There is a lot to be said for getting a title just right. On 15 October, I put up a short post simply called Defining shirtfronting. As of today, that post has had 4,768 page views (!) making it the third most popular post in this blog’s history, 319 in the last week long after the original event.
Now that Mr Abbott has indicated a need to clear the binnacles of the ship of Government, this is a euphemism for accepting defeat on some things, commentators are stepping in with suggestions.
One of the things that I really didn’t understand about the timing of the ABC cuts was why do it now? It just opened up a new front, another wound, for a Government already struggling. Sitting on the train this morning and trying to understand just what had happened to this Government when it should have been riding comfortably, I got out a piece of paper and started jotting down some of the Government’s stated objectives. I did so because I found that I was getting confused, I just didn’t understand quite what was happening.
Sitting there with my sheet of paper ordering and re-ordering things, drawing circles and lines between circles, I came to a fairly simple confusion. The Government’s problem is that it has too many objectives, confuses tactics with strategy and does not properly recognise the inherent conflicts and choices built into its objectives. It takes an objective, say restoring the budget to surplus, and then turns the selected means to achieving that into objectives in their own right.
If you take the budget surplus one as an example, it might achieve this by lower spend, higher taxes or some combination of the two. While the Government is actually doing this, it has increased fuel taxes as an example, its associated objective of lowering taxes does not allow it to say that.
Then we come to the mechanisms to be used to lower spending. Here the Government has chosen policy initiatives that fit its ideological stance. There is nothing wrong with that, However, it has then turned the detail of those initiatives into major objectives into their own right. This puts it on a hiding to nowhere by widening the battlefield. Meantime, the economy has worsened, making it harder to achieve the original objective.
I could go on by working through objective after objective. The same pattern appears. This confusion will persist until the Government achieves a small number of primary objectives that link in some way and can be explained. Can they do this? I wonder.
Meantime, things that are really important get lost in the confusion.