Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The problem with Mr Rudd's rubber bands

I am getting far behind on my emails and my personal reading, so I need to take something of a break from this blog. To do this, for the next week I am going to try to limit myself to short follow up posts on particular stories or themes.

In my last post, A Monday Meander - Indonesian ferry loss, Mr Rudd's overwork and the 1978 Cabinet Records, I referred to continuing concerns about Mr Rudd's approach to the management of Government business.

I have been quite consistent in my arguments here over time - Ken Henry, Malcolm Turnbull and the Australian Government's bank deposit guarantee - issues arising contains a list of some of the links at the end. See also the comment from anon at the end of the post for a particular Canberra perspective on one aspect.

Consistency does not, of course, make me right, just consistent. However, it does reflect my own growing concerns.

I have no interest at present in the party politics of it all. My sole concern lies in the effective working of the Australian systems of Government, public policy and public administration.

I once tried to explain the problem this way.

Take a packet of rubber bands. Each year, you take a few out (the efficiency dividend) on the assumption that the rubber bands remaining will do better. Then you take each rubber band, or in Mr Rudd's present case all the rubber bands, and proceed to stretch them. After a while, they start to fray and break. To compensate, you increase the pressure on the remaining ones.

I accept that this is not a perfect analogy, but it's not a bad one.

Part of the problem lies in the application of pressure to a system that already had systemic problems because of the application, I would say misapplication, of certain current theories of management, organisational design and public administration. These problems are not unique to Australia.

If you have an already creaky system and apply too much pressure, things do fall over.

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