Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Minister and the e-mail

Spoke to a 'ministerial liaison officer of the State Dept of Housing' in the Housing Minister's office today, to get a response to a previous ministerial. It's taken 2 weeks for them NOT to receive my e-mail submission, because it 'has attachments', being simply other bundled e-mails and 1 Word document (all previously stripped of any potentially maliciously HTML code by my own corporate mail filter).

Apparently all attachments flowing into the IT systems of the Minister's office are deemed to be dangerous. Scratch out that form of democratic participation then — it's a bunker mentality in government as far as the people of the state are concerned.

I work in IT, mostly in private firms, and I know how easy it is to filter e-mails for virus signatures, etc, and still let appropriate attachments, such as Word documents and e-mails through. Further, Ministers publish their e-mail addresses on the Web, presumably in the interests of democratic dialogue and the hope of receiving submissions from their adoring constituents.

So the delaying game of 'we didn't get your e-mail' can go on forever.

I also made the observation to the officer that, if state governments have no identifiable affordable housing programs and no policies either, they may as well all quit their well-paid, taxpayer-funded jobs, and do something else, perhaps real estate sales, in the spirit of a comment by
John Ralston Saul (writer, philosopher and Canadian GG Consort for a while) concerning 'laissez-faire governments which like to 'do nothing', in which case, they clearly aren't needed, and they can all go home. (Search that linked abc.net article for the word 'inevitable'.) The remark wasn't particularly well received, being a threat to his lush salary'n'all. Not making friends with key bureaucrats could be a mistake. Oh well, I'd rather be truthful in this life. JRS seems to have done something right in being honest and insightful, at least.

I also remarked on the fact that Sydney is more unaffordable than New York when median salaries are taken into account, and only slightly behind LA, as the top 3 unaffordable cities out of the US, Canada, Australia and NZ, according to
demographia.com. (Melbourne comes in 9th - here's the data). That's quite some achievement for a country in the middle of nowhere with no great prospects whose urban citizens have no real choice but to live in a capital city. A captive market — the dream of monopolistic capitalism — the developers love it. So, get this, Australia's housing affordability is essentially worse than the US. The officer was deeply unimpressed by this, and was also deeply uninterested in discussing matters such as social justice and fairness. However, he promised to have 'an answer' from somewhere. Apparently that's the way government works these days: a citizen has 'a question', the authoritarian government has 'an answer'. Not very postmodern, is it? Given that governments in Australia have chosen to do nothing about housing affordability, except when they are actively making it worse through tax breaks to the already well off in acquiring investment properties and feeding the boom, I suspect that I already know 'the answer' that I am going to get. Or maybe they will surprise me with a new spin answer that I just wasn't expecting — govts and their media advisers are getting better and better at that these days. They don't seem to actually do any formal studies or have any awareness of social policy, social theory, sociology, political economy, you name it, any more though, to qualify to be in govt, just be consummate liars, stonewallers and spin doctors.

I'll keep you posted on the next exciting instalment of how government deals with democratic voices in the handling of ministerials and e-mails...

Landlords and speculators reap billions from tax rule changes - a "grossly unfair give-away to the rich" - Professor Chris Evans, director, ATAX, UNSW.

How tax system egged on property speculation - "The effective halving of capital gains tax in 1999, combined with negative gearing and deductibility of depreciation and capital works, clearly has had a huge effect on the property market, and was also a huge mistake. Naturally a million Australians have started speculating on real estate. When the money ran out they borrowed more, much more. Prices doubled, so did debt."

How can you have democracy if everything's inevitable? What's the point in voting, what's the point in choosing? I mean if everything's inevitable why would we waste our time in being citizens? I mean if everything's inevitable let's just get some nice sort of, you know, not too nasty dictator to look after things! Look after the detail since everything's going to happen anyway, and all we're doing is negotiating half percentage points of the directions that we're going to take. It's not worth not going to the beach if that's all democracy is. Personally speaking it's a very tiring idea, this idea. If you live in a democracy, it's very tiring to be always surrounded by great and high abstract generalisations which are in fact the most banal and naïve cliches dug out of second rate movements of the late 19th century.

John Ralston Saul, Democracy and Globalisation

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