COFFS – WHERE TO NEXT ???

Since Hugh has offered me the opportunity to present a conservative/libertarian viewpoint on a local issue, I’d like to advance a short argument in favour of reducing the budgets (and therefore staff) of Council’s EDU and similar programs. This would be in line with Cr Cowling’s recent proposal to ensure a balanced annual budget, but I’d like to see it happen across all of Council’s operations as a matter of principle.

Council spends an amazing amount of our money on the conduct of studies, writing of reports and applying for grants before very much at all—if anything—is achieved. Economists term this spending of resources in order to gain an increased share of existing wealth, rather than actually creating wealth, as “rent-seeking.” State and federal governments love redistributing wealth to rent-seekers because it maintains their power base; public servants love it because they are guaranteed a specialised career and increased authority; and Progressives love it because they can fund favoured causes without needing to expend their own personal wealth.

But I argue that rent-seeking is hazardous to our community. At a time when Council already carries a debt load of nearly one-quarter-of-a-billion dollars, we’d surely be better off allocating what money we have left to research and development, improved business practices, and productivity increases rather than to lobbyists.

A 1971 study by William Niskanen found that rent-seeking by bureaucracy actually tends to push up the cost of production of public goods, which in our case means ever-increasing demands for higher rates. Sound familiar? And in a highly regarded doctoral thesis entitled “The economic consequences of the size of government in Australia,” Dr Julie Novak recently found inter alia that an increase in government size by ten percentage points is associated with a lower annual GDP per capita growth rate of between 1.2 and 2.5 percentage points. So reduce the size of local government (presently about 490 staff across nearly 30 different locations) by 50 or so people and we ought to see not only a commensurate reduction in rates, but a reduction in overall debt levels and a corresponding increase in economic growth in the LGA of about two percent per annum. Easy! And just think of what innovation might be free to blossom in a less constrained business environment as well.

I reckon liberals and conservatives could find common ground on this issue. Nobody likes to see anybody overuse their artificial monopoly power to extract excessive fees, charges and other recurrent payments from the rest of society, including productive businesses, so why should our Council continue to do so? Why should Council continue to use its zoning and other regulations to protect incumbent landowners’ property values in the CBD? And why should it discourage the use of cars in the CBD on philosophical grounds, when it knows full well that the retailers and service providers who actually create wealth in that location rely on a car-loving public’s patronage.

Coffs Harbour’s economy is largely stagnant. Our Council is bloated (yet still growing) and geared toward rent-seeking at the expense of everybody else in our community. Surely we can all—owners of productive businesses, employees, populist conservatives and liberal reformers alike—unite to sort out the mess.

ANDREWhero-desktop

Coffs Harbour’s new Council: Where oh where is the vision?

Coffs Harbour now has a new elected Council and it is almost an even mix of the old and the new. Let’s leave aside well founded issues around voter apathy and donkey and informal voting that have been covered here on Coffs Outlook in excellent detail  before

 Also let’s also steer clear of issues relating to how ‘above the line groups’ were able to elect members to Council with only a handful of votes in this article, let’s instead now consider what the future holds.

In order to think about where Coffs Harbour might head under its new Council a range of issues need to be considered, things such as voting blocs, alliances, the propensity of those alliances to change over time and the various agendas councillors and the Mayor may have all need to be considered and we may get to these in time.

But one good place to start is to consider what vision, if any, the elected councillors expressed about what they wanted to see for Coffs Harbour.  By that I mean what vision did they articulate in relation to making this an even better place to live, to love, to work in and to do business in?  After all this would give us some idea of their big picture guiding principles would it not?

And here’s the thing, I am scratching to find anything like this from any of the elected candidates.  I’ve gone through The Advocate’s back stories and nothing like that leaps out at me from any of the candidates. Oh sure we had the unscientific poll in The Advocate listing readers priorities but strategic, big picture and visionary are not words I’d apply to them irrespective of the fact more than a few the issues are real and important in my humble opinion.

The new Deputy Mayor stated his decision was driven by his desire to see a more “stable, progressive council” which only time will tell happens or not but, sorry George, a big picture view for where you want to see this city go it is not.

The Council has published big picture stuff before. The Community 2030 Strategic Plan published in 2013 states its five key thematic goals, all resulting from community engagement forums, are;

  • “We are a prosperous and learning community. (Theme: Learning and Prospering)
  • Our communities are healthy, informed and engaged. (Theme: Looking after our Community)
  • Our natural environment is protected and conserved for future generations. (Theme: Looking after our Environment)
  • We are moving around easily, safely and sustainably. (Theme: Moving Around)
  • Our built environment connects us and supports us in living sustainably. (Theme: Places for Living).”

All are worthwhile and I support them, but the trick is how are they to be attained?  Some answer may have been in the Coffs Harbour Economic Strategy 2014 – 2017 which at least has some vision in that it states it is built around “Growth through localisation and love of our City“.  The problem with that strategy document is that I have been told by someone very close to the plan that it ” died the minute the big 2015 CHCC restructure was announced”.

So are we back to ‘Square one’ then?  I intend to write more about the type of place I would like to see Coffs Harbour become in future pieces for Outlook.  But in the meantime how about a few, or all, of our current Mayor and Councillors offering up their visions in a couple of tight sentences and then give their reasoning for their vision and their thoughts about how to achieve it? 

More than a few people have said to me that this will be a ‘do nothing’ Council Ad, no, that was not meant to be complimentary.  So here, Mayor and Councillors, is your chance to start proving them wrong. 

Send a piece into Hugh folks and let’s talk about it here and elsewhere too.  Heck even past Councillors are welcome too. Why restrict it?  Let’s hear from readers too. Let’s get a conversation rolling that hopefully will lead to action.

I’ll take your silence as having proven the ‘do nothing’ charge.

Lastly, I have two questions for the GM of the CHCC, Mr Steve McGrath.  Mr McGrath are you planning;

  • any more restructuring exercises at the CHCC over the next four years? And, 
  • are you planning any more rate rises?  

Just reply below this story.  And remember to tick that you ‘are not a robot’ box!

After all I reckon these are important issues for Councillors and ratepayers to consider when looking at any vision for the city.  

That’s my ‘two-bob’s worth’. 

For now.

By The Contrarian.

An Election Analysed

Belive in a democracy and so have the right to choose who  we want to govern un by free ballot. The process is over for another four years. But what is the outcome and how’d we the people stack up as we exercised our right?  This analysis might come as a bit of a shock to many of you as it is far from flattering.

In short,we can say this election was a disaster.

Some will say that we got a result snd this is what was required. But it was the way that we got the result that will be the focus of this analysis.

From the start the election was to,be driven in many different ways.  We can say there whereto main ways of going about the task.  These two ways might be considered as the opposite ends of a straight line. At one end were those who knew what to do to get their way. But on the other end were those who had no real plans. In between there were somewhat, at times what to do but at other times had little or no plans as to how to do what was needed. So we faced a huge number all vying for a few positions.

With this as the background we list some of the problems and issues people had to face

 

1.Unprepared candidates waste time

2.Size of there field leads to apathy.

3 Numbers cause confusion

4. Budgets swam people

5.Unprepared candidates waste time

By putting their names forward people are saying I could do better. When many people do it could be that they are unhappy with past performance. Or to be cynical they se the chance to get in on a perk.

So what of those who put their names forward this time ? Forty five people took there plunge but we do not know just why the did so. Some would tell of their reasons. But many would roll out the same old election “guff” welcome to expect. And there would be a disappointing number who did not even thing to tell us why we should vote for them. So why did they bother to stand in there first place? Their lack of commitment would flow on to the community. Many did not know the candidates . Some did not consider it necessary to supply the media and the public with any detail. They had no presence at the booths on Election Day. A wing and a prayer was the way these people  hoped to win a spot on council. This is not good enough.

Size of the field leads to apathy.

When many stand for office thee number of voters who elect to opt out rises. This means  they do not even bother go to vote. But for some the threat of being fined will mean they will go to the booth but not fill in the voting paper. There register some form of protest. We have no way of knowing if such protest is against the system or if it against the quality of those standing. WE have no way of knowing if it is because there cannot choose or if they do not want to chose.

Another factor is the actual decision making process. Time for some people is of the essence. Or it might be they simply do not know how to vote. Or they might even think I am not a complete dummy so I will number the paper and not return a blank slip. Whatever the reason they cast a vote known as a donkey vote. They simply vote by placing a mark on the first square on the paper. This gives advantage to the person drawing the first spot for it gives them votes they might not otherwise get.

This is apathy and it is present in every election. With such a high percentage it is of little wonder the candidate in the first spot won every booth. It is a very poor reflection on the people of Coffs Harbour to be one of the highest contributors to the donkey vote.

It is a sad reflection on the candidates who stood.

Numbers cause confusion.

A valid vote requires a voter to number the right number of squares. The voter can choose between above the line or below the line. Above the line was intended to make voting simpler but it is possible it is a major contributor to apathy. Many a good candidate is not the top of the ticket and can miss out if above the line voting is used.

A ticket is a group of people who have similar ideals. By standing on a ticket it gives the group a right to decide on the way any surplus votes are handled but this only occurs if the voter uses the above the line approach. In many instances the voter remains unaware of any deal worked out with other groups.

Below the line requires the voter to make the choice of how the vote ends up in the final outcome. This is done by using numbers to show preference of one over another.

In Australia we use numbers and it requires people who know how to count. So why then did people get it so wrong in the last election? When this happens it is an informal vote but this time in Coffs Harbour it is abnormally high. Some booths record a rate in the range over 20%. So it means 1 out of every 5 people cast an informal vote and these figures come before there is any distribution of preferences. So it is not a counting issue. So was it a protest of come sort?

Did these people not know how to count? Did they do something else to their ballot paper such as adding a comment and this caused it to be invalid? We may never know.

Perhaps a message of only put ticks in the (state) number of squares has more merit than using numbers.

Budgets swamp people

There can be no doubt the size of the budget some of the tickets had was a main factor in getting the result. It happens in every election and is used to distract. It is the same election “guff” that we get all the time. Glib statements and promises they have little intention of honouring. It is a tactic used by those desperate for power.

In most cases once elected things go back as before. The public are hoodwinked. What do you expect will happen this rime round?

 

Conclusion

The votes were cast and counted. The result is clear between them. The party of apathy and informal will get three seats out of nine. This will be enough to force their views on an unsuspecting public who so readily almost gave them a mandate.

This proves Coffs Harbour is up there with the best of them. It records one of the highest in formal votes and one of the strongest donkey votes in all of New South Wales. What a record we have.

Readers of the blog will no doubt be a little shocked. But those who voted for apathy and informal will probably even take time to check the outcome. They will just complain for another four years.

 

The Analyst