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Cabinet correct with Cosgrove and Ardmona, but Andrews needs counselling over handout

Peter Cosgrove: "A great bloke".

Peter Cosgrove: "A great bloke". Photo: Andrew Meares

None of us is perfect. This is true of businesses, schools, well, the world actually. Politicians and governments are no exception.

The recent announcement by Prime Minister Tony Abbott that Peter Cosgrove will be our next governor-general is extremely welcome news. He is a great bloke. I hope he is not offended by my saying that his wife, Lynne, may well be responsible for a fair portion of his persona that so many of us like so much. She is a gem.

That is not said to detract from Cosgrove in any way. His style, decency and open, warm personality are completely genuine. All his own work. In what often seems a plastic world loaded with pretentious and pompous people, he is a breath of fresh air. With so many people thinking and behaving as though it is all about them, someone like Cosgrove will be a very pleasant change. He is endlessly interested in others. It will not be all about him but all about us.

When Australia had about 50 federal police working as UN peacekeepers in East Timor, as their minister, I went up a day or two before Christmas.

On arrival in Timor, there was Cosgrove on the tarmac to greet us. I was surprised. Once the army arrived in Timor, the Australian Federal Police role was somewhat overshadowed by force of numbers. To have the head of the UN forces greet the plane was a courtesy others may not have extended. Yes, the army were now the big guys in town, but Cosgrove knew the role the AFP had played and continued to play.

Yes, it was a small courtesy. But that's why I remember it. There was no big deal. No flashy gestures. He didn't need to do it and there was nothing in it for him. That's genuine courtesy.

I have seen him since then and he is the same great guy.

The Prime Minister gets a big tick for this appointment.

Then there is the SPC Ardmona decision. That the company is struggling is terrible news for all the employees and the owners. But if we are refusing to buy enough of their fruit for it to be profitable, I cannot see why the government is to blame. Eaters of this type of fruit should be able to tell the company what is wrong. Is it the product or the price? Have the unions negotiated a deal that was OK when the sun was shining but is now bringing the company to its knees?

These are all fair questions. How on earth would $25 million remove whatever it is that is making it unprofitable? The fairest question is why are owners Coca-Cola Amatil not doing what needs to be done?

The government decision would have been a hard one. No one likes saying no. Nobody wants a factory to shut. But unless the underlying problem is fixed, a handout will just extend the pain. The sooner they fix the problem, the sooner job security will be restored. If it can't be fixed, the sooner the workers are told that, the sooner they can get on with the difficult task of finding other work.

Taxpayers cannot continually bail out failing companies. The government gets a tick for having the courage and strength to make this decision. No one said government was a bed of roses.

Then there is the decision to offer couples a voucher for relationships counselling.

Wanting people to have stronger relationships is a very desirable aim. Achieving that is not necessarily simple. Presumably the government is not writing to all newlyweds offering a voucher. That would be like saying: "Congratulations, you might think you're happy but we're putting $20 million on the table that says you won't be."

This decision has all the hallmarks of a government wanting to be seen to do something. That does not make good policy. Consider this: to get this so-called benefit you need to know about it. Unless the government is about to waste a whole lot of money on an advertising campaign, the most likely place you will learn about it is through a counselling business. That is, you are already in the door as a customer. This then becomes nothing more than an industry subsidy disguised as benefaction.

Where are all the implementation details? How many poor public servants will be given the least exciting job of the year, namely how to implement this and make sure it is not rorted? Unseemly as it may be to suggest it, a voucher is cash and not-for-profit organisations have no more immunity than anyone else from having cheats in their ranks. This should all have been sorted before cabinet ticked off on spending $20 million of our money.

Describing this as a trial whispers to me that sensible minds in the government want to get an early chance to kill this off. But the trouble for the harder heads in cabinet might be that supporters of the scheme will argue that the true benefit will not be known at the end of one year. They might have a take-up rate but that will tell you nothing about effectiveness. It might only tell us that people going to counselling anyway thank the rest of us for the gift. So the scheme might win the day for extended funding in order to "assess the benefit over time". If there is a benefit, good, but if it turns out to be a dud, a lot of spondulix will have gone down the drain.

The involvement of Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews and his wife in this area has already provided fodder for those who argue that this is a personal and ideological indulgence with our money. That alone would be reason to go slow on this policy and get it right. There was a time when Labor people used to whisper anxiously in the corridors: "There's something about Kevin." Now my lot are doing it.

If Andrews wants to do something really good with $20 million, he could get some top-level advice on how Australia could simplify its welfare system. Vested interests, the complexity of the system, IT issues and the usual inertia make this an enormously difficult task.

Oh well, two good government decisions out of three ain't bad.

Amanda Vanstone was a minister in the Howard government. 

18 comments

  • What's with the question marks? We expect to see journalism. This reader isn't interested in twitterspeak, or whatever the query marks are supposed to represent.
    Mr Cosgrove may be Mr Nice Guy, but the appointment has about the same effect as a slap in the face with a wet fish. Bit cold, bit wet, bit fishy.

    Commenter
    Slightly Bored
    Date and time
    February 03, 2014, 6:07AM
    • Slightly bored, question marks usually follow questions.
      More importantly, if you feel Cosgrove's appointment is a "slap in the face with a wet fish", i can only imagine the appointment of the previous GG must have felt like a "whack in the head with a watery whale".
      Good work by the Government for leaving it to Coke to bail out SPC but marriage counselling is a waste of time and money.

      Commenter
      happy
      Date and time
      February 03, 2014, 7:56AM
    • Ignoring the remarks of @happy, who obviously hasn't read the article to see what you're talking about, I think the answer is that this is either and unfinished draft of the article or the copy editor didnt bother looking at it before they stuck it up. The question marks seem to denote points where Ms. Vanstone is reminding herself to check the facts (such as - was Mr Cosgrove a General or some other rank)

      blunder,.

      Commenter
      Chosen
      Location
      NSW
      Date and time
      February 03, 2014, 10:19AM
  • Why combine with Cosgrove? Two completely different stories. It's sickening to see SPC go under and lose so many good jobs. Mr No Surprises sure has had some Surprises for people that voted for him. The thing about the Rabid Right is they can't see sense from mindless philosophies that no longer stack up in a modern world.

    Commenter
    Zany
    Date and time
    February 03, 2014, 6:30AM
    • @Zany: Have to agree this is a very strange article commenting on two very different issues. We have all heard of "meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars" but Amanda has set a new benchmark, "Governor General, tin fruit and SPC". Who knows it just might catch on but lets hope Tony and his bumbling crew don't.

      Commenter
      JohnC
      Location
      Gosford NSW
      Date and time
      February 03, 2014, 3:16PM
  • The governments refusal to put in place realistic labelling laws means that even if Australians wanted to purchase Australian made goods it is almost impossible to determine if the goods you purchase are really Australian made and owned. As far as handouts to corporations it appears that all corporations are equal but some corporations are more equal than others. If you want your business to be protected by the taxpayer the best thing you can do is locate it in a marginal seat. What about the hidden subsidies ? For example the trucking industry causes six billion dollars more in damage to roads than is collected in taxes each year. Not that the truckies see any of the money. This is another form of taxpayer subsidy.

    Commenter
    Tony McIntyre
    Location
    Lower Mitcham SA
    Date and time
    February 03, 2014, 7:36AM
    • At last we see the 'goodie', Peter Cosgrove. The 'baddie' is SPC. Our new PM has the gift of careful, nuanced, considered language to accurately describe any situation in a few simple words.
      Contrary to some views going around, the workers at SPC receive around $50K per year. This is substantially below the average wage of $76K. This government wants to cease protection for Australian industry. Will this extend to removing the diesel fuel rebate? Will negative gearing be seen as an expensive, government subsidised handout to property investors?
      Before the last election, The Rudd government promised to give SPC the $25 million to upgrade. The then opposition leader, Tony Abbott was going on about the impact of the carbon tax. It seems the carbon tax was not the government policy that voters in Shepparton should have feared.
      Interesting that in NSW, with the carbon tax still operating, the retail price of electricity is falling by 1-2% this year. Did not here the coalition spruiking this before the election.

      Commenter
      Barry of Nambucca
      Date and time
      February 03, 2014, 7:44AM
      • What, no mention of the millions promised to cadbury by Abbott during the election? Also it should be mentioned at the bottom of the article that you are also part of the commision of audit, I wonder how much we are paying you for a pension for life and this current role?

        Commenter
        andrew
        Location
        sydney
        Date and time
        February 03, 2014, 7:58AM
        • Of course you don't mention the inconsistency of the handout by your Coalition mates of $16 million to Cadburys. That was just vote buying at taxpayers' expense. Why should Coca Cola Amatil not think they had a chance?

          Commenter
          DaveB
          Date and time
          February 03, 2014, 8:04AM
          • DaveB there there is an Election coming up in Tasmania, could that be the simple answer to your question ?

            Commenter
            srg
            Date and time
            February 03, 2014, 8:59AM

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