Friday, September 01, 2006

Yay Renewable Energy Co-ops have finally reached Australian shores .....

was the response of my daughter, a budding environmental engineer, to the news that the Victorian Government has provided a grant of nearly $1 million for Australia's first community owned wind farm, the Hepburn Community Wind Park. From the perspective of my daughter and her colleagues 'this is really amazing, because it is one step in the direction of [achieving energy sustainability through] decentralised, autonomous local neighbourhoods... '.

"David Shapero [Managing Director of Future Energy Pty Ltd] praised the [Victorian] State Government for its initiative inestablishing the Renewable Energy Support Fund. "We're delighted with the support shown by The Minister for the Environment, Mr Thwaites and also for the work Sustainability Victoria has put in over a long period." he said. "It demonstrates that the Government is keen to back local communities. Without the keen interest from the Hepburn community, this project would not have progressed so far. The local community has shown it wants to invest in appropriate renewable energy."

Systemically, such a trajectory is likely to build social capital, enhance local resilience and avoid the long-term unintended consequences of centralised energy options such as nuclear.
Public-private partnerships are systemically flawed

Much of the effort that UK New Labour has put into public-private partnerships has led to unintended consequences. From my perspective they are conceptually and systemically flawed primarly because they create institutional arrangements that conflate citizen values with consumer values (see Mark Sagoff's, 1988 book, 'The Economy of the Earth' where these distinctions are fully developed). By doing so thay fail to understand how power is enacted and what forms of praxis are required to deliver change for citizens.

It is therefore interesting to read: 'PENSIONER WINS GP PRIVATISATION BATTLE AT COURT OF APPEAL' from the 'Keep Our NHS Public Campaign' website. Here is a flavour:

'Pam Smith has today won her appeal to prevent a US healthcare corporation from running a GP surgery in Derbyshire. Lord Justices Keene and May quashed the selection of United Health Europe - the British arm of America's biggest healthcare corporation - to run the practice, and ordered North Eastern Derbyshire primary care trust to start the tendering process from scratch. They also awarded Pam Smith 100 per cent of the costs.

The decision is a stunning victory for a pensioner who dared to stand up to the might of the government, the NHS and a multi-national corporation. It is a blow for the government's reform programme of bringing in private companies to run GP services, and may discourage other private companies from involvement in the scheme.'

For a compelling critique of the New Labour culture associated with public-private partnerships see 'Plundering the Public Sector'. Chapter 10 deals with Connecting for Health, the national programme for IT in the NHS, which I described in an earlier posting. Here are some excerpts:

"The total annual budget of the NHS is around £70bn. So whatever the final cost of CfH, it means that over the next few years a huge amount of money is being taken out of, and will continue to be taken out of, patient care to fund the CfH programme. Assuming about one million employees in the NHS will be affected in some way by the programme, CfH is going to cost over £35,000 per employee - that is really quite a lot of money for management and IT systems consultancy. In fact, with CfH we are seeing consultancy support per health service employee that is almost on the scale of the £45,000 per employee paid to consultants during the catastrophic Child Support Agency programme. '"

"This brings us to the fourth phase of failing or failed IT systems projects - blame. This is when the original budget has been overspent by millions, tens of millions, hundreds of millions or even, as will be the case with CfH, billions. Years after the planned date, either nothing is yet installed or else some sort of system may be working, but it does incomparably less than was originally promised, is tortuously difficult to use and is probably costing more per transaction than the previous, largely manual way of doing things. At this point, those responsible for the system’s implementation blame those who work with it for continually changing their requirements and for not using it properly. Although by November 2005 CfH was far from completion, a rather unsightly public spat had already broken out between the director of the programme and the head of the NHS. Richard Granger reportedly wrote to a senior civil servant at the Department of Health claiming ‘ehoose and Book’s IT build contract is now in grave danger of derailing (not just destabilizing) a £6.2bn programme. Unfortunately, your consistently late requests will not enable us to rescue the missed opportunities and targets.’"

The authors have suggestions as to what should be done next.
Family lineages .... the contemporary 'Australian family'?

Last week I attended the funeral of my almost 82 year old Aunt. It was a moving time for me, and others and the service was a meaningful ritual for those present. My Aunt was a third generation Australian (dating from 1850) and she had three great-grandchildren (i.e sixth generation). By the sixth generation family lineages could be traced to Ireland, Scotland, Cornwall, England, Ukraine, China (via Malaysia) and possibly more. I am sure that today many Australian families must have similar or more diversity. I am also confident that if asked everyone would have said they were Australian. But I wonder how they would have answered if asked 'what is it that makes you Australian?' Unfortunately it was a question I didn't ask.
Systems failure arises in circumstances when mutiple perspectives are not valued
Current Australian Federal Government practices seem intent on creating the circumstances for systemic failure and associated unintended consequences. A powerful example comes from current head of the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), Prof. Ian Lowe as reported in an article entitled: 'Canberra critics bulldozed: ACF head'.

It is worth citing some of Tim Colebatch's report here:

"Professor Lowe, an award-winning environmental scientist, told the National Press Club that the ACF was now being treated as persona non grata by the Government, and cut off from access to ministers. He urged the Government to "turn the ship around" and restore a balance between environmental and economic priorities, citing a range of Government decisions he said had that put the scientific community of Australia under pressure to conform, including:

* Former Education Minister Brendan Nelson overturning research grants awarded by the independent Australian Research Council, "on advice from a shadowy group of unqualified ideologues".
*Health Minister Tony Abbott "stacking" the ethics committee of the National Health and Medical Research Council with people likely to favour his "unusual view of the world".
* The CSIRO instructing its scientific experts not to comment on issues that have policy implications, which led to the resignation of its top greenhouse gas specialist, Graeme Pearman. (The instruction was withdrawn after being made public.)

In an article in the September issue of Australasian Science, Professor Lowe also cited his own removal from one government advisory council, the abolition of a second council to which he belonged, and the appointment of former Telstra chief Ziggy Switkowski to chair the inquiry into nuclear power while he was a board member of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation."

This is an imporant article not only because of the circumstances for systemic failure that are being created but because it raises such significant ethical and political issues that are at the core of what it means to be 'democratic'.