22/05/2014 - 04:57

Hockey heads down right track

22/05/2014 - 04:57

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If the 2014 federal budget succeeds in reducing bloated bureaucracies and duplication it will have achieved significant change.

Hockey heads down right track
TOUGH SELL: The government may have botched the sales job, but Joe Hockey’s budget could herald a new era for the federation.

Upon receipt of my electronic edition of Treasurer Joe Hockey’s budget speech I promptly did a search on my laptop for four words – each starting with the letter ‘d’.

They were: ‘debt’, which appeared five times; ‘deficit’, which featured ‘four’ times; ‘direct’, just once; and finally, ‘duplication’, which also showed up once.

I ignored debt and deficit, since Mr Hockey and countless commentators had been overusing them lately, and focused instead on the latter two – ‘direct’ and ‘duplication’.

In terms of Mr Hockey’s use of the word ‘direct’, I’d assumed it would almost certainly be within the context of the coalition’s Direct Action Plan, which aims to combat the amount of carbon dioxide being released by industry.

But thankfully, there’s no reference of Direct Action in the budget speech.

The treasurer did use the word ‘direct’, but in reference to the government’s decision to provide “direct financial assistance for all students studying diploma and sub-bachelor degree courses”.

Thankfully, also nowhere was the word ‘climate’ mentioned in his 3,280-word speech.

Let’s hope that’s a sign of things to come, by which I mean the less politicians spruik about climate the safer we taxpayers will be from having our pockets dug into by Canberra and United Nations bureaucrats, who yearn to impose a worldwide tax on CO2, and Wall Street operators who’d reap huge profits by trading in what’s called emissions certificates.

But what of ‘duplication’, the word I was really interested in?

Here’s how the Hockey speech led towards it, and how it was used.

“The government has also decided to abolish over 230 bureaucratic programs,” he said.

“In addition, we have also methodically reviewed more than 900 government bodies, boards, committees and councils and more than 70 are being abolished to deliver better value for taxpayers.

“A smaller, less interfering government won’t need as many public servants. 16,500 staff will leave over the next three years without compromising frontline services.

“At the moment, duplication and overlap between the Commonwealth and states blur where the buck stops.

“Over the next 18 months, we will work with state and territory governments to strengthen the Federation and ensure that the overlap between the layers of government is reduced or removed.”

There’s a fascinating history behind those five paragraphs that hinge around the word ‘duplication’.

Either in 2003 or 2004, I no longer recall which, a House of Representatives economics committee, chaired by Victorian Liberal David Hawker, the man who would hold retired PM, Malcolm Fraser’s seat of Wannon, issued a report on aspects of cost of governance.

A witness to the Hawker committee was Canberra Institute of Technology statistician Mark Drummond,

who offered an estimate of the cost of duplication that’s crept up on us primarily because Canberra politicians (Labor and coalition) keep encroaching into areas of state responsibility such as, health, education, transport, agriculture and so on.

Because I long ago threw out my copy of the Hawker report, I’m unable to quote the relevant lines.

However, I recall the crucial figure Dr Drummond presented on what duplication was then costing Australians annually.

He estimated it to be $21 billion, so $1,000 for every man, woman and child.

It’s worth remembering that, since 2003-04 we’ve had the spendthrift Rudd-Swan-Gillard years, during which there were ongoing Canberra intrusions into state responsibilities.

Without knowing precisely I’d be amazed if Dr Drummond’s $21 billion estimate doesn’t today stand somewhere between $25 billion and $30 billion – an enormous amount of waste on unnecessary bureaucratic doubling-up.

What that means is that the promised Hockey budget onslaught on Canberra’s nearly century-long intrusion into state affairs – another way of saying centralism – is fertile ground for enormous savings and thus huge potential tax cuts for working families.

Strangely, the Hawker report has been sitting on a parliamentary shelf gathering dust for a full decade waiting for someone to have the nous to act on it.

At long last Mr Hockey appears to be ready and willing to do what the Howard, Rudd and Gillard governments should have done, rather than imposing more unneeded duplicating Canberra bureaucracy upon us.

If he doesn’t fumble the ball over the next 18 months the coalition will have enormous leeway for hefty tax cuts at the 2016 election.

Keep your fingers crossed he doesn’t forget this undertaking, like those before last September’s election claiming there would be no new taxes under Coalition governments.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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