The Australian Government is now facing some very interesting policy and administrative challenges. I say policy and administrative rather than political because I regard immediate political issues as a second order question.
I don't want to talk about these challenges as such. Instead, I want to point you to some things that bear upon the Government's likely success in managing these these challenges, things that I have spoke about before. I may or may not be be right, but there is now enough evidence to suggest that my concerns were not unfounded. Think of the following as something of a check list that you can use to judge overall performance.
Very early on, I suggested that the Government seemed to be trying to do to much too soon, risking failure. Since then, it has had a very strong activity/announcement focus. Actual delivery of substantive results has lagged. The global economic crisis has certainly complicated things, but it is the trend that I focused on.
I also expressed reservations about the capacity of the system to deliver at the scale required. This was partially systemic, the way Governments operate today, but it also reflected degradation under Mr Howard. So far, I think that I have been proved correct at least in part.
I suggested that there was an old-fashioned flavour in the new Government with its focus on things such as efficiency dividends. This approach is still there and especially in the funding of the latest defence initiatives. There is no evidence that I know of to suggest that this has worked. It has simply added to pressure.
In writing of new capital spend associated with the stimulus packages, I pointed to several problems. One was the fact that Governments no longer had in place a strong pipeline of possible projects after years of financial restriction. This meant delays. The second lay in the delivery capacity of degraded administrative systems.
I think that the evidence suggests that I was in part right. I would now add a further variable, the imposition of national "standards" and "performance indicators" that fail to recognise national diversity, are over complicated and in some cases have little in practice to do with real needs.
Given all this, I think that the key measures to watch during the next stage of the Rudd Government will be its capacity to focus, its capacity to set priorities and then to delegate and its ability to keep things simple.
Here I would also add its capacity to maintain policy stability.
Finally, one area where I was (I think) simply wrong. I suggested that Mr Rudd's desire for control might lead to excessive centralisation in his hands. On the surface, he seems to be giving a fair degree of autonomy to his ministers. If I am right here, then this may go some distance to overcoming the problems that I was talking about.