Few things are more precious than a state-granted licence to rip off the general populace. Governments have a long history of creating vested interests and then becoming beholden to them – unwilling or unable to tackle the monsters they've created.
From monopoly airports to taxi licences to solar power schemes, it's a rare and brave politician who even tries to get the rent-seeking genie back in the bottle.
The early signs are that Victoria will squib the genuine taxi reform proposed by Allan Fels – shuffling it off for more "community" debate, which will suit the taxi owners just fine.
I'll bet New South Wales also will duck the much milder taxi recommendations drafted by its Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal. Ditto any other state government thinking of putting the public and drivers ahead of the plate owners who believe they are entitled to guaranteed and uncapped capital gains at everyone else's expense.
All the way with Max Moore-Wilton
The fledgling O'Farrell government did have a crack at its dysfunctional predecessor's solar power rort but backed off quickly enough – and unfortunately seems to have learned a political lesson. As for the Sydney Airport gouge, well it's all the way with Max Moore-Wilton and stuff the rest of the state – never mind the favour being lined up for James Packer's Sydney casino ambitions. Such are the sad realities of state government.
What Sydney Airport, taxi plates and over-the-top solar feed-in prices have in common is that they represent intrinsically bad policies that benefit the few at the expense of the many, but the few cling to the gossamer of a government imprimatur to claim something like the divine right of kings to rip and rort.
On a scale of failures by NSW's Labor governments, the $759 million blow out in over-the-top solar feed-in payments was small beer indeed, but it illustrates a broader point. It was a deal that was simply too good to be true – the government paying people more than it was worth to whack not-particularly-efficient solar panels on their roofs, a way to make money at the expense of other electricity consumers.
It clearly wasn't "fair" to the broader population, but that didn't worry the 110,000 or so solar panel owners who had signed up before O'Farrell moved to curtail it – they had their collective hand in the lolly jar and wanted to keep it there. They were entitled to it.
Free rein to rort the system
The artificial limiting of taxi plate numbers is much like that. Assisted by key players' assiduous courting of both sides of politics, the industry has had pretty much free rein to rort the system to achieve steady appreciation of the plates. There is no relationship now between half-million-dollar plates and someone driving a cab, picking up and delivering passengers for not much money. The artificial inflating of plate values has made the taxi industry bad for the workers and bad for the customers – but the owners' hands are in the lolly jar and they want to keep them there. They are entitled to it.
It's been an open wound for decades, but a straight politician might as well have taken on the Obeids as dared to cauterise it. The industry's skilful PR campaign trots out stories of battlers mortgaged to the hilt to buy a licence, but the reality is more about a relatively limited number of rich individuals whose ultimate expression can be seen in the dominance and arrogant demeanour of CabCharge.
Watch the Baillieu government flail about in coming months for a way to maintain the racket instead of ending it. Every year of postponing just makes the eventual solution more expensive.
At the bigger end of town, it is interesting to compare and contrast Barry O'Farrell's stand on the solar panels blowout and his refusal to countenance a second airport for Sydney.
When asked about the second airport, the NSW Premier shuts down discussion with the statement that he had gone to the electorate with the policy that there would not be one and so there won't be. It also had been his policy to maintain the solar feed-in payments.
The question not asked of the premier on his airport stance is whether that was a bad policy in the first place. For the vast majority of people, the answer is clearly "yes", especially the people of western Sydney.
The grubby reality of various federal governments is no better than O'Farrell's performance, but Macquarie Street is in the front line for suspicions about being close to the one party that profits from the existing policy: Sydney Airport Corporation.
As the parent of what became SAC, Macquarie Bank realised better than anyone just how rich a government-granted monopoly could be and bid accordingly. Now SAC believes it is entitled to every penny of rent it seeks.
The lesson politicians of all stripes refuse to acknowledge is that bad policy leads to worse policy and bad government. Most new governments start with good intent, but it doesn't take long for the decay to set in, for the political compromises to start adding up, for the limited abilities of party hacks to take their toll.
While there are many aspects of the American political system we wouldn't want to copy, there could be something healthy in an administration being limited to two terms – it provides less time for corruption to fester and the guaranteed limit just might empower a leader to have a go, knowing that he or she had nothing much to lose in the second term.
Well, that would be the hope.
Michael Pascoe is a BusinessDay contributing editor.