The lesson from the new paradigm: less is more
Many conclusions have been made about the “new paradigm” of Australian politics.
Much has been written of the rise of Independents – though close to 80% of Australians cast their first preference vote for either the Coalition or Labor, and that figure rises to 90% if you include the Greens, which by nature of their deal with Labor are no longer an innocuous fringe dweller.
All interesting stuff for the media and those whose lives revolve about politics and the operation of Parliament. But the real lesson of the past few weeks, the real message we ought to take from the sideshow is that it’s not about the Government of the day. It’s not really about Government full stop.
We had a caretaker Government (for more than 2 months counting the election campaign) that was not implementing any new laws, programs or policies and the world kept turning. Most Australians went about their daily lives as usual unaffected by the political posturing in Canberra.
Now, I’m not for one moment arguing that who’s in Government is not important or that a caretaker Government for any great length of time is tenable.
It’s just that I think we have to take a step back from the idea that Government has all the answers. We have to re-think the notion that a bigger Government splashing around more of our money (or worse, borrowed money we have to pay back with interest) is a positive thing.
It’s a concept that has grown rapidly in recent years and is very popular with the elite and so-called progressives – that the role of Government is to provide solutions to all of society’s problems, be they social or economic. That Governments ought to be the driving force for change, rather than the people. It’s a paternalistic, “Government knows best” approach.
“We all want xyz fixed, don’t we? Let’s increase taxes so the Government can fix it.”
It’s a concept that snowballs.
We’re duped into believing that if the Government allocates so many billion to address a problem, it will be fixed. Or at least improved. More money means better outcomes doesn’t it?
The fact is, it’s not an automatic correlation.
The best Government-funded programs are those driven by the community. The best outcomes are achieved when the Government works in partnership with local community groups and individuals to deliver outcomes that are practical and needed.
A perfect example is the wasteful spending that was the BER Schools Hall rip off. $16 billion spent for what is estimated to be just $9 billion worth of buildings – and the rub is that some of those buildings were not even what the school wanted or needed. More examples are being exposed every day.
Yet the much more modestly-funded “Investing in our Schools” program run by the previous Coalition Government delivered practical outcomes because it was essentially a partnership with the school community.
Many projects were jointly funded, local contractors were found to get the best prices, and projects were exactly what parents and teachers wanted to enhance the quality of education being provided to students.
There wasn’t a layer of Government bureaucracy to suck up funds and screw up results, as so often is the case.
But sadly the trend is for bigger and bigger Government-funded solutions – witness the monolith concept that is the NBN.
Like many policy concepts, it’s inception took place in Canberra - or in transit between capital cities on the back of a piece of paper.
The first thought isn’t to harness innovation and individual enterprise, to build on work being done in the community, or find out if there’s a more efficient, effective way to get more value for our taxpayer dollar. It’s to create a whole new “government knows best and you will want this” white elephant of a bureaucracy.
Now nearly $10 billion has been pledged for services in selected regional areas in order to secure the support of the Independents. We’re yet to see how the services will actually be delivered, but if history is any guide, much of the money will be sucked up into the ether and never seen on the ground.
If we truly want a new paradigm in Australian politics, we ought to be arguing for smaller Government, lower taxes, less imposition on people’s lives by Governments desperate to regulate and dictate, and we ought to be encouraging and promoting community and business enterprise and engagement.
When it comes to effective Government, the truest concept is “less is more”.
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