On open gates, not everyone is down the rabbit hole taking tea with Twiggy & Co… and taking the irony out of “Yes Minister”

20 September 2012 – You needed to reach for something to stabilise your equilibrium last week if you were keeping an eye on the NSW government.

On one hand was the sophisticated trio that presented the environmentally intelligent face of the O’Farrell Government.

Speaking at the Total Environment Centre’s Green Capital forum last Thursday morning, on at Sydney’s Hilton Hotel, were Treasurer Mike Baird, Environment Minister Robyn Parker and

  • Photo: A Cockatoo Island installation for the Sydney Biennale

Parliamentary Secretary for Renewable Energy Rob Stokes.

They each showed a keen appreciation of need for energy fficiency, renewables and what it takes to create a rational eco-eco (ecological/economic) society.

They were also highly sensitivity to how far away we are from the position we need to achieve – a position that seems so visionary but needs to be achieved tomorrow.

See what’s happening on the Arctic iceshelf if you need convincing.

On the other hand, from the “other” face of the Barry O’Farrell Government, earlier in the week came the strange and confusing policy backflip on how to deal with rising sea levels on the coast – as if the storm surges and eroding land could somehow be argued back by a set of political points and prevarications.

And the open slather mining policy – dangerous coal seam gas included – anywhere and everywhere across the state.

The only concession to common decency on mining sensitive farmland would be a slight detour around a “gateway” process – whatever that means. Maybe a concession to the “Lock the Gate” anti-mining movement?

It’s easy to imagine the spin merchants chortling about their clever word play and saying, we’ll show them how easy it is to unlock the gate – a bobby pin should do it.

Maybe one day we’ll have a scandal called “opengate”.

See the list of Wikipedia entries that started with Watergate.

When “Yes Minister” is not ironic

According to our sources all this is part push from some ministers to turn back the tide. Not just on coastal planning frameworks but on a number of climate change and sustainability related issues.

A range of policies and reports has been sent back to departments for review. (Such as “Labor’s onerous” and “heavy-handed” statewide sea level rise planning benchmarks” of 40 cm by 2050 and 90 cm by 2100, as Special Minister of State Chris Hartcher put it.)

The danger is that some public servants on short term contracts and justifiably worried about how to pay for the mortgage if their contracts are not reviewed are tempted to give the ministers what they want and remove the irony from the term, “Yes Minister”.

In general the ministers aren’t quite getting the answers they want.

NSW Chief Scientist Mary O’Kane gave the thumbs up to the science on the benchmarks but said you could probably come up with more specific localised forecasts for seal level rises because there was now better information available.

The minister used this to order new forecasts but seems to want councils to ignore the existing benchmarks for now.

Which the councils can’t really do if you think about it, without losing their insurance cover, and on moral and ethical grounds.

Maybe the minister thinks if he waits long enough and orders enough reports he will be able to announce the good news that sea levels are going down.

editorial@thefifthestate.com.au