Sunday, June 22, 2008

Is Mr Rudd being New South Walesed?

As I write, the Belinda Neal/Della Bosca Iguana controversy drags on in the media (here, here, to give just two links). Mr Rudd's call for a blowtorch to be applied to OPEC appears to be creating ripples well beyond Australia, creating future difficulties for the Government in managing international relations in an apparently classic case of talking loudly while carrying a small stick.

During the week we had a discussion on a national problem, obesity, leading to proposals for yet another national strategy. Yes, obesity is a problem, but so far proposals all appear to focus on yet more controls and restrictions. There is little discussion on the underlying causes.

Looking at all this, I am left with the feeling that the Rudd Government is in danger of being New South Walesed.

I have made two main criticisms of the NSW Government, both linked to approach rather than party.

The first is one of style. Here I have suggested that there has been a tendency to moralise, to focus on controls, to be reactive, to respond to problems by introducing yet another strategy.

The second, linked problem, is one of system. To my mind, NSW is the final distorted flowering of new approaches to public administration that began with the Griener Liberal/National Party Government. I have put the point in this way to make it clear that my argument here is about system, not the NSW Iemma Government as such.

This is a world in which the combination of theories drawn from private sector management (KPIs, performance agreements, contracts, strategic planning, governance) and economics (contestability among others) has combined with theories drawn from public administration (program budgeting, input/output models) to create a slow unworking system.

In writing about this, I have tried to make it clear that I do not oppose things such as the New Zealand model. Rather, I am concerned about the way in which the combination has worked in practice and especially in NSW.

Now, or so it seems to me, Mr Rudd is in danger of becoming a somewhat up-market version of NSW. There are the same tendencies to try to do too much, to moralise, to be reactive, to respond to problems with yet another strategy. If this continues, the Rudd Government will fail.

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