New South Wales

Sep 6, 2017

What Utopia can teach us about the Federal Court’s recent coal port decision

In this case, what happened in Utopia was actually less ridiculous than the real-life equivalent, writes former board member of Prime Minister and Premiers Road Reform Project Luke Fraser.

A recent episode of ABC television’s satire Utopia featured political spivs trying to convince the fictional Nation Building Authority to endorse anti-competitive conditions on a multibillion-dollar port asset sale. Head of that authority, Tony Woodford — played beautifully by Rob Sitch — resisted valiantly. Shortly thereafter, a newspaper review criticised Utopia thus:

“… the writers of Utopia make their point by reducing pivotal players in the policy formation process to idiots. (They) are straw men, delivering obviously untenable arguments, which guide the viewer to think no one in government knows what they are talking about. It’s a lazy critique, but the writers get away with it because the viewers are entirely sympathetic. Lampooning ‘those clowns in Canberra’ is hardly a controversial undertaking.”

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10 thoughts on “What Utopia can teach us about the Federal Court’s recent coal port decision

  1. Charlie Chaplin

    Wow. Thanks Luke. My mum and I never miss Utopia. We laughed like drains at the port episode. I commented to mum that apparently Utopia isn’t considered so funny anymore – it cuts too close to the bone. And we live in Newcastle. Newcastle born and bred. And we had no effing idea.

  2. Dog's Breakfast

    Oh Charlie, my wife and I watch it. I love it because it is so scarily accurate, but also cringe a little. My wife cringes all the way through, knowing how close it really is.

  3. Michael Byrne

    Michael Byrne – President East Liverpool Progress Association says:
    6 September 2017 at 2:16 PM

    Luke Fraser may want to check out the Utopianesq “transformational project” ( Infrastructure Australia quote) known as the Moorebank Intermodal… I grant that it is transformational when applied to the perversity of modern day politics where private / party interests smother the public interest.

    The two (2) intermodal projects are far from planning approved to meet the ultimate goal of 1.55 million TEU, upon which count the revenue projections are based. The BCR’s omit over $1.9 billion of public costs covering military relocation, land value, rail infrastructure and new roads required to service it. Revenues down, or costs up – same effect on the much heralded but unpublished Business Case Analysis.

    The project began with Mr Chris Corrigan’s ( loved by the Libs – hated by the ALP) influence prior to 2007, and became messy when the new Labor Government initiated a blocking play to Corrigan’s interests with its own Intermodal project on lands that just happened to stand between Corrigan’s property and the raison d’etre – the Port Botany freight rail line. A 6 + year delay owing to the ALP playing the “man” and ignoring the “what”, “how” and “why”. So much for the promised objective evaluation of major infrastructure projects by Government entities such as the Moorebank Intermodal Company and Infrastructure Australia. If only there was a Tony Woodford as Head of MIC or IA.

    The perverse irony is that Corrigan erred in his site selection.

    Any objective evaluation would have rendered the site unsuitable on the basis that East Liverpool ( Moorebank ) is bound by the Georges River on three sides and as such it is bridge reliant. It stands at the northern end of the Liverpool Military Area that runs for over 20 km south to past Campbelltown on the eastern side of the river. As such East Liverpool is the sole narrow traffic corridor connection to Sydney’s east and south for the entire, existing and growing, south west region of Sydney. The two nearby bridges carry almost as much traffic as the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Tunnel combined; they carry more traffic than the Sutherland Shire’s three major bridges combined.

    It is a national infrastructure disgrace. It stands today as a partially approved hotchpotch non-integrated development with no published plans and costs to see it advance beyond the pocket container park it is destined to be. There is an approval condition that the onsite warehouses are to be used for railed containers only.

    I cannot imagine the Utopia plot developers ever coming up with the scenario of a major political party using a duplication of an existing private infrastructure initiative to block a person they did not like. Too absurd. If only.

  4. Lee Tinson

    And which paper would that have been, I wonder? I didn’t read that sniffy assessment, so I could make a good guess.

    I seem to recall that we in Newcastle were all excited about a container port around that time, but the newly-minted Baird government did that deal and either expanded Botany or sent some of it to Wollongong. In any case, we all knew that a corrupt-seeming deal had been struck, with Baird himself in the thick of it as was usual with such deals (and Berejiklian is arguably even worse). Great christians, both of them!

    For all of us who worked in a public service most of our lives, this is required viewing. About every character in that show we can say: “yep. I know you well”. This season of Utopia is Sitch’s best work ever, IMHO.

  5. Raaraa

    Utopia keeps giving us gems like this one. The first season went a bit easy and people would believe if these are exaggerated scenarios. However, recently they’ve been hitting way too close to home for the comfort of people involved in these processes. Too many times I have heard friends and colleagues who are able to relate to the scenarios presented in Utopia.

  6. PG

    Worked in the public sector for 40 years. After an early Utopia episode one of my old bosses rang me up and said “How did they know?” It’s scary just how accurate the show can be. It should be kept in mind that many public sector experts are extremely competent – it’s when they get gazumped by political imperatives that the idiocy starts.

    1. Pollietragic

      I’ve worked there recently too PG. How did the Utopia writers know?
      Agreed PG, except for “many public sector experts are extremely competent – it’s when they get gazumped by political imperatives that the idiocy starts.” The very top echelon senior public servants may well be good operators, but they preside, not manage, over a weighty bureaucracy that is absolutely soul destroying for their middle and lower managers, and staff.

      Utopia touches on this, with the idiotic time destroyers of occupational health and safety, security, human resources policies, inefficient meetings, absurd marketing and IT obstacles and interruptions.

      Don’t rock the boat – code for don’t initiate or recommend change, and cover your arse, are public service standards for those who seek to preserve their position and salary.

  7. AR

    At Port Botany both CTAL & NTAL have fully functional rail links to the entire network.
    Yet RTA (or wotever the current name) makes a fortune fining truckies lined along Foreshore Rd for hours because they can enter neither congested wharf area.

  8. Jack Robertson

    Surely the best thing about Utopia is the awesome way each dizzyingly bone-shaving episode mobilises yet more of the vast hibernating reserves of democratic firepower into fully engaged political action out there at the electoral coal face. Oh yes. Listen closely, comrades: that rumbling sound is the tectonic plates of apathy and ignorance shifting at last, shrieking, groaning, roaring in action…a glorious cacaphony of massed awakening. Ah, yes, yes, arise, o my brothers and sisters arise!…for when the leviathans of lethargy and the dog days of disengagement descend ‘pon us, ‘t’is to the noblest of political callings we must look. O, stand-up and bite, ye wizards of the wry reflection! Unite and inspire us, wily ironists all! Ignite our stirring souls with your tinder-sparks of acerbic comedic hyperbole…

    Verily when the darkest political hours are at hand, we, with fretted brow and hope in our hearts, will turn, must turn, can only turn…to…to…Teh Satirist! For as history and Cook reminds us satire alone can salve and save us all. O, more, please…more satire, we must have more satire….humanity’s one last hope lies in yet more vaguely unfunny unbearably smug freeloading middle-class satire…

    *gullets red pill*

    /petulant cybersterile raging flail

    Flicks on Shaun/Pie/Colbert/whoever. Yes! Nailed it! Again! Cop that, Don.

  9. drsmithy

    Satire ? I thought it was a documentary…

    Anyway, arguably, Utopia would be quite kind by representing those characters as idiots (though that has never been my interpretation of them.).

    At least based on the alternative.

    Utopia’s satire is hardly limited to Government, either. Only the very fortunate or very young would have not encountered the same shenanigans going on in private industry.

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