Thursday, November 12, 2009

The case for reform in Australian public policy – a few straws in the wind

In the last few posts in this series I have looked at the unforeseen consequences of policy decisions, starting with rivers of grog in the Northern Territory, then looking at two NSW cases, mandatory reporting of child abuse and the extended hours required to get a NSW driving license

In this post I simply want to provide a few more straws in the wind.

One problem we face is the tendency to load unrelated things togther.

Back in July, the opposition in Tasmania was suggesting that young people should be prevented from getting a drivers' license if their school attendance was not good. How dumb can you get? School attendance has nothing to do with the question of how well can you drive. Those who most need their license for things like work also tend to be poorer school attendees.

A second tendency in a spin dominated world is to claim success for a single event or action.

Again in July, the headline of a NSW a story read P-Plate crashes down 45 per cent. The first paragraph said:

Following the introduction of no-tolerance law reforms in New South Wales, over 88,000 P-Plate drivers have been taken off the roads.

Fair enough you might say. What a good result, crashes down 45%.

A fact first. There has been a decline in the road toll for young drivers in NSW; 38 17 to 20-year-olds died in 2006, while 20 died in 2007.

So there have been over 88,000 license suspensions over two years for a saving of 18 deaths. I wonder where the extra time for a driving license fits?

Staying in NSW, there have always been fines for the growing volume of traffic offences. Then demerit points were added for each offence, so many points and you lose your license. Then demerit points for offences were increased. Suddenly so many ordinary middle class people were suffering license suspension for minor offences that the Government has been forced to back-off.

NSW locks up in jail four times as many young people relative to population size than Victoria. Seventy per cent of these re-offend within twelve months. In July, the NSW Government commissioned a study to find out why the State jails so many.

Part of the answer simply lies in criminal justice rules introduced to get tough on crime. Another reason lies (I think) in the increased numbers of people spending time for non-payment of fines.

Note to readers:

This is one of a month long series on the need for reform in Australia's approach to public policy and administration.

Consider yourself the judge or jury as I present the evidence. Most posts will be short, introductions to other writing. My argument is that we now have a systemic pattern of failure. You have to decide whether or not I am right and, if so, what you think that we should do about it.

If you want to follow the whole series through, you can click reforming Australian public policy on the side bar. This will bring the whole series up. Alternatively, if you want to follow the whole series through from the first post, click here and then click next at the end of each post.


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