12/12/2007 - 22:00

Growth of the nanny state

12/12/2007 - 22:00


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Now that Kevin Rudd’s 42-member ministry is firmly ensconced in Canberra, a few things need clearing up.

Growth of the nanny state

Now that Kevin Rudd’s 42-member ministry is firmly ensconced in Canberra, a few things need clearing up.

Firstly, all assessments over coming days are premature, since no electorally determining decisions are likely to be made for some time.

However, it’s not premature to comment on its nature, since the ministry’s make-up raises early concerns; a major one being why there are so many cabinet ministers, outer ministers and parliamentary secretaries.

Of course it’s prudent here to remember that all of John Howard’s ministries were whoppers.

These days, prime ministers on both sides of politics include as many MPs as possible into their executive arm, since the more there are inside the executive tent, the fewer there can be outside it.

All are told cabinet solidarity is crucial, which is another way of saying: “Don’t buck the system, mate”.

However, there’s no real need for that, since parties, especially the Labor Party, have a longstanding practice of expecting (and enforcing) those endorsed for seats to toe the party line.

Despite all that, the prevailing ‘inside-the-tent’ complex is unlikely to vanish in the foreseeable future.

The main disadvantage of all this oversight and control of MPs is that parliament is no longer a forum where insightful and honest debate can prevail. The party comes first; all else a distant last.

Gone are the days of parliaments being venues where radical and farsighted views are expressed. Anyone expecting to find such debate is simply not up with things, which is a kind way of saying you’re old-fashioned.

Parliaments today are simply the venues where groups of very obedient people we call politicians congregate.

Yes, there is occasional excitement, but it’s mostly predictable and generally quite phoney.

Grand-standing, public demands for things everyone knows won’t happen, and alleging unprincipled behaviour by opponents occasionally erupts on a chamber floor or just outside Parliament House, where the media has been told to be “because you’ll get a story” for the nightly TV news.

Thankfully most voters realise that such melodramas are concocted, so they get on with the important things in their lives – getting to work on time, feeding their children, and mowing their lawns.

None of these observations should, however, excuse something else that’s perhaps not immediately obvious about the new government’s ministry.

And that is, why has the ministry been designed to be so incredibly intrusive?

When considering this intrusiveness it’s important to keep in mind that all state and territory Labor governments – eight in all – generally mirror such ministerial intrusiveness.

Two men we should be most grateful to for identifying this evolving feature in governance were British MPs Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953) and Iain Macleod (1913-70).

Belloc, a Liberal Party MP (1906-10), left parliament willingly to be a poet and writer, since party politics quickly bored him.

MacLeod, a Conservative MP (1950-70), held several portfolios, including briefly in 1970 chancellor of the exchequer in Ted Heath’s government.

Belloc and MacLeod warned against the emergence of the intrusive state Mr Rudd appears so keen to foster.

Belloc went so far as to write a now largely forgotten but prophetic book titled, The Servile State (1912).

MacLeod, while an MP, edited Britain’s right-of-centre weekly, The Spectator, in which he had a column titled ‘Quoodle’, and first used the term ‘Nanny State’ in the December 2 1965 edition.

What both warned against was that the lives of citizens were in danger of being overseen and overly directed by intrusive politicians and big brother bureaucrats, whose lifestyles would be bankrolled through ever-higher taxes.

It’s not coincidental that neither Belloc nor MacLeod was a political leftist, since it’s primarily leftist parties that are so keen on instituting intrusive states.

With this in mind, consider some of the portfolios Mr Rudd and his team have cooked up.

Mr Rudd’s ministry, like that of Mr Howard, has: a cabinet (20 members); an outer ministry (10 members); plus a contingent of parliamentary secretaries (12 members).

The former includes: a minister for human services; one for broadband and the digital economy; a minister for climate change; and portfolios for families, housing, community services, social inclusion, settlement programs, and indigenous affairs.

The outer ministry has, among other things, a minister for superannuation, and one for workforce participation (in addition to Julia Gillard’s ministry of workplace relations).

For reasons not entirely clear, Small Business and the Service Economy Minister Craig Emerson, who’ll assist Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner – who is also minister for deregulation – has alongside him Chris Bowen as Competition Policy and Consumer Affairs minister.

That ministerial troika will certainly confound and confuse businessmen and women who have been generating so many jobs Australia-wide since 1996.

And there are a few others in this intrusive vein, including Mr Howard’s nemesis, Maxine McKew, who is parliamentary secretary to Mr Rudd and overseeing early childhood and childcare affairs.

It’s therefore fair to say that either a ministerial or parliamentary secretarial post oversees almost every area of our lives.

State Scene finds doesn’t want to imagine how Australia will end up, should all these ministers and their bureaucrats enact just half the laws and regulations they’re likely to want.

With that in mind, one had to chuckle when reading what was undoubtedly one of the funniest post-election press reports carried in The Australian.

Under the headline, “Day one, Turnbull erupts”, it outlined how the stunned Malcolm Turnbull stormed into his leader Brendan Nelson’s office straight after the Liberal leadership ballot.

“Surrounded by cardboard boxes and his staff in a temporary office, Brendan Nelson looked up,” the report said.

It continued...“Nelson, touched by the support of his colleagues earlier that day, who backed him over Turnbull, had been moved to tears in the party room and was humbled by this moment of Liberal Party history.

“Turnbull was not. ‘That speech was funereal,’ the multi-millionaire MP exploded.

“‘You can’t do that again. You have to sound like a coach at half-time talking to a grand final team. You’ve got to toughen up’.”

Although it may be still too early to be predicting the demise of the Liberal Party and the political funerals of Messrs Nelson and Turnbull, all three may well be on their way to such a dark fate.

But the one thing we can be sure of is that if the Liberal Party, now led by Dr Nelson, a former ALP member, and whose treasury spokesman is Mr Turnbull, decides to follow the intrusive and consequently big-taxing path of Mr Rudd, then a funeral certainly awaits them and their party.

What Dr Nelson should do is take Mr Turnbull quietly aside and tell him that Australians will always, as night follows day, prefer a government that’s not intrusive.

If Dr Nelson did that it would be the first positive step in getting the Liberals back on a path to power.

There’s no surer way of ensuring the Liberal Party’s and Dr Nelson’s and Ms Bishop’s political demise than by their competing with Labor to institute an ever more intrusive nanny state.


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