Eisteddfod season is in full swing across the region. My wife clocks up the kilometres as she travels to various venues across the region for dance and music and speech. I occasionally manage to attend one of the eisteddfods and see my children and the quality of young performers on stage.
It was while I was attending a recent eisteddfod in a nearby town that an important point about government infrastructure struck me. In this particular location, they have a purpose-built theatre and I fully expected the eisteddfod would be held at this venue. As we have seen in Dubbo, there is no better way to showcase local talent than in a modern, purpose-built theatre.
I was therefore surprised when I attended this particular eisteddfod to see the children performing on a basic stage in a dated, flat-floor facility that was more suited to a dinner function for 600 people. It didn’t make any sense to me, so I casually brought it up in conversation with one of the many hard-working committee members during the event.
I assumed there must have been a simple mistake with a double booking or some other one-off event, which meant that for just one day of the eisteddfod or, at worst, just this year’s event was not being held at their theatre.
The answer surprised me. The committee member told me that yes, they have a wonderful theatre, and yes, it would make more sense to hold it there, but it was just too expensive to hire and not many people attend anyway so it was hard to justify the expense.
This brought up a crucial question for me. When governments of any level hear the cries of the people for a new piece of infrastructure the first part of the planning process should not be the planning of the physical building, it should be the planning of the ongoing business model; how is a facility going to be used by the community? How will it be maintained? What will be the ongoing costs and are they reasonable? Will it be a millstone around the neck of some department or management committee? It is often easier to find the money to build a piece of infrastructure than it is to run a facility with good use by the public and with a budget that isn’t in the red.
In this example, having a theatre just around the corner – not being used at all – seemed like a waste of a wonderful facility and almost an insult to the young performers who were effectively deemed ‘not worthy’ to be on the big stage. Employees of such a facility – when run by a government – are often placed in an unenviable position. I am sure they see the value in having use of a facility at a reduced cost as preferable to not having the facility used at all. But, due to an incredibly small number of occasional examples of corrupt behaviour across the country, government employees are losing their autonomy. A government employee has a policy to follow and going outside this policy involves risk for the employee of allegations of corruption. Imagine, in this example, if the theatre was hired out to the local eisteddfod committee at a dramatically reduced rate in good faith with the simple logic that it was better for the community from several different levels and the eisteddfod committee was a not-for-profit organisation. Assume then, in my hypothetical example, that it was later revealed that the theatre manager, who was the one responsible for reducing the rate, has a child that competes in the eisteddfod. The local newspaper would be up in arms about the perceived corruption of favouritism and that employee’s job would be at risk.
It shouldn’t be that difficult, but it seems that sometimes we make things too difficult for ourselves. The end result is that government organisations are very risk-averse in all of their endeavours and many items of government infrastructure are built with the best of intentions but sometimes don’t end up delivering quite as many benefits as they possibly could.
Next time you ask your local politician or councillor for a shiny new piece of infrastructure, think about the ongoing business model for that infrastructure and see if it still stacks up as a good investment for the community.
Briefly, while on the topic of building community infrastructure, the Dubbo Base Hospital Accommodation Project Inc. is working very hard raising money for a patient accommodation unit at the Dubbo Base Hospital. The first major event is the Toyota Tour de OROC which will involve 11 Mayors (with nominees) riding 1,125km in relay style through OROC whilst also attempting to set a Guinness World Record. More information is at www.tourdeoroc.com or www.facebook.com/tourdeoroc.
Clr Mathew Dickerson
Mayor of the City of Dubbo