24/05/2005 - 22:00

Joe Poprzeczny: State Scene - Howardism oversteps mark

24/05/2005 - 22:00


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John Howard and his senior ministers, all of whom hold interstate seats, show all the signs of embarking upon megalomaniacal bureaucratic practices rather than remaining the levelheaded administrators that Australians rightly expect.

John Howard and his senior ministers, all of whom hold interstate seats, show all the signs of embarking upon megalomaniacal bureaucratic practices rather than remaining the levelheaded administrators that Australians rightly expect.

They seem incapable of recognising that there should be – on grounds of cost, if no others — limits to their central political and departmental reach.

Australia today — 217 years after its foundation and 105 years after the colonies (now states) federated — has enough bureaucrats, departments, authorities, councils, agencies, laws, statutes, rules and regulations.

Despite this the Eastern States-dominated Howard cabinet wants its ministers and their Canberra-based departments to have ever greater control over areas of responsibility already fully bureaucratised and more than adequately serviced.

Howardism is coming to mean a desire to see ever-greater and costlier bureaucratic controls and duplication of long-established State Government activities. And this despite the David Hawker-chaired House of Representatives Economics, Finance and Public Administration Committee’s finding three years ago that such duplication was costing Australians $20 billion annually or $40-per week for every man, woman and child.

Prime Minister Howard is determined to ensure Canberra becomes even more burdensome by further duplication in areas like health, transport, Aboriginal affairs, industrial relations, and most especially education.

Unfortunately Labor’s federal leader, Kim Beazley, although hailing from Perth but now a Sydney resident, isn’t the man to say in unequivocal terms that this madness must cease.

Sydney-sider Mr Beazley was an ardent centralist before the Eastern States-dominated Howard cabinet decided to follow suit.

And nor are any of Western Australia’s federal Liberal MPs up to combating Canberra’s latest scramble for total control of Australia, since so many are ardent party room Howard backers.

Ministers Senator Ian Campbell and Senator Chris Ellison are lost causes from WA’s standpoint.

WA’s self-determination is something neither shows having any time for, since their careers come first.

Another reason for saying enough is enough is that the Howard Government’s administrative record is far from unblemished in areas that rightly belong to a central government, that is, to Canberra.

Take, for example, the latest Immigration Department’s bunglings, namely the Cornelia Rau and Vivian Alvarez Solon cases.

In the Rau situation, a well-funded department with thousands of bureaucrats across Australia and internationally was incapable of identifying an Australian citizen so it locked her up in a detention centre for months.

In the Alvarez Solon case, the same well-heeled department actually deported an Australian citizen.

That department has access to pertinent police information, birth, death and marriage records, naturalisation and passport applications and related papers, and undoubtedly much more.

Yet, no Minister nor any bureaucrats have been stood down.

And there’s also the highly suspect Schapelle Corby matter.

Corby is adamant her luggage was tampered with at Sydney airport but faces the prospect of a life sentence in Indonesia, a land whose judicial system appears not to recognise the principle of reasonable doubt.

If she is indeed innocent she’ll have Australian Customs and airport security to thank for her lifelong incarceration.

And a point that needs reiterating is that such possible Customs and airport security slothfulness comes three years after the murderous September 11 twin towers and Pentagon suicide attacks, well after the world saw what a lack of proper airport controls can lead to.

Nor are the Rau, Alvarez Solon and Corby cases isolated instances.

Recall the bungle involving Willie Brigitte, a known terrorist who reached Australia to spend months here without policing and anti-terrorist agencies knowing of him.

And when French intelligence alerted their Australian counterpart agency of Brigitte’s presence here, the alert wasn’t discovered for two days because it reached Canberra just before a weekend!

No ministerial or bureaucratic careers appear to have suffered from that incompetence either. Despite these bungles — and there are others, including Mr Howard’s’ failure to have properly assessed an appointee for Australia’s Governor-Generalship — the Howard cabinet persists in seeking further expansion of its bureaucratic reach.

The latest move is a $1.5 billion drive into State pre-tertiary educational responsibilities.

Even the highly regarded and always levelheaded Perth-founded Australian Defence Association (ADA) has now felt compelled to highlight this trend in a recent assessment of Canberra’s increasingly misdirected spending patterns.

“The other way of understanding the extent of the problem is to note that for most of the 20th century, Australia invested roughly equal amounts in defence, social security, health and education,” ADA said.

“By 2005, however, we are spending about 8.5 times more on social security, around 4.5 times more on health and just on 4 times more on education than we are spending on defence.

“Defence is the only one of these four areas of governance that is wholly funded federally.

“The large and escalating increases in social security, health and education spending over the last three decades by Federal and State Governments do not, at first, appear as stark a comparison to defence investment as they actually are because of this.

“The 2005 federal budget is no different and, for the first time ever, federal spending on education will exceed that for defence even though the former is a predominantly a state responsibility and the latter wholly a federal one.

“This is not to say that spending in these other areas of major government responsibility is not important. It is simply to note that defence spending is at least as important but continues to lag seriously behind.”

What, one must ask, is Canberra doing obsessively dabbling into the long established affairs of the states when it is, at the same time, not properly overseeing and administering so many of its own responsibilities?

What, one must ask, is Canberra doing by obsessively duplicating government services so that doubling-up is now unnecessarily costing every man, woman and child $40 per week?

Unfortunately, the duplication price tag goes far beyond what the Hawker committee highlighted.

The 2005 Budget saw the creation of something Treasurer Peter Costello dubbed the ‘Future Fund’ to help bankroll the as-yet-unfunded multi-billion dollar superannuation bill of present and future federal public servants.

Here’s how the levelheaded director of social research at the Sydney-based Centre for Independent Studies, Peter Saunders, assessed this fund.

“The Future Fund requires non-government workers to pay for the retirement pensions of public servants while also funding their own super,” Mr Saunders said.

“Not only that, but the public service pensions are a lot more generous than other schemes, so taxpayers are having to make a bigger contribution to the superannuation of Canberra bureaucrats than they make to their own funds.”

The so-called Future Fund certainly gives that long-used term ‘double dipping’ new meaning.

Let’s hope someone eventually reminds the man who chairs Australia’s cabinet meetings of his alleged emotional attachment to the so-called Howard battlers when he next mentions that fund.

That someone will, of course, have to be a private citizen since none of our empire building federal Labor or Liberal MPs can be relied upon to do it.

So what Howardism is becoming is an increasingly costly and duplicating administration for which present and future generations of Australians will pick up the tab. Fair go, Johnnie. Get real Pete.


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