Wednesday, November 26, 2014

How to make a mess: Mr Abbott’s confusion with objectives, strategy and tactics

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.   


2 tanners said...

You've wandered the hallowed halls as long as I have. It has always been an article of faith with the coalition that the ABC if prejudiced against them. This is a sincere belief, and I cannot think of a single member, wet or dry, who did not hold it.

Cutting the ABC seems logical if you hold this as true. And frankly, Auntie (TV) is not a big deal amongst coalition voters. If the response were instead to cut radio national, I think they might get a surprise.

Evan said...

What you aren't seeing Jim is how tribal this is.

The government is paying back or rewarding friends and attacking those perceived as enemies. This is the consistent pattern.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi 2T and Evan.

On your first sentence, 2T, I would agree that that is a common coalition view. Reading some of the comment or letter reaction including the Daily Telegraph in Sydney, outside the areas most directly affected including the bush, there is not a lot of ABC sympathy among those supporting the Government.

Evan may be right about the tribal element. That would not be new. Try NSW Labor, for example. But the thing that interests me from an analytical viewpoint is the apparent logical as well as political confusion besetting the Government.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jim

You are charitable in your views as usual, but I think Evan is quite correct.

As Nicholas Stuart wrote recently, being prime minister is very different from being leader of the opposition and Abbott is demonstrating no comprehension of his role to date.

I certainly don't think that Abbott is governing for all Australians and, worse, I don't think he sees that as desirable. The very qualities that made him an effective opposition leader work against him now.

Your observation about the confusion between strategy and tactics is perceptive and spot on.


Evan said...

Thanks Sue

Jim Belshaw said...

Good morning, Sue. You put that well. I would say that that's true, if not the whole story. Can Mr Abbott learn? If not, it is likely to be a one term government and I don't think that Labor has learnt either.