The essence of conservatism is humility and a rejection of dogmatism. Conservatives are cautious and know that the world is complex so they go by what works rather than being guided by simplistic theories and generalizations which they are sure just MUST be right. In that way they are unlike both Leftists and libertarians. But libertarian thinking is influential among conservatives because of the way it offers alternatives to the grand schemes of the Left. And that is why I lean towards libertarian ideas and call myself a libertarian conservative.

Leftists, on the other hand are heavily motivated by anger -- a constantly burning hatred of the world around them. Conservatives, by contrast, tend to be slow to anger. They are in general more happy and contented. And I am one of those. Conservative though I am, I have long thought that the centre-Left government that rules my home State of Queensland does a reasonable job by world standards. It is certainly no ideal of conservatism but is conservative enough to avoid the worst of Leftist follies.

So I am happy to acknowledge things that they get right as well as things that they get wrong. Even the thing that they get most disastrously wrong -- their public hospital system -- is less blameworthy than might at first appear when one considers that public hospitals are a worldwide folly and that NOBODY manages to get a socialized medicine system to work well. So I present below four recent reports about Queensland, of which only one is critical:
A government project that turns a profit!

I was sure that this was going to be a white-elephant when it was built. It is a huge complex with huge halls in it and I could not see them ever filling it. But it appears that I was wrong

Brisbane's Convention and Exhibition Centre will undergo a $130 million expansion as it struggles to cope with international and national demand. Premier Anna Bligh will today announce the Grey St .development to be built on vacant land next to the existing centre at South Bank.

The centre hosts about 900 events a year and the expansion will allow for another 250. "It has achieved record profits over each year of the past three years and generates more than $200 million in economic benefit for Brisbane and Queensland each year," Ms Bligh said.

The development would meet an urgent need to accommodate conventions of up to 600 delegates and several smaller events at the same time. It will feature five levels of "boutique" convention and event space, with an additional 18 meeting rooms, including two state-of-the-art tiered auditoriums.

Centre general manager Robert O'Keeffe said the expansion was timely. "Brisbane is experiencing a period of record growth with a 28 per cent increase in business tourism visitor nights, according to the most recent national visitors survey," he said. "The centre's forward booking levels are at an all-time high and as such the need to expand our facilities has become critical to our future business plans." Mr O'Keeffe said 2006-07 was the busiest year on record, with 1000 forward bookings and 50 new inquires every week.

The redevelopment is expected to start mid-year and is scheduled for completion in mid-2010. Ms Bligh said the Government would spend an additional $4.6 million on a water-harvesting project to supply South Bank Parklands' gardens and water features. It would include a diversion pit to collect water from existing drains; underground storage reservoir; treatment plant; irrigation system; and roof water harvesting from the Suncorp Piazza.

The article above is by Darrell Giles and appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on February 10, 2008. UPDATE: Story now online here

A public transport project that works

When the government spent a billion dollars on building a bus-only road alongside an already heavily-used freeway, I thought it was a hugely wasteful project that would be vastly underutilized and which should be opened to general traffic. Again it appears that I was wrong. It is heavily used and so transports large numbers of people very efficiently

BRISBANE'S flagship busway is in danger of gridlock just six years after the opening of the multimillion-dollar infrastructure project. A report commissioned by Lord Mayor Campbell Newman has warned that the South East Busway could soon have "traffic jams". The report, released this month, warns: "The South East Busway is rapidly reaching its vehicle-carrying capacity under the present operational approach. Clearly there is an urgent need to provide additional capacity to address existing capacity constraints and short-term growth. "The infrastructure capacity of the busways will, however, soon be exceeded if additional capacity is only provided by providing more standard buses."

In peak hour, the Cultural Centre stop has 179 buses an hour, or a bus every 20 seconds. At the busiest point of the busway, north of Woolloongabba, 294 inbound buses pass in the peak hour. That is a bus every 12 seconds. The report argues that if measures are not taken, the busway will soon experience traffic jams like normal roads.

It is a disturbing assessment for the State Government, which has invested more than $2 billion in busways across the city. The Eastern Busway, Northern Busway, Inner Northern Busway and the extension of the South East Busway to Springwood are under construction and have been flagged as solutions to the city's transport problems. The South East Busway was built by the State Government and is operated by the Government's Translink organisation.

But Translink general manager Luke Franzmann has insisted the route can cope with increasing demand. He said initiatives such as pre-paid tickets and larger buses would avoid gridlock. "We are rolling out a smart card system. Once that is in place there is less need to handle cash and less delays for the bus driver and that means we can get the buses through quicker," he said. "The Inner Northern Busway will take buses off the street through the central city and that will also improve the capacity through the South East Busway because you are getting buses through faster." The transport chief added that Translink was conducting a trial at the Cultural Centre station, with people paying for tickets before boarding the bus. Translink is also investigating the viability of hybrid electric buses that can carry up to 200 passengers.


A Leftist government shows fiscal restraint!

State Treasurer Andrew Fraser will take a Rudd Government Razor Gang-style approach to Queensland and slash up to $200 million from the State Budget. Mr Fraser, 31 - the nation's youngest Treasurer - will deliver his first Budget in June and yesterday promised to "cut the fat" from every government department in a bid to maintain a financial surplus. A spending audit will mean hundreds of jobs are slashed, with funding cut for items such as outside consultants, advertising and overseas trips by bureaucrats.

Mr Fraser said directors-general would be ordered to account for every dollar spent. "We have got to face up to reality . . . we are not immune from what is happening on the global market, rising inflation, construction costs," Mr Fraser said. "This will be the tightest Budget this Government has had to deliver in its 10 years in power."

Mr Fraser said an audit of the Queensland Ambulance Service late last year resulted in a $12 million saving and he expected that to be replicated across all departments. That audit - the first task handed out by Premier Anna Bligh to the Treasurer - revealed a top-heavy bureaucracy that had not used record funding properly. More than 100 head-office jobs were ordered to be axed and the money used to fund more frontline paramedics.

"We were not pleased about what we found in Emergency Services . . . we decided then we needed this sort of forensic examination led by Treasury across every government department and agency," Mr Fraser said. "We have to go to war against soft-padding . . . we need to make sure we can satisfy ourselves that every last dollar we give to them is going to the frontline."

The Government has spent more than $100 million in the past three years on consultants. There is $22 million a year spent on television and newspaper advertising, and another $20 million on travel by public servants. A tough-talking Ms Bligh [State Premier] has led the charge against "bums on seats" in head offices and Cabinet had been briefed in recent meetings on reducing the bureaucracy.

Mr Fraser said ministers had been directed to take a "hands-on approach" in coming up with savings in their departments. Ms Bligh delivered two Budgets in the black after previous Deputy Premier and Treasurer Terry Mackenroth had produced Budget deficits. Ms Bligh announced in June that Queensland would borrow money - $28 billion over four years - mostly to fund a building explosion. Queensland's Budget surplus was slashed by more than $50 million in December as increased taxes such as stamp duty failed to offset a drop in royalties from the coal-mining boom.

The mid-year economic review revealed the operating surplus was expected to be $213 million this financial year, down from $268 million. Mr Fraser said the Government was committed to a Budget surplus in June - but that could hinge on savings by his razor gang. He told The Sunday Mail last week that, despite Queensland's strong growth, poor investment returns triggered by the US sub-prime mortgage crisis could have a "negative impact" on his Budget.

The Rudd Government cost-cutting - including a $25 million grant for a redevelopment of the Ballymore rugby ground - had seen hundreds of millions saved as it tightened its belt. Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan, who met recently with Mr Fraser, said Queensland would be "in the front line in the war on inflation" as he delivered his first Budget in May.


Queensland failing at one of the most basic functions of government

QUEENSLAND'S justice system is in gridlock with a backlog of more than 34,000 criminal cases waiting to be processed. Figures from the Report on Government Services reveal delays in the state's magistrates courts are the worst in the country, with 33 per cent of cases more than six months old and 17 per cent waiting more than 12 months. In some instances, murder cases have taken as long as five years to reach the courts. Guidelines set by the Federal Government's Productivity Commission state no more than 10 per cent of lodgments should be more than six months old, and there should be no pending cases more than 12 months.

Queensland Liberal leader and Opposition spokesman on attorney-general matters Mark McArdle said the situation was appalling. "There is a very serious problem in the court system and it is the byproduct of poor planning and poor management," he said. "Victims of crime, as well as those accused of wrongdoing, deserve their day in court.

Just four years ago Queensland's court system was one of the best in the country, with a pending caseload just 4.8 per cent over the national standard. Figures show the problem is worsening, although the State Government stated in the latest report that the administration of justice had been "enhanced". The problem could be worse than the figures suggest, as defendants who fail to appear and have warrants issued are excluded from the pending caseload count.

Jonty Bush, chief executive officer of Queensland Homicide Support Group, said most murder cases were not reaching magistrates courts for at least 12 months and some were taking as long as five years. She said sending serious cases such as murder straight to the Supreme Court would speed up the process. "Waiting for a case to be dealt with is a really traumatic time for families," she said. "They don't even begin their grieving until after the trial because it is such a rollercoaster of emotions. "It is particularly difficult when the offenders are on bail, because they run into each other at the supermarket or pub. "What I find shocking about all of this is that there are guidelines in place that are just being ignored."

Queensland spent $173 million on court administration in the past year, compared with $348.5 million for New South Wales and $213 million in Victoria. Although Queensland has the busiest court system outside NSW, it has the lowest number of judicial officers per capita, according to the federal Productivity Commission. Attorney General and Minister for Justice Kerry Shine said he had created three extra magistrates positions in Queensland last year to help deal with the backlog.


The lesson in all the above, I believe, is that Australians are singularly unimpressed by bulldust so even Leftist politicians have to be seen as cautious and pragmatic in order to be voted into power. As a result, the centre-Leftists who have governed Queensland in recent years seem to me to be people who do sincerely try for most of the time to do their best for the State, with ideology intruding only at the margins.

It may be worth noting that in his two books of memoirs, Sir Robert Menzies, Australia's longest-ruling conservative Prime Minister, also credited most of his Leftist adversaries with being good and sincere men.

And perhaps I should finally note that the leader of Australia's new Federal government is also a Queenslander and he seems set to offer a form of government similar to what we have in Queensland -- good on Leftist tokenism but basically cautious and pragmatic.

Posted by John Ray

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