Why we need to appoint a no-bullshit council

By Denis Moriarty, group managing director, Our Community

Back in January, there were bushfires everywhere, so comedian Celeste Barber set up a fundraiser to raise $30,000 for the Trustee for NSW Rural Fire Service & Brigades Donations Fund. Then there were even more fires, so a galvanised public showered the good woman with $51 million, which was 1,700 times what she was asking for. Anybody who has ever passed a hat around the room to pay for a pizza order and ended up $32,478 in surplus will know just how she feels.

Or perhaps not. If you had leftover money from a pizza order, you'd probably decide to throw in a few bottles of soft drink, or even a celebratory pack of garlic bread or a couple of kebabs. Once that $51 million is in the hands of the NSW RFS, though, there's no flexibility. The RFS trust deed prevents donations from being spent on any purposes other than firefighting equipment and NSW facilities - the equivalent of being compelled to buy nothing but pizza every single day for the next four-and-a-half years.

We have, that is, one of those problems that Australia seems to specialise in, where we've ended up in a situation that nobody expected, nobody wants now, and nobody knows how to alter.

And if we do try to fix this problem, we'll do it by looking at the exact circumstances and working out the minimum change possible, which will inevitably mean that the 'solution' won't be broad enough to cover the next problem that turns up. We'll twiddle with the settings on charitable trusts, rather than heaving the law of trusts into the garbage bin of history and writing a law that tries to do what we as a nation want done about reconciling the general good with the wishes of particular donors. That's the Australian way.

imageOur Community's Denis Moriarty

We don't see the wood for the trees (and we've got 20% less of both than we had last year). Here at Our Community, for example, we're gung-ho about workplace health and safety, no argument. Even so, it's hard to see that our office is going to be made safer by having one - and only one - of the many councils we work with demand that we provide them with evidence that our first aid kits are properly maintained. If we were that slack, wouldn't we also be impatient enough to lie about it anyway? This devotion to nitpicking prevails at all levels. I'd be willing to bet, for example, that the government response to the recent train derailment near Melbourne is going to be a lot closer to "Fix up that crossing siding" than it is to "Spend enough money to have an intercity rail service that works", let alone looking at the 35,000km of high-speed rail that the Chinese have built in the 15 years since the Rudd government declared the Very Fast Train Australia's highest priority infrastructure project.

It's not even as if making little changes from time to time has enabled us to avoid large, disruptive changes. Our partisan rhetoric inflates every tiny proposal into a vast shadowy bogeyman that takes just as much effort to implement as actually taking on the big issues would require. When it comes to immigration policy, for instance, the past three years of to-and-fro over the Medevac bill has really been displacement activity diverting our gaze from what a total, well, trainwreck the whole thing has been.

We end up with the worst of all worlds - soul-crushing red tape, as bureaucrats attempt to prevent a repeat of any incident that's embarrassed them since King John revoked the Magna Carta in 1215; uncharted risk, as people step easily through the gaps in these narrowly drawn prohibitions; and an utter obliviousness to the immense threats (and promises) massing just over the horizon. Historically, Australia doesn't take threats seriously until they've declared war on England.

Here at Our Community we're also gung-ho about democracy and accountability and governance. I can't help dreaming, though, of a bipartisan independent No-bullshit Council - made up, say, of Mr Justice Kirby, Susan Pascoe, Tim Costello, Jeff Kennett, Magda Szubanski, Elizabeth Broderick, Adam Goodes, Rosie Batty, and Scott Farqhuar of Atlassian - with the job of receiving complaints from a public hotline, dropping unnecessary regulation down a liftshaft, and editing out pointless legislation across the country.

Perhaps that could cut through the red tape and get something done.

What Our Community thinks about other big issues

This commentary also appeared as part of a monthly column that's published in 160 rural and regional titles across Australia, from daily newspapers such as the Bendigo Advertiser and the Illwawarra Mercury, to weekly publications such as the Goulburn Post, the Cootamundra Herald and the Jimboomba Times.

We're proud to take a stand on progressive issues, which we're able to do as a social enterprise that's not tied to the purse strings of any government or corporate organisation.

Here's a taste of some other recent commentaries as they've appeared in some of those publications, as well as our own.

February 2020: Aussie citizenship test - it's just not cricket

February 2020: The future is now, and it's hot, dry and undeniably real

January 2020: Why it's time to rethink our MP numbers

December 2019: It's time for less spending and more giving

November 2019: The Joy of Giving - on Tuesday

October 2019: Ignoring the data is an invitation to disaster

September 2019: What is the Catholic Church teaching us about love?

August 2019: The Uluru statement: Why it’s time for the Commonwealth to show some heart

July 2019: Why homelessness is worth this gamble

June 2019: After election, life and advocacy must go on

May 2019: Pokies reliance is a risk to RSLs

April 2019: Kids are teaching us the power of protest

March 2019: Work-life balance pulls us in three directions

Feb 2019: Australia Day honours: Why being rewarded for doing your job is un-Australian

Jan 2019: Why 2019 gives me reason for optimism

December 2018: It’s time to stop blaming pollies and start getting active

November 2018: Community connection is an antidote to loneliness

September 2018: Good culture is the key to good communities

August 2018: Drought sees groups suffering in a sunburnt country

July 2018: Thai cave rescue shows that community bonds are our best insurance