A dummies' guide to politics and how to serve ministers who follow these rules In 2004, a member of then United States president George W.
Bush's camp boasted: ''We're an empire now and, when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study, too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'' Hubris, to be sure, which, as inevitably as most political hopes end in tragedy, got its comeuppance not far around the corner. Of course, it's all as old as politics, a trade invented probably only days after humans hauled themselves from the primordial sludge and one said: ''Hey, we'd better find a way to organise ourselves before things get out of hand. Let's call it politics.'' Julia Gillard would have been better at reality creation if she'd been able more often to break free from the hobbling bureaucratese with which she confused us. The ad libbed misogyny speech fitted the bill; much of the rest could not have been raffled. And then there's the special case of Paul Keating who, in his recent tame cat interviews with Kerry O'Brien, tried to convince us that he single handedly did the vast amount of heavy lifting during the economic glory days of the Hawke government; claims that owe more to the former prime minister's desire to hog the glory than to historical reality. Can someone please lasso that ego? When in trouble, change the subject and attack a bystander. Unfortunately, the government's robust implementation of its stop the boats at all costs policy, together with a spot of earwigging into the mobile phones of Susilo Bambang Yudhonyono and his spouse, have upset the Indonesians. A part of the government's response has been to attack the ABC, egged on by the Murdoch press that sees no irony or hypocrisy in giving the national broadcaster a daily walloping for its supposed ''bias''. Then, when it's alleged that naval personnel may have mistreated some asylum seekers, Defence Minister David Johnston, in one of the most comic and incompetent press conferences in recent times, refuses to hold a proper inquiry and calls for one into the ABC instead. If you don't know what to do, say something meaningless. Here, the master is Treasurer Joe Hockey, whose rabbiting on about the ''end of the age of entitlement'' could mean nothing, something or everything it's hard to tell. After all, government is about entitlement and obligation. Citizens are entitled to believe governments will act honestly and in the public ray ban new sunglasses interest, ensuring those things to which they have a legitimate, legal right are delivered while being fully accountable for their actions (unless they are ''on water''). At face value, ending the age of entitlement is a nihilistic sentiment; a recipe for shrinking government and removing from citizens protections that spare them from the predatory behaviour of others while excusing governments from providing a helping hand to the less well off. Is this what Hockey is up to? If it is, it may have a counterpoint in Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Ian Watt's calls for a ''presumption against regulation'' a pernicious doctrine he should repudiate. Use non sequiturs to discredit what you cannot refute. The recent weather has been unkind to Abbott. The scorching summer and then heavy rain in places have emboldened some to raise again the possibility that greenhouse gases might have something to do with climate extremes. It's awkward for Abbott, who, in an unscripted moment, once said human induced climate change was ''absolute crap''. So, not wanting to engage further on the science, he tries to put paid to discussing it by saying Australia has always had extremes of climate. That's true but it's irrelevant to a rational consideration of the vast bulk of scientific evidence about influences on the climate. When in doubt, call for a ''national conversation'' but do nothing about it. So Health Minister Peter Dutton and Hockey, both seemingly keen to get stuck into the level of government spending on health yet cautious about saying exactly how, call for a ''national conversation''; ray ban olympian thus far, they've done nothing to foster it. They could slap together a discussion paper canvassing options and they could release the relevant sections of the report(s) they've so far received from the commission of audit. Will they do so? Probably not, because that might set all sorts of hares running and limit their scope for action even more than Abbott's pre election commitment that there'll be no cuts to health. Whenever a politician says something is 'unsustainable', take the word, boil the bullshit from it and, nine times out of 10, nothing will remain. Only engage outside policy advisers who will tell you what you want to hear. Is it likely that climate change sceptic Dick Warburton advising on renewable energy targets, or Kevin Donnelly, a former Coalition ministerial adviser with views on school curricula seemingly aligned to those of Education Minister Christopher Pyne, or Tony Shepherd and his mates on the audit commission, or good old Maurice Newman moaning about the level of minimum wages and remaining silent about those on maximum ones, will not tell the government what it wants to hear? No, it is not. Don't let long term precedents get in the way of short term political advantage. Thus, after several inquiries into the Rudd Gillard home insulation program, Abbott, shortly after the Manus Island detention centre tragedy, justifies a royal commission by asking: ''Can any of you think of a government program that actually killed people?'' Rather like dropping a grenade beside one's foot, to borrow from Keating. And what about Australia's commitment to the Afghanistan war, initiated by a government in which Abbott was a minister, wherein ray ban type sunglasses 10 times more Australians were killed than as a result of the home insulation program? And how many people were killed, if by misadventure, in Australian hospitals while Abbott was funding them when he was health minister? Fifty or 100 times the number than in the case of home insulation who knows, but it must be of those orders. So let's have royal commissions on these more serious cases, with all cabinet papers made available. If justifying reductions in government programs is too difficult, simply assert that they're unsustainable. That's what Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews has said about welfare spending. Unfortunately, that unsubstantiated claim doesn't sit well with the Treasury's latest Intergenerational Report, which predicts that, in 40 years' time, spending on welfare as a proportion of GDP will be about the same as it is today, if with some ups and some downs in the elements of which it is composed. Then Australian National University's Professor Peter Whiteford inconveniently pointed to OECD data that showed Australia was ''relatively low in terms of social security and around average in terms of spending on health''. So pull the other one, Andrews; you're as good at making this case as you were trying to convince the nation of the merits of WorkChoices when you were responsible for that shambles. Meanwhile, the Minister for the Public Service, Eric Abetz (possibly the greatest serving Tasmanian senator), says union claims for increases in public service pay are also ''unsustainable'', but he's not explained what he means. Whenever a politician says something is ''unsustainable'', take the word, boil the bullshit from it and, nine times out of 10, nothing will remain. It's not the intention of this column to criticise or make fun of these political tactics although it wouldn't be hard to do so. Rather, it is to observe that they make it more difficult for the public service to provide honest, sound and comprehensive advice to ministers based on clear headed assessments of what's in the public interest. Still, this is a chance for public service policy advisers to show their mettle. For example, they could: Vigorously point out any flaws in the advice provided by the likes of Warburton, Sheppard and his chums on the audit commission, Newman and his ilk, and, so far as Donnelly is concerned, explain that, as a matter of principle, ministers should not involve themselves in the detailed setting of education curricula. Imagine if Paul Keating were to set one on modern Australian economic history and John Howard was given a go at Australia's recent military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. Explain the strength of scientific research on the causes of climate change and, sunglass ray ban sale while accepting the government's commitment to repeal Gillard's carbon legislation, remind ministers that ''most economists'' (thank you, Ian Watt) would favour a market mechanism that put a price on carbon emissions. Not miss an opportunity to say to ministers that government by slogans like ending the age of entitlement, talking about ''national conversations'' and saying things are unsustainable cuts little ice and advise them about things of substance they can consider and do. Citizens are entitled to expect that the public service will do these things and, if it is not, they are being let down. And so back to Abetz and the decisions he'll need to take about the next round of enterprise bargaining in the public service. On this, the Public Service Commissioner, Stephen Sedgwick, should tell the minister that: The current arrangements, initiated by the Keating government and extended by subsequent governments beyond all reason, have been an abject failure. They have cost hundreds of millions of dollars more in transaction costs than public service wide bargaining, reduced efficiency and productivity, contributed to a vast and unjustified expansion of senior ranks and Balkanised the service to the point where the idea of ''One APS'' is nothing more than vain and empty rhetoric. assess the remuneration of staff in the service against that paid for comparable work elsewhere, make a judgment about how competitive public servants pay needs to be in those markets and apply increases to major occupational groups across the service as a whole accordingly. This may mean that staff in high paying agencies will get little or nothing and those in low paying ones more than that, but public servants are in no position to complain if their pay is set in a reasonable relationship to what others in the community receive. Taxpayers should be affronted if public servants set the pace; they should follow but not lag. Any notions of trying to trade off current leave or other entitlements for pay increases should be put aside.
These create perverse incentives all over the place and they have nothing to do with improving productivity and efficiency. If Abetz fails to do something like this, he will prove he is incapable of looking after industrial relations in his backyard and signify that the government is not serious about wasteful, pointless and extremely costly administrative duplication and extravagance. No sensible Tasmanian, or anyone else, would want to land this quinella.
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