Australia’s regulation nightmare in two photos.

Popping up on the old Facebook feed this week was a little story off the Lost Perth page. It concerns the old Kellerberrin Hotel which unfortunately burnt down in 1997.

Construction work on the Kellerberrin Hotel commenced in May 1906 with the contractor being Mr Joseph Richardson. Constructed from locally made bricks, the contract price was 3,100 pounds. The owner, local storekeeper Mr Stuart (‘Bung’) Patterson, was granted a publican’s general licence on condition that the hotel be erected by October 1 to the satisfaction of the police. The Hotel was opened on 8 October, 1906.

Here’s a photo of the pub after it was built.

What strikes me is the amount of time that it took in 1906 to build such an impressive building in what was back then, (and let’s be honest, still is), the middle of Goddamn nowhere. What is also revealing is that the publican only stood to get his trading licence if the place went up fast. Presumably the cops had a hell of a thirst on and didn’t want to see any stuffing around.

Notwithstanding the cost to complete such a building today, the time to do so would be a great deal longer. The reason for this is the number of rules and regulations which are placed like barriers in front of anyone wishing to create something of value in present day Australia. It’s been happening for a long time in other parts of the world as well.

Let’s think about fast and slow. The Empire State Building was built in a little over 15 months. The World Trade Center (Tower 1) took 52 months, and that was in 1970. Most recently, One World Trade Center took 7 years to complete. We’re slowing down; we’re not as good at what we used to do.

The reason for this is regulation (and its bastard child, litigation). That’s the problem. We have buildings full of people that make us stop what we’re doing, fill out forms in triplicate, and then wait months or years before we are allowed to pick up where we stopped.

Here is an interesting graph that Borepatch provides in his piece concerning innovation. It is called the S Curve.

The S Curve illustrates how new industries and technologies leapfrog each other to create a continuous line of progress, a process which began with the industrial revolution. But excessive regulation and litigation not only impede but destroy this process.

Think for a minute what this does. It pushes some of the middle of the S-Curve into the flat part, reducing the overall value of the industry, as resources get sidelined instead of being engaged in production. More damagingly, it pushes the next S-Curve to the right, increasing the time that it takes to bring a new industry online. Most damagingly of all, it possibly completely eliminates some S-Curves from appearing at all, because the risk is too high to attract investors.

There is something else which regulation inflicts upon our economies – a thick veneer of mediocrity and ugliness. It is vastly more difficult to create buildings of beauty and historical value when every step has to be approved by some soulless bureaucrat who recoils from original ideas like a cat from a bubble bath. The Empire State Building is infinitely more beautiful than the World Trace Center was, which itself was more beautiful than the current One World Trade Center.

And the old Kellerberrin hotel, a magnificent example of gold rush architecture was replaced by this after it unfortunately burnt to the ground.

The cardboard beer signs appear to have been swept against the cheap metal fence by a dust storm rolling in from Kalgoorlie. The whole thing reeks of compromise and adherence to occupational health and safety. I assume that there are plenty of facilities for disabled people to roll up and down.

How much money did the builder have to spend on the council approval process and the countless regulations with which he would have had to comply? In the old days it was as simple as getting an architect to draw you something, getting a competent builder, and sourcing the materials. So simple that they did it in under 5 months back in 1906. I wonder how long it took them to build this lump of ugliness? And I have no doubt that the residents of Kellerberrin who once drank in the old pub feel like something has been lost to them. Their lives are worse off because of a fire.

As Borepatch notes, Trump has removed 2000 regulations in his first year in office and he’s only getting started. Meanwhile in Australia we have governments that boast about how many pieces of legislation they have managed to pass while in office. A hundred years ago we were a country that got stuff done, and often against incredible odds. Now we are mired in the most excessive OH&S regime imaginable, with regulations galore, a litigious society, and the most expensive electricity in the world.

The attitude today to our forefathers is one of dismissive intolerance. But in many ways we have not progressed, we have not improved, and we are certainly not better people than those who lived a hundred years ago. How thrilling it would be for ordinary Australians to once again be able to go out and just get stuff done.

 

11 thoughts on “Australia’s regulation nightmare in two photos.

  1. I spent $800 to get permission to build a new garage behind my house. That was before I ever bought a board or a brick. When I realized that I could not afford the new garage i discovered that it was going to cost me several more hundred to get permission to renovate my old garage. At that point I had no further contact with the city government and I just did what I wanted to do. My garage had been sitting there since the 1920s and I decided that there was no further need for me to beg and scrape to make it better.

    I also live in a town where generally no one is freaking out about someone renovating their garage so I didn’t have busybodies stopping by to ask about my permit.

    My neighbor was cutting limbs off an elm tree that were in danger of falling on his house. He had spent almost two years calling the city to ask them to come do it. Half an hour into doing it himself someone stopped by and started complaining to him that he had no right to trim city trees.

    Sigh.

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    1. Actually, I think that this might be the key to the end of the regulatory state. A general shrugging of the shoulders and low level corruption and bribes to get around it.

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      1. TechieDude

        There was a word or phrase I heard to describe this very thing. Not the bribes and low level corruption, which for the most part exist already.

        It’s the shrugging shoulders and flat out ignoring the regulatory nannies. They literally wouldn’t have time or money to check on everyone.

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  2. I live in a place that is at the utmost extreme of regulation. Tariffs on everything start at 100% (and nothing is produced locally so this will apply to all your components, electronics and even toilets). Business licences are hard to get and easily taken away. It is very hard to renovate anything unless you have connections. Oh, and no construction permits have been issued for the past ten years.
    Needless to say, the economy has ground to a complete stop.
    I remember reading Atlas Shrugged and thinking, this is ridiculous, there would never be that much government meddling. Now I know.
    BTW, my review of your book’s up at my site. Just got your new one to entertain me during my next stint in the jungle.

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    1. Great review, thanks for writing it. Much appreciated.

      I’m interested to know the nation that you are describing in this comment. I’m assuming that it must be Africa.

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  3. TechieDude

    Permitting is out of control. In my last house I had to get a permit to replace my fence. Not install a new one, not really tear the old one down. Just replace a few posts, replace all the crossmembers and pickets. You can only do a useless 1/4 of the fenceline/year without a permit. And, then the city had to come size it up after.

    In the new house, I wanted to add a garden shed. Nothing special, just a steel shed with a floor. Even found one that looks like wood. You need a permit for anything other than a useless 40 Sq. Ft shed. Everyone told me, don’t bother with the permit, just build it. If they say anything, go get the permit then. Both towns, old and new, have halfwits patrolling around in little cars and will write you up or fine you for violations. Having already pestered me about trees overhanging my fence, I dutifully filed permit, with a contractors advice and by the guidelines they had on the web.

    Then, built the shed where i wanted it, as per the application which then came back as denied. Couldn’t be within 20′ of the street, even though it’s behind a privacy fence. So I had to move the goddam thing. Now, it’s in full view of my patio, like a big brown metal zit on an otherwise pleasant lawn. Only place it would be approved.

    And, architecture is dead, or damn near so. We have mixed use developments popping up like daisies that I call “Hipster Habittrails”. Back in the day, I’d call them tenements. When the real estate boom is over they will become the new slums. Right now, though, they are hideous. Most look like old Soviet era apartment blocks. Ugly flat walls with nondescript windows, in drab earth tones, if they aren’t concrete gray.

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  4. NZ is bad too. Perhaps not as bad as Australia in some respects (the reforms of the 80’s and 90’s led to some streamlining of bureaucracy), but worse when it comes to anything remotely affecting the environment. I am managing the design and construction of a $100m+ new greenfield residential subdivision and commercial area for the owner, on land that was already rezoned 15 years ago to encourage this sort of development – and we’ve only just started construction after working on it for about 5 years trying to get the consents and other approvals needed. That’s 5 years of the owner ploughing 100’s of thousands of dollars every year into a project with no return, and no guarantee it will result in anything. Even then, we were only allowed to start recently because we managed with a lot of hard work and personal contact to overcome ALL possible objections to the project, and nobody was against it. Just one neighbour being strongly anti the project would have seen it delayed about another 1-2 years.

    It takes far longer to get permission to construct anything than it does to actually build it. It’s getting worse and worse too. The standard of detailed design expected, and hoops you have to jump through from various authorities (whose requirements are even sometimes in contradiction with each other) grow every year. It means you need deep pockets to plough into a project, without any certainty you’ll be allowed to actually construct it – let alone make a profit and get any return on your investment. As a result it rules out all but the big players who are well funded.

    Most people think the answer lies in better people working for the state, but they are mistaken. Bureaucrats will always be the way the are. As Thomas Sowell said, “You will never understand bureaucracies until you understand that for bureaucrats procedure is everything and outcomes are nothing.” Their mindset and motivations are completely different to the private sector, as indeed it must be. The long term answer can only lie in destroying the current system and taking their power away. The bureaucrats behavior is exactly what the system encourages, and also what the majority of people encourage when they expect the state to protect them and give them iron-clad guarantees around safety and environmental protection. I think a radical shift will have to come sometime in the next few decades, because at the current rate of regulation growth it will eventually be impossible to build anything at all.

    In the meantime, I have had some limited success in working around it by applying a certain strategy. Mind you, I’ve only been able to learn this over the years because someone else has been paying for my time in navigating the regulatory maze – a luxury that the average person can’t afford. You come close when you talk about a general shrugging of the shoulders and low level corruption. Not corruption in the sense of bribing them with money though – but by threatening them with embarrassment. Not overt threats, it’s more subtle than that. Acting in a way that tells them you mean business – and that if they mess with you, you will embarrass them and the finger will be pointed at them personally – whether that means going to the press, to the managers above them, or the politicians who want to be seen to encourage development.

    You still have to jump through their hoops to some degree, to show what you propose is safe and won’t destroy the environment (at least at the level I’m working at) – but once you reach a point where you’ve done that to a reasonable degree, you plough on and do what is needed, and let the paperwork catch up later. You also have to make it personal to some degree, and try to understand their motivations. They will always try and hide behind their regulations (“It’s not me, I’m just following the rules”). But if you make it about THEM (how they’re applying the rules) and not their system – and give them an out that allows them to save some face – they will usually capitulate. Most people aren’t brave enough to do this, but when you press the right buttons and see how readily they capitulate, you realise how weak these bureaucrats are in reality, and it takes no courage at all. They only have power because we as a society give it to them. Challenge them (without outright declaring war on them), and you’ll reap the rewards.

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  5. The new place looks like a retirement home for the elderly, but then the blue haired old ladies are probably part of the approval process. Originally regulations were meant to keep bad actors from harming others, now it’s to keep stupid people from harming themselves. Long live egalitarianism, we all get reduced to the lowest common denominator. There is a certain nobility in being hanged for treason, now you’ll just get suffocated by the safety state in bubble wrap by little old ladies in high visibility vests.

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  6. Pingback: In The Mailbox: 01.08.18 : The Other McCain

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