Advice for Incoming Governments
Russell Degnan

Yesterday saw the release of Doyle's plan to reduce tolls on the Scoresby Freeway. I have discussed this before, and maintain that political opportunism of this sort -- even when it comes as a backdown from an earlier position -- is counter-productive to proper transport planning. But whether a more general tolling regime is politically feasible will hopefully be discussed in the inquiry into congestion announced last week.

Instead I want to highlight some of the wondeful new tricks in spin-doctoring and obfuscated government that Doyle's announcement has within it.

1. Cut small, cut often

1% a year is not much. Surely that is within the budgets of bloated government departments. Except it is not really 1%. It is compunded over four years, it ignores increases in population and inflation. Over four years this come out to 10% or more. Even a 1% increase is really a cut. I happen to think lots of government services and particularly bureaucracy is waste (the planning system for example) but it needs to be taken to with a sledge-hammer, not a chisel.

2. Reshuffle departments

Bracks has taken this one to a new level by creating the DSE and the DVC. It conveniently hides how much is being spent because they are not directly comparable to before. But that is not all. By making more than one minister responsible for a department it makes blame hard to apportion and it lets you marginalise parts of the public service you don't like. Think the DOI is incompetent, slap a Major Projects Group over the top.

3. Hire/fire consultants

Bracks does use a lot of consultants, but he uses them for a very important reason: from Cain onwards, every incoming government has marginalised the expertise of the public service because they are supposedly tainted. Completely gutted by the third run through, the only way to get a report done is to hire someone - preferably someone who'll give you what you want. A fair proportion of the consultancy listed at the DPC seems to be for lobbying the Federal government, but it is still worthwhile policy-making. The only alternative is to either rebuild in-house skills, or to just make stuff up. The latter ought to make government more competent,

4. Cut development programs

All incoming governments trash these. The old government calls them resarch and development; the new government refers to them as "picking winners" and subsidies for protected industries. They are the easiest to cut as only policy wonks miss them, as well as the easiest to reconstitute under a different banner.

To summarise: don't believe a word of it. Unlike either Cain or Kennett, neither Bracks nor Doyle has any idea why they want to be in government. Except for the nice title, the bigger car, and the plusher office.

Sterner Matters 17th September, 2005 14:51:19   [#]