Thursday, October 25, 2007

SPIN DOCTOR: Everything old is new again...

Now we are being promised technical colleges “with a special defence twist”. What next? It is certain to be something else new.

Its becoming clear that there aren’t votes in making work things we already have. There are votes in introducing partial replacements that are new.

Consider technical colleges.

Australia’s TAFE colleges probably weren’t perfect, but they could have been improved.

Instead in the last election the Prime Minister promised a new alternative system to sit alongside them, to be called Australian Technical Colleges...

That system has barely gotten off the ground (Queanbeyan’s is due to open next year, but when I checked a few weeks back it had yet to hire teachers) and the Prime Minister has now promised a third system to sit alongside it – Australian Defence Technical Colleges to be set up in the politically sensitive locations of south-east Queensland and Adelaide.

The Coalition has made an art form of it. During the last election it wanted to cut childcare costs, but instead of upping the existing Child Care Benefit it introduced (you guessed it) a new system to sit along side it, the Childcare Tax Rebate.

Unfortunately the Rebate had a design flaw. Parents couldn’t get hold of it until the best part of two years after they had incurred the expense, but at least it was new.

In this year’s budget they moved to fix it up. It’ll now be paid by the same agency that pays out the Child Care Benefit, but at a different time. The Benefit will be paid to the centre to reduce their bills immediately; the Rebate will be paid about a year later.

Labor’s caught the bug. It wants to get laptops to children who would otherwise go without. But instead of handing over money to schools to buy and hand out the laptops it will introduce an Education Tax Refund, also to be paid through the tax system and largely missing the children who really need the computers. But at least it’s new.

There are parts of Australia (not that many) that lack access to high-speed broadband. But instead of fixing things in the black spots where there is a real problem (such as Gungahlin) Labor is proposing to invest $4.7 billion in a shiny new fibre-to-node network to sit alongside out existing ones.

It mightn’t be needed, but its new. And this is an election.