On how to embrace Big Brother as the new politics

Ever so quietly, the NSW government has embarked on a small revolution.

On Monday the news leaked out that it joined The Climate Group, the first conservative government in Australia to do so.

In December, the government’s Department of Environment and Heritage quietly launched the very impressive Adapt NSW, an interactive website that shows in a very visual and easy to understand way an array of detailed climate impacts that would occur across the state on a regional basis.

The detailed information is aimed at allowing “decision makers” in local councils, businesses and individuals such as farmers to make decisions based on likely scenarios for their area. It collates 12 different climate modelling databases in work done in collaboration with CSIRO and the University of NSW.

As one industry source said, “It’s incredibly good.”

What’s going on?

An election is what.

  • UPDATE: 6 February 2015: The NSW government on Thursday also announced a it had become the first in Australia to launch a Social Impact Investment Policy and establish an Office of Social Impact Investment. Premier Mike Baird 10 actions the government would take to boost the impact investment market.“The NSW Government believes that social impact investment offers opportunities to improve outcomes for the people of NSW by encouraging innovation and partnerships with other sectors,” the Premier’s Office said. Read the full story in Pro Bono Australia

An election the Baird government wants to win in March, to defy the trend set by it’s climate sceptic anti-green peers in Victoria, Queensland and Canberra, if the polls are any guide on the latter.

Unlike its conservative colleagues, Baird seems to understand that the mood on the green agenda is shifting. Pity he doesn’t quite get it on coal, fracking and transport.

As one observer who’s worked for years in the policy arena said this week, it’s a subtle realignment  to say the government understands community concerns.

What’s surprising is to see a conservative government supporting a climate and green agenda. It happens in plenty of other places around the world, but in Australia, it’s rare.

The common denominator with those who have lost faith with the electorate is arrogance. To say you know more and better than the world’s most respected scientists is arrogant. But arrogance is something that’s hard to switch off.

Another part of that arrogance is to think the electorate can be spooked by the urgent need to cut services in health, education, welfare and infrastructure (other than roads).

Barnaby Joyce on Q&A the other night was right “on message”.

We will burden our children with unfathomable debt if we keep spending.

“Where will the money come from?” he asked.

The other panellists were quick to answer: how about the billions of subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, said Larissa Waters.

What about the mineral resource rent tax you axed?, suggested former federal treasurer Wayne Swan. What about a carbon tax?, he added.

It’s a nice earner and will stimulate a whole green economy that will in turn produce a nice tax flow for the government.

Yes, Margaret Thatcher promoted running a government like a household, or a business. But every business knows you can only cut before reaching the vital organs. A sound growth strategy is far more sustainable.

On politics as a reality TV show – what’s wrong with that?

The Queensland election result has created a kind of hysteria in political circles. One view is that right wing shock jock Alan Jones provided “permission” for a bunch of rusted on National voters to switch sides with his tirade against Campbell Newman and why he should not be returned as premier.

Alan Jones himself seems to have switched sides. He campaigned against Newman because Newman allowed the expansion of a coal mine, while at the same time railing against other environmental concerns.

In Europe minor parties have been ruling the roost for a decade. In Australia we got a taste in the current Senate and we may see more drama yet.

But to those who think that politics is turning into a reality TV show, there’s another thought – why not?

Voters are more educated, smarter and more empowered. They expect to vote off someone they don’t like.

In the current edition of The Monthly, Tim Flannery and Catriona Wallace say, why don’t we hold that thought and more or less run with it? We now have the technology to allow online debate of ideas and policy platforms; we can make the Big Brother format work for us.

See the NSW government’s AdaptNSW website. And see, say Flannery and Wallace, an ancient Roman idea when Lucius Quintius Cincinnatus was installed as dictator for six months before going back to his “humble family farm”.

The article flags some sophisticated ideas. Today these ancient trials might finally work longer term.

The property industry has long flagged a similar participatory decision making to get over the NIMBY road blocks.

Luca Belgiorno-Nettis’ New Democracy movement is on the same track. And the thinking has been trialled by the City of Melbourne in a stunning experiment last year that saw endorsement for some radical ideas including getting rid of parking spaces in favour of bike lanes.

We’re on the cusp of change. Some of it incredibly interesting and potentially great.