Killing Worksafe – state government dumbness goes epic.

Worksafe is dead.

Worksafe old adForget the millions spent on building a brand that was recognised immediately across the state.

Forget the strategies that have made Victoria the clear leader among the states on cutting injuries and fatalities for years. (source)

Victoria workplace injury statistics

Worksafe was a brilliant invention. By combining the regulator of workplace safety with the insurer, the economic incentives are all aligned. The company wants to reduce injuries, keep its customers happy and get the ill and injured back to work.

It’s a revolutionary piece of policy-making (mirrored in the design of the Transport Accident Commission, which has helped bring automobile accidents down to their lowest level in history, and among the best in the world.)

A huge part of the job of Worksafe is raising awareness of dangers in workplaces.

This is why Worksafe spent big bucks using proper advertising agencies and sponsors the Western Bulldogs. We are all familiar with its very successful advertising campaigns.

Awareness is enormously important in promoting safety and Worksafe has always used free publicity too. Whenever a prosecution or fatality happened, Worksafe would put out a press release, and papers would report on it.

Worksafe could not prosecute every little business with a safety breach. Amplifying successful prosecutions creates the impression firms face legal risks if they do not focus on safety. Worksafe would also issue a press release whenever a worker was killed or seriously injured at work. This served to keep workplace safety in the news.

But then.

In late 2013, the Hon Gordon Rich-Phillips, minister in charge of Worksafe, must have spotted one of these stories in the newspaper. Was Worksafe “anti-business”? Things changed.

The honourable member is an aviation enthusiast.
The honourable member is an amateur aviation enthusiast.

Since then, Worksafe’s media strategy has transformed.

Worksafe issued 41 press releases in the first part of 2013. They did not stint on death and blood and gore, or big whopping fines.
But 2014 is extremely sanitised.
A change of tune
A change of tune

And it’s not as if there was nothing newsworthy. For example, at a factory owned by the company that makes Kettle chips and CCs, a man was dragged into a conveyor belt and lost his arm above the the elbow. That resulted in a $45,000 fine in February.

The organisation that was a world-leading innovator in public policy is no longer free to run in the best interests of workers and its own insurance scheme. It now dances to the tune of the government.

The Age wrote about the minister’s meddling in March. Advertising contracts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars have been thrown into jeopardy.

Now new ads have hit the papers with the name Worksafe nowhere to be seen.


IMAG1809

“The important work that we do across Victoria is much broader than just safety, so using our legal name – VWA – better reflects all areas of our business” – the press release.

Changing your brand when you’ve spent so much on it will make your organisation less effective.

People are already confused about the difference between the Victorian Workcover Authority and Worksafe. (They are the same. The former is the legal name of the organisation. The latter was an effective brand designed to reinforce the idea the organisation should be more dynamic and less bureaucratic .)

Emasculating this powerful and effective brand will mean more injuries. Workers will suffer, and so will business owners who do the right thing and keep their workplaces safe. They will have to pay higher premiums to cover compensation for the injured and dead.

bodyvending2
Worksafe’s creative communications: Spare parts vending machine. [source]
That a good strategy and a powerful brand can be eliminated on a whim of a minister speaks of an anti-intellectual approach in the Coalition party-room. The state government ought to be ashamed.

Why the public transport election promise is bad policy, but good news.

A super bold plan has come out of the Victorian Government. They pledge to make public transport free in the city centre, and to abolish Zone 2, the higher-fare zone in the outer suburbs.

The idea is clearly a vote winner – a small group of people benefits at the expense of taxpayers everywhere. The Labor party adapted the policy faster than you could say “Harold Hotelling.”

It is a flashy announcement, like putting Protective Services Officers on every station, that reveals its proponents don’t really use public transport and want to believe something – anything! – other than really expensive infrastructure improvements are key determinants of service quality.

Image

This blog has advocated for free public transport in the past [Myki vs Free PT] but in this case the best I can say is that I don’t hate these ideas.

Let’s have a look at what will really change under this plan:

Free public transport within the city.

Upside: No need to deploy those rude and aggressive ticket police. Accept that the amount of crowding means the service is scarcely worth charging for anyway. Simpler for tourists.

Downside: Amount of crowding is likely to increase as we enter a tragedy of the commons situation. Public transport policy is not tourism policy – using transport policy for other ends is partly why it is not up to scratch. Less revenue to improve the system.

The end of Zone 2.

Upside: Simplicity in the public transport system is good –  people expend physical and mental energy trying to beat the Zone 2 boundary. The people who live in Zone 2 are most likely to need the discount, so there is an equity effect.

Downside: We are not at a stage where we need to encourage patronage on the system – it’s busy enough as it is.  Public transport policy is not social welfare – using it for non-transport policy ends is partly why it is not up to scratch. Less revenue to improve the system. Likely rising fares in Zone 1 over time to recoup lost revenue. 

Essentially, this is a policy with some benefits, but they do not strike at the heart of what our system needs – more services more often to more places. In fact, by reducing the amount of revenue – the Budget will estimate of how big a reduction – it may undermine that true goal.

Image

What this whole surprise announcement says to me is that the Government recognises Public Transport is its big weakness. And that recognition could make for a big turning point.

This government sailed into power on the failure of Labor to do PT properly, and by promising better PT – to Doncaster, Rowville and the Airport. But it has made a giant road tunnel into its signature reform. Now it is scrabbling to catch up.

The reality is that the Liberal party will probably lose the November election. They have a one-seat majority thanks to the support of corrupt independent Geoff Shaw. They have a premier we never voted for after the previous one was kicked out. They are a shambles. A poll taken in early March has the government behind 47-53. But ex-post, the big narrative to explain the election result will likely be public transport. 

Image

After the 2010 election, the Frankston line was identified as a crucial issue that lost key seats for Labor. If public transport is once again seen as a swing factor in 2014, the narrative will be established in political operatives’ minds. In Victorian elections, good public transport policy could come to be seen like a pledge not to increase GST, or a stern approach to boat people – an absolute must have for any party to succeed. 

Imagine if the top minister in the government was dedicated to the public transport portfolio. Imagine if that minister actually rode the trams and trains at times when the cameras were not directed at them.

It’s just possible that a golden era of public transport policy is around the corner.