The politics of water #2

Curiously, while an ACNielsen poll 10 days ago had Labor leading as the best party to handle water resources by 48% to 34%, today’s Newspoll reported in The Australian on which party would best handle water planning has the parties almost even, with the Liberals on 33% and Labor on 34%. The Liberal Newspoll number is almost the same as ACNielsen’s, while Labor’s is signficantly lower.

I doubt it is the slight change in wording, ‘water resources’ versus ‘water planning’. Unfortunately the ACNielsen poll details were not well reported in The Age, but I’d guess the difference is less due to the question than how the pollsters drew answers from their respondents.

Newspoll has a big 20% classed as ‘uncommitted’ – which given the limited record of either party federally on this issue is a reasonable response. Newspoll doesn’t usually give an ‘uncommitted’ option when reading out questions, but as they recorded both ‘uncommitted’ and ‘none’ they don’t seem to have been pushing people to give a party even if they seemed unsure. I’m not sure of the wording of ACNielsen’s question, but possibly they asked a version of the ‘which party are you leaning towards’ question of the uncommitted respondents. For the various reasons given in my last post on this – Labor being in fashion, Labor better on the related issue of the environment – the uncommitteds could have gone for Labor over the Coalition.

Even so, there is still quite a big difference between the polls, consistent with the public not really having made its mind up on this issue. This will be a relief for the Coalition, because on its first appearance in the Newspoll survey ‘water planning’ has gone straight to the top, being cited as a very important issue by 82% of respondents. It’s the first time since the first half of 2003 that the top issue is not health and Medicare.

22 thoughts on “The politics of water #2

  1. Far more interesting is the swing back to Labor on education and health. The governments attempts to steer public debate away from all of their failures with a back-of-the-envelope plan to nationalise the water system won’t last long. They cannot have had time to put together a credible plan in their panic over Hicks and Iraq.

    Put a fork in ’em. They’re done.


  2. Interesting on education because though Labor proclaimed an education revolution, their actual proposals so far are minor tinkering, and oddly they made Shadow Minister someone with no background in the field. But at this stage, style is enough.


  3. Maybe water won’t be such an urgent issue in November – it could rain this winter, a desal plant or two, – in Perth we’re aware of water but nowhere near as burnt looking as Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney …. and if things do get serious, won’t any real action cause a conflict between the coalition partners?


  4. Andrew Norton wrote:
    “oddly they made Shadow Minister someone with no background in the field. But at this stage, style is enough.”

    Exactly the same criticism could be levelled at Julie Bishop. She’s a corporate lawyer, had zero experience with education, but looks awful purrty on the TV. Meanwhile the OECD reports we’re fading fast in education spending in comparison with our peers and you’re posting triumphal blog entries about how the private system is suddenly producing more university graduates than the public system.

    When the prime minister says we should not aim for a university education any more, suddenly the underclasses find they are priced out of the market for one. Coincidence?


  5. David – But the Coalition isn’t proclaiming a ‘revolution’, and won’t be trying to make education a big issue.

    I don’t know where you are getting the last couple of your ideas from; I have never said that there are more ‘private’ graduates, much less been triumphant about it, and the PM has never said people shouldn’t aim for uni, just that it can be over-rated compared to voc ed, which is likely to be true enough for kids with so-so school results.


  6. David,

    I have taken this extract from Julie Bishop’s website:

    “Prior to entering Parliament Julie was Managing Partner of national law firm Clayton Utz in Western Australia. She held a number of positions including as Chair of the Western Australia Town Planning Appeals Tribunal; a member of Murdoch University Senate; the board of the Anglican Schools Commission and a director of SBS (TV and Radio) Corporation.”

    ‘Zero experience in education’, eh?? Never let the facts get in the way.


  7. Jeremy said:
    a member of Murdoch University Senate; the board of the Anglican Schools Commission

    I’d count that as being as close to zero with public education as you can get for somebody who’s running the department. Scarfing canapes with the Murdoch University vice chancellor does not qualify a person for managing an educational system. If her tenure at either of these places was as long as she “spent at Harvard” it’ll amount to a couple of weeks at best. Talk about padding your resume…

    Andrew Norton wrote:
    much less been triumphant about it, and the PM has never said people shouldn


  8. David,

    I would have expected sitting on the boards of a university and a group of schools to involve: assessing capital spending proposals, assessing wage claims, monitoring the quality of teaching and courses, learning about the most effective allocation of resources, talking to others involved in the sector (including from overseas institutions).

    In short, getting an idea of what works, and what doesn’t, in the education sector, where there might be scope for improvements, and what the leaders in the sector are doing right, and which could be imitated elsewhere.

    But obviously I’m wrong. Here time on the board was all about scoffing canapes with all the other time-serving stuffed shirts. Right?

    Anyway. I don’t think it is important for the decision maker to have extensive, or even any, experience in the sector over which they are presiding. What they absolutely do need is: well developed critical faculties; the ability to ask the right questions and identify the most pressing issues; to know who are the best people to ask for advice and information; and the prudence to appoint the most appropriate people to key positions.

    As I understand it, that is how effective executives have been operating since time immemorial. Augustus wasn’t the best soldier of his times – he didn’t have to be. He appointed the magnificent Agrippa to do the tough work, while he concentrated on the politics. He ended up winning the Roman world as a prize.


  9. “The ABS has some nice statistics of the continuing financial advantages of having a university degree compared to a trade. ”

    But these are misleading as to the choices many people have – a BA from a low prestige university would probably not be worth as much as a good trade qualification.


  10. David, reading and responding to your comments – on native and introduced fauna, on trade and labour laws, on the government’s immigration policies, and now on Julie Bishop – is an education for me.

    It’s not often that I get to meet and interact with a mind like yours.


  11. David – I am the only person in the country advocating full choice in higher education, proposing the total abolition of quotas. And I want more competition in schools, as one means of improving student outcomes.


  12. Andrew, I, like you, want more competition in and between schools. But competition to be the best doesn’t have to involve creating a market for schools. It can come from a vocation, a passion for what you’re doing, pride in being a leader … all kinds of motivations.

    There are already some excellent, and many good, state schools (not co-incidentally often in the richer suburbs). I think it’s a failure of support by parents and governments, and a failure of management, that there are schools that don’t deliver what every child deserves.

    Rajat asked why I had confidence in government to micro-manage education successfully. It’s because I’ve worked in parts of the public service which run really well, and in parts which are a disaster – and the difference is management, and resources. If the Education Department was properly resourced and managed I think it would overall do a better job than the market. It’s Ministers and Directors-General that are failing and need to be held accountable.

    When I’m depressed I think maybe politics isn’t ever going to work – the interest groups, the media, the process by which people get pre-selected etc, but I’m not ready yet to ditch it for more of a market approach to ordering the most important aspects of our lives.

    We in WA have perhaps seen more of Julie than the rest – my impression: smart, quick, very ambitious, not very deep. One can only wonder about Julie and Ross Lightfoot …..


  13. Andrew Norton wrote:
    David – I am the only person in the country advocating full choice in higher education, proposing the total abolition of quotas. And I want more competition in schools, as one means of improving student outcomes.

    These are interesting ideas. One question though – do you think working for the CIS is an impediment to them getting a fair hearing?

    I’m sure there are plenty of parents who’d like to hear you would like to improve student opportunities along with outcomes, which is something we don’t hear much of from conservative think tanks (not that the Evatt foundation and their ilk are much better at concealing their partisan approaches to social and economic issues).


  14. I will have another paper out on quotas in the near future, though they probably only genuinely exclude a few thousand people a year. Worth changing, but the impact would not be huge. The main problem in this respect is that too few people get to the point where they are likely to be good candidates for university education.

    The main reasons for abolishing quotas are to increase competition and to improve resource allocation. The desire to avoid competition is why you don’t hear much from unis on this issue, though they are so fed up with DEST bureaucracy that they probably are more open to change than in the past.

    My CIS background does mean that some people won’t listen. But without it, you wouldn’t even hear about the problems of quotas.


  15. Accross the board (not just some universities), male arts grads earn on average less over their lifetime than their non qualified counterparts.
    You should probably organise a HECS refund and time out of the workforce compensation lump sum for male arts graduates because the sums cited below would probably be similar in Australia. Also note, that it is low average of female salaries that allow female arts graduates to to make more money than their non-qualified contemporaries:


  16. Seriously, if education is a product for sale, the refunds should be available on faulty product.
    Particularly when stroppy fat bald little men from the North of England are flown out to Australia at taxpayers expense and insult the students who are paying possibly more than $100 per hour each depending on how many lectures they actually attend.

    Students should be allowed to swipe a smart card that charges them if they attend a lecture and decide not to leave in the 1st 5 minutes.

    This was the way in Adam Smith’s day at Scottish Unis. Professors only received payment if they could attract and retain students.


  17. Water policy in various parts of Australia seems to be in somewhat of a mess. Two examples are worth noting. The first relates to the interaction of water conservation policies and price regulations for utilities (public or otherwise). The second relates to some uses of irrigation.

    I seem to recall reading some time back (I think it was in the Canberra Times) that when water restrictions were eased in Canberra, the water utility (ACTEW-AGL) was allowed to increase its water prices. The reason for this was that the enforced water restrictions during the previous period had reduced consumnption of water and thereby reduced their revenue. The interaction of the water conservation and price regulation policies resulted in a very silly outcome. When water became LESS scarce in Canberra, the price of water INCREASED.

    The second example involves farmers choices about what crops to grow in Australia. Admittedly, I don’t know very much about the nature of various crops, so I may be wrong here. But I have the impression that cotton and rice are very water intensive crops. If this is the case, it seems ludicrous that these crops are grown in Australia, where water is a relatively scarce resource.

    Both of these problems could be overcome by a sensible pricing policy on water. If water was rationed at least in part by prices during times of relative scarcity, then the reduction in demand might not result in falling revenues for water utilities, reducing the need for compensatory price rises being allowed by the regulator when water becomes less scarce. Furthermore, sensible pricing of water would reduce the profitability of cotton and rice crops and, with a bit of luck, might even stop them from being planted in Australia altogether.


  18. Economic rationale can function in many directions.
    Dont you agree it is about time the educational consumer movement was fully activated in Australia?

    Dont answer! You also get a week at Noosa!


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