Someone really needs to take the newish Chairman of the Productivity Commission, Peter Harris, aside and give him some frank advice.
In one of his first speeches, he told everyone that he was like the Bob the Builder …. pleeease. I would be hiding your involvement in MYKI, the Victorian desal plant and the NBN – all unmitigated disasters, Pete.
And then we have his speech notes (here’s a hint: there are some very able speech writers at the PC; it is not acceptable to put up speech notes on the PC website; Harris is destroying a fine tradition set by Gary Banks of posting important and polished speeches as a form of record) from a recent outing at the ANU:
We are dull people at the Commission. We like process. In that respect, I may be dullest of all – I’ve seen process and structure that works for major reform projects; and wonder if I will ever see it repeated again.
Hard not to disagree with one part … I may be the dullest of all. But ‘I’ve seen process and structure that works for major reform projects’ – really? really?
The Victorian desal plant was built at triple the efficient cost, was the mother of all union rorts and Victoria doesn’t even need it, although Victorians will pay for it for years and years because of the egregious take-or-pay contracts negotiated with the operator by senior Victorian public servants.
And here’s a bit more of a flavour of these ‘insightful’ (jibberish, more like it) notes from the Chairman’speech:
But until the Hilmer Review, we had no policy options of a traditional kind for dealing with the accreted problems of industries which ‑ through government regulation of entry or through direct government ownership ‑ controlled access to markets covering a larger part of the economy than that which was internationally exposed.
Not only was there a sense of inequity to that, but also a sense that greater burdens for the economy existed behind those walls than behind the walls of tariffs and quotas.
A sense, exposable by incident and example, but not able to be calculated in the precise way sought by some at the time.
Pressed to demonstrate the expected benefits in advance of the inquiry, we could only say it was hard to be sure.
Thus page 9.
But in this, as in the case of the internationally‑traded sector, the Industries Assistance Commission was also active.
The government needs to tread very carefully in sending too many inquiries and research projects to the PC – it is not the organisation it once was.