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Leaders' lack of leadership and quality of bureaucrats' advices: the case of Australian government recent policies

Comments on George “Leaders out chasing phantoms”, 30/05/2009, http://blogs.theaustralian.news.com.au/meganomics/index.php/theaustralian/comments/leaders_out_chasing_phantoms/

George, I liked your article when reading it. And I still like it even after I had read some comments. To be frank, although I strongly share your frustrations about the PM and wish he could and would perform better as most Australians wished so, I tend to agree with some comments that Rudd may not be what people thought or think he is.

Yes, he has ego, as most people especially politicians do. He also has brains; I tend to agree with you, because otherwise he could not have risen to the Labor leadership and became the PM. But, his character of micro-manager and policy nerd is his own enemy and will prove to his eventual downfall.

Micro-manager, in fact, is a form of small mindedness, unless that character is supplemented with super energy and balanced with a big picture strategy/approach. So far Rudd has not shown the latter, except his opportunistic talent in combining with Gillard to defeat Beasley before the last election.

That act was a superb display of a smart strategy at a crucial time of history. It succeeded at a time when Labor was in despair and lacked talent. That act solved Labor’s despair and won the following election. But it has not changed its critical deficiency, that is, lack of talent. This particular point has exposed Rudd’s own weaknesses and reduced the Labor government to a group of clowns in a circus show.

Besides the Labor’s lack of talent, I have now begun to wonder the quality of the public service, especially a number of important agencies, such as Treasury, Finance and PM&C. The government’s responses to the financial and economic crisis after it had emerged have been so poor.

Some examples include the cash handouts as fiscal stimulus when expecting rising budget deficits and government debts, the national broadband tender processes and subsequent announcement of the new proposal of a new optical fibre of network to homes with an increase of the costs by several times of the original proposal the Labor took to the last election, the change to budgetary forward forecast process and the assumption of a lengthy period of above trend economic growth, the original disappointing and stubborn approach to the emissions trading scheme and the subsequent delay and changes to that.

Problems with the cash handouts should have been clear to economic advisors before they were proposed. If they were not clear to them earlier, they should have certainly been clear enough at the time the second stimulus package was made. But to everyone’s surprise and disappointment, they got the second cash handouts in the second package.

For the national broadband network, how could any responsible government, not to mention a federal government, announce a $43 billion infrastructure project without detailed economic and business study, or a feasibility study? They have bureaucrats such as the Communication Department, Infrastructure (Invest?) Australia, Treasury etc. Why was the government or the PM and his communication minister so eager to make that announcement? Why couldn’t they just say the government intend to investment in such an infrastructure project, pending the study of the business case?

For the ETS, the climate change minister and the PM went against the recommendations of their chosen advisor and adopted a conditional target of 15% reduction. Further, it insisted to introduce the scheme in 2010. What happened? They had to back down and raise the conditional target and delay the introduction by a year.

I doubt all the government’s policy problems just reflect the lack of talent in the government’s ministry. I wonder whether it also reflects the failures of our top public services.

That is unfortunate for the Labor government. But more importantly it is a tragedy for the nation.

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