economic reform issues.  How can Mr Hodgman sail through this election campaign without being grilled about local government reform?

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