Sausages and legislation

Bismarck is usually credited with the comment about making laws, as with making sausages, being best not seen. But the blog wonders what would be an appropriate analogy for its local Council.

Now the blog tries hard to ignore its local Council as much as possible – but like all elected officials backed by big bureaucracies – the Council persists in failing to ignore the blog and its life in the city. The blog has reported on some of these occasions over the years – on community consultation (a couple of times), the monumentally strange arts policy development (whatever happened to that?) and more recently changes to the parking in its street (see a blog a few weeks ago on community consultation).

Anyway the blog, with some local residents, went along to a Council meeting this week to put their views on parking to the Council. They were joined by a large group all wearing bright red T-shirts with the slogan Fined for Working in Port Phillip on them. They too were potential victims of the Council and its parking plans.

Now the Council is actually facing a huge problem – the massive re-development of the nearby Fishermans Bend area made doubly difficult by the precipitate re-zoning of the area by a former Liberal Planning Minister (and now Opposition Leader) which bestowed huge windfall gains on many developers including Liberal Party donors. The Opposition Leader didn’t get the Malcolm Turnbull message about how all sorts of goodies would come if you captured the value from zoning changes or infrastructure development. Or perhaps he did but got confused about where the goodies would go.

But from the tenor and quality of questions asked by elected councillors of the Council bureaucrats responding to the blog’s and another person’s submissions one can only wonder about both the depth of their knowledge about the issue and their forensic skills. The most coherent comment about Fishermans Bend came from a councillor who actually represents the ward furthest away from the problem – although she stated the problem and its scale with a tired recognition that there may be no solutions. The Liberal Party councillor stayed sensibly quiet – given that he is also the Liberal candidate for the local State seat. The Greens councillor, who is a prospective Greens candidate for the same State seat, ought to have stayed quiet rather than asking the questions he did. Yet another councillor asked a question so incoherent that, even after rephrasing it a couple of times, it remained incomprehensible to the bureaucrats, the public gallery, his colleagues and – gauging from his apologetic tone towards the end of it all – himself.

A councillor asked what the potential parking fine revenue from the proposed changes would be. The relevant bureaucrat – who has a title so long that there must be significant title inflation (an unfailing symptom of a sprawling bureaucracy) at the Council – said that was hard to estimate. The councillors were satisfied with that rather than asking why – given that Council knows the total parking fine revenue, can see the revenue flowing from analogous areas – they can’t make a rough estimate?

All in all it was a performance which would embarrass a parliamentary backbencher tasked with asking the most insipid Dorothy Dixer imaginable.

For the residents, if not the Fishermans Bend business proprietor and his staff, there was some hope in that the Mayor asked some questions of the staff about whether the residential parking restrictions might be delayed until more was known about the impact of any new restrictions in the commercial areas – a suggestion similar to the evidence-based policy which residents had advocated. The bureaucrat conceded that might be possible. But later the blog remembered that the Council staff had earlier promised that the specific bureaucrat would get back in touch with people making submissions to the Council consultation process. Well he did – in a generic email without much detail – despatched from the Council server 16 minutes before the Council meeting started.

A day or so later the bureaucrat sent the blog an email saying he would be in touch – no doubt at the nudging of the Mayor who had told the blog she had asked staff to get in touch with it – but to date still no contact.

The blog has never seen a smiling portrait of Bismarck but thinks even his luxurious walrus-style moustache would have turned up a curmudgeonly smidgeon if he had witnessed it all. For residents though, they can just sigh in desperation and silently think that, given the Alice in Wonderland quality of it all, the Queen of Hearts’ solution might be (metaphorically anyway) a more appropriate response.