Wilful Blindness

‘Just the facts, ma’am’ – was a catchphrase made popular by Detective Joe Friday in the TV detective show, Dragnet.  The implication was that it was he, the detective, who would interpret the facts, for we do not make decisions based on the facts, but rather on our interpretation of the facts.

Interpretations can vary widely. In 1987 when the PAC revealed for the first time, the full extent of the cost of replacing all of South Australia’s public infrastructure in South Australia, I interpreted this as a liability to be planned for so I was unprepared for the State Treasurer to thank me most sincerely for ensuring that the State retained its triple A rating!   A triple A rating when it was facing a quadrupling of its asset renewal within the next 15 years and had no idea of what to do about it, how was that possible?  Simple: the ratings authority had been persuaded (as, unfortunately, so had the government itself) to interpret the replacement cost of assets as the ‘value’ of the assets and, since this value exceeded the measured value of the debt (ignoring future replacement considerations), all was considered to be well.

At least if the facts are clear, we can debate the interpretation (see Evidence based decision making).   But what if the facts are wilfully distorted?

The ABC reported last Thursday (June 14) that 40% of infrastructure spending is now ‘off-budget’.   This translates to being invisible for most.  Even Saul Eslake (the former ANZ chief economist and member of the Parliamentary Budget Office’s panel of expert advisors) is reported to have ‘only noticed the scale of such spending days after the budget lock-up, as he went through the finer details in hundreds of pages of Treasury papers”.  The ABC says that he isn’t the only one now paying attention – and perhaps we all should!

The Government is effectively treating this infrastructure as a ‘financial investment’ which implies a financial return. A case of wilful blindness since most of its infrastructure spending not only will not provide a financial return but will require further commitment of resources to manage and maintain.

We need to see the facts as they are, not how they have been massaged to appear.  This can happen in major cases such as the above, but also in smaller ways in our own organisations.

With infrastructure, what we choose to see – and choose NOT to see-  may have serious impacts for many generations to come.

This is a case to follow.


The Budget 2018 Sliced and Diced.

The 2018 Budget contains hidden investment time bomb



Infrastructure: a global game

Our January theme is ‘Getting Ready for Change’. One of the biggest changes is that infrastructure is no longer a national, but a global game.

In the last several posts we briefly looked at the issues being addressed at the World Economic Forum.  But WEF is not Australia’s only major international commitment impacting our infrastructure decisions.

The Australian Government is also a signatory, along with over 190 other countries, to the United Nations 17 sustainable development goals, or SDGs. This requires the co-operation of all levels of government, all business and really all individual Australians.  Yet how many of us are even aware of these goals?

The Senate has recently opened an inquiry into the implementation of the SDGs and we will look at this next few posts. But first, consider the goals themselves. Unlike the United Nations’ earlier Millenial Goals which focussed on developing countries, the SDGs apply to all, developing and developed alike.

One of the first steps is getting ready for change is to be aware of the global game we are now playing in.

So Three questions today:

  1. On an individual level:  how many of the goals apply to consumption choices you make?
  2. On an organisational level:  how many of the goals apply to the work your organisation does?
  3. On a government level: how many of the goals apply to the decisions our governments make (at all levels)?

If you would like to share  your thoughts on these issues, please do – just click in the menu above the item ‘leave a comment’.

Are we mad?

Filling buckets from water trucks

Filling up from water trucks. Courtesy: Planet Thoughts.

In Australia, our regional cities are struggling for lack of activity and our capital cities are at risk of becoming disfunctional, particularly on the fringes, because of too much activity!  The activity I speak of is infrastructure investment.

Why are we so hell-bent on developing mega cities?  Big does not mean strong.  It does not mean resilient. There is a lot of evidence world wide. Consider:

A horror story – current and continuing

The problems of Mexico City.  See Mexico City, parched and sinking, faces a water crisis, an interactive report by the New York Times.

Now ask yourself, what lessons could we learn from this – and how many of the problems being faced there are exacerbated, even created, by high urban densities.  And if water is not enough of a problem for you, consider transport, social and environmental issues.   How many of our problems do we bring on ourselves? And how could we better manage by re-directing our growth efforts?