Some good ideas

Mark Latham is a better analysts than politician. The weekend the AFR has his top ten list for improving Australian political life. Some on the are good – others not so much.

1. LIGHT-TOUCH GOVERNMENT
Our national leaders need to regain the habit of educating the electorate about a realistic role for government. In economic policy, this means abandoning the pretence of interventionism. While policymakers can improve the business environment with strategies for market competition and skill development, they actually have no way of directly controlling economic outcomes.

In social policy, governments need to acknowledge the rising tide of self-reliance, rolling back middle-class welfare entitlements. The major parties need to concentrate on doing a limited number of things well.

A good start – but I’m not convinced government does a good job at “strategies for market competition and skill development”. Certainly the ACCC isn’t evidence of good policy.

2. REDUCING BUREAUCRACY
Despite the marginalisation of government power, the size of the federal bureaucracy and the number of parliamentary sinecures attached to it has grown ever larger.

Yes – at a time when people realise that government can do less rather than more, the size and scope of government intervention in society has grown.

3. INDEPENDENT POLICYMAKING
… There is a strong argument for extending the success of the RBA to other areas of ­economic debate, such as fiscal ­policy and climate change.

Not convinced on this score – yes; independent monetary policy does seem to work, but is likely to be a special case (if there is a causal relationship here and not just correlation).

4. DOWNSIZING STATE POLITICS
… State backbench MPs should hold part-time positions, similar to local government.

Why stop there? Federal MPs should be part-time too. It’s not like Parliament sits every day. The job of an MP is to represent people in the Parliament – so when Parliament isn’t sitting they’re not doing their job. Working to get re-elected and schmoozing with constituents is time-consuming but I’m not sure that we should be paying them a salary to do that.

5. MINIMISING INFOTAINMENT
… To this end, question time in Federal Parliament should be abandoned. It has lost its original purpose of holding the executive to account.

Mixed feelings on this – question time doesn’t work for its intended purpose, but it does provide opportunity for the opposition to confront the government. Otherwise the relationships within Parliament would become far too cosy.

6. ENTITLEMENT REFORM
The solution to entitlement rorts is straightforward: bundling up and cashing out the current system of entitlements into a single global budget – to be managed by MPs themselves, under strict guidelines. A truly ­independent monitoring body should also be established, with the power to fine and, in clear cases of rorting, expel offending MPs.

Too timid – let that “single global budget” be their salary, paid in cash. Legitimate work expenses can be deducted through the tax system – like every other Australian.

7. VOLUNTARY VOTING

Yep – and abolition of the abomination that is preferential voting. One person, one vote.

8. SMALLER ELECTION CAMPAIGNS

Nice try – this amounts to suppression of free speech.

9. SIDELINING LOBBYISTS

Federal and state parliaments should enact laws that:

• require any minister lobbied by private financial interests to list the nature of the meeting on a publicly available register;
• ban former MPs or party officials from acting as lobbyists for a period of five years after leaving office;
• adopt Peter Reith’s proposal for senior party officials to be prohibited from holding corporate positions.

The problem here is that people have to work – this amounts to a restraint of trade clause being written into MPs employment contracts.

10. POWER TO THE EDGE
… Both parties are shackled by their ancient production-side links, with union-based ­factionalism dominating the ALP and ­corporate figures running the Liberal Party.

Yes, well – in time parties will either rejuvenate their internal legitimacy or face popularist competitors. The ALP has the Greens and the Coalition the PUP.

Notice, however, that Latham doesn’t recommend that MPs only access their Super at the same age as the rest of the community or have to work to the age of 70.

Anyway – a good list overall, and far more “radical” than anything he could or would have implemented as ALP leader.

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26 Responses to Some good ideas

  1. Shy Ted

    Re point 1 – a light touch. Shouldn’t that also be extended to taxi drivers?
    3… “and climate change”. Bang goes the reduced bureaucracy.
    5. Did Julia Gillard ever answer a question in QT anyway?
    6. And what does (or did) the Aussie taxpayer get for ML’ index linked $75k, for life?
    9. Perhaps if it wasn’t a given that pollies will score a long tenure upon exit and were selected like everybody else based on their record they might be more inclined to do a good job, not mentioning any names Kevin, Julia, Penny, every Green, ad infinitum.
    Ooh I’m angry this morning and this twit doesn’t help. Boozer’ nose, pancreatitis… someone has been giving the sauce bottle a good shake.

  2. Ivan Denisovich

    James Allan calls it:

    In terms of economic benefits, federalism stands or falls on its ability to create a competitive environment where different States try and do different things and there is plenty of competition.

    and

    I have more or less given up on federalism in this country. I lament the fact that our top court has one of the most pro-centre, decide-against-the-states hit rates of any federalist common law court going.

    http://quadrant.org.au/opinion/qed/2014/07/federalisms-sorry-tate/

    More competition between the states would also weaken the malign influence of the Greens, you’d hope.

  3. entropy

    The greens only have any influence because of the structure of the senate.

    There are too many APS in health and DHS/DSS. I am sure the same is true in other agencies.
    I have been doing a bit of work with policy types in these areas lately, and they suffer from knowing better than state bureaucrats, even to the extent if funding new program’s over the top of existing program’s run by the state. This isn’t because they think the state program is no good, but that they dont acknowledge or even process that the state program exists. Like it’s an irrelevancy.

    Having worked for both state and federal bureaucracies, they both have their roles, but Canberra just doesn’t do services. I would argue the is plenty of opportunity to reduce spending without needing the approval of the senate, and cutting out federal program’s that duplicate state services is a priority.

  4. Ivan Denisovich

    The greens only have any influence because of the structure of the senate.

    They also influence the way the major parties behave, particularly Labor, of course..

  5. egg_

    Mark Latham is a better analysts than politician.

    Spot on, credit where it’s due – he nailed Rudd in ‘ruling the ruins’ (of not only the ALP, but also the LNP and hoodwinked da Murdoch, to boot).

  6. struth

    Malcom heads left and Mark heads right

  7. Angus Black

    Story, can’t agree with point 5. The infotainment of question time is just about the only return I get from my tax dollar.

  8. egg_

    Mark heads right

    Nature abhors a policy vacuum?

  9. H B Bear

    Latham must be back on the meds.

  10. .Dr.Sir Fred Lenin

    Tenure of one term in parliament in 20 years ,with no super or perks ,would eliminate politics as a career. Forbidding All donations for political purposes,charging income tax on union income,public scrutiny of all unions and employer organisations. Abolish the senate and all upper houses.cut Federal power to Taxation,Defence Foreign Affairs and Immigration,with consent of Peoples Referenda,All governments to legistlate by Referenda only. Abolish canberra town council ,and NT shire councils,
    Less governments More Freedom!

  11. Andrew

    Sir Fred, don’t abolish West Queanbeyan City Council, but just change its name back to its proper status. That should put Mayor Gallagher in her rightful place. As a medium size city council, it would be back to roads and collecting garbage, and would be crucified for spending the money on something like Skywhale. (imagine if Blacktown city flew a Skywhale over Mount Druitt)

  12. johanna

    Tenure of one term in parliament in 20 years ,with no super or perks ,would eliminate politics as a career.

    Bad idea. That would mean that the PM, the Treasurer, the Minister for Defence etc would be running the country before they even knew how to find the nearest dunny to the House of Reps.

    It would be like having Jacquie Lambie trying to run the school tuckshop – disastrous.

    As for Latham’s thought bubble, the source is so tainted that it’s hard to take seriously. ML has moments of lucidity, but both his performance and some of his previous incoherent and inconsistent meanderings (see Gerard’s MWD for examples) make this morelike a random bulls-eye in a long drunken darts match than a credible contribution to debate.

  13. .Dr.Sir Fred Lenin

    Joanna,politicians dont really run the country ,they only ” make policy” ,under my system the only policy would be that which had passed in a referendum,in other words ,laws the People wanted,which could then be implemented by the PS,acting uder the instructions of the people,All elections would be in two parts ,held during Quarterly Referenda,stage one. All candidates stage two ,the two candidates with the most votes run off,voluntary voting ,with no preferences,I think that would be more Democratic.

  14. Fisky

    Notice, however, that Latham doesn’t recommend that MPs only access their Super at the same age as the rest of the community or have to work to the age of 70.

    I wonder why!

  15. johanna

    Sir Fred, I take it that commissioning and voting on legislation doesn’t count as “running the country”, then? Making decisions under existing legislation and Constitutional powers ditto?

    Your suggestion would just remove the last vestiges of control over the bureaucracy.

  16. Peter

    So first-past-the-post voting and non-compulsory voting are working so well elsewhere?.
    Let’s stop kidding ourselves that we can fix the voting system without “fixing” the voters.

    As long as we have large numbers of voters who vote for a living, who vote for whatever silly slogan strikes their fancy on the day…… Or who vote for the tribe rather than for principles and competency, then we will have people like Palmer, SHY, Lambie and Oakeshotte in Parliament.

  17. PaulL

    On point 9 – sidelining lobbyists.

    Are we also suggesting that senior party officials should be prohibited from holding union positions? Are we also suggesting that union interests (in some sense an equivalent of “private financial interests” must have the nature of the meeting listed? Would that stretch also to “Green interests” and other activist groups? Many of them are becoming synonymous with private financial interests and are acting to lobby in favour of specific policies that create winners and losers.

    I am of the view that attempting to regulate all this is a fools game. We should measure the policies themselves, both what they claim to achieve and what they do achieve. Looking at who supports and lobbies for them doesn’t tell us anything about the policy itself. Mussolini made the trains run on time, the fact that Mussolini supported it doesn’t automatically mean that having the trains run on time is a bad idea. Equally big business might support labour market flexibility, that doesn’t automatically make it a bad idea for everyone else.

  18. Warrick

    Yep – and abolition of the abomination that is preferential voting. One person, one vote.

    This is a dangerous idea, FPTP has been proven to have serious flaws that effect the democratic process, such as the spoiler effect.
    That coupled with the fact that up to 49% of the seat is unrepresented, doesn’t illustrate it to be a very democratic method of electing politicians.

  19. Warrick

    In reply to Paul L, if that were the case and the lobbying is in the public interest, then all minutes and documents relating to meetings between government and business officials should be made open to the public.

    After all, many this week are only learning now that we’ll be having a compulsory copyright term extension and that carriage services will be held directly responsible for the digital content they deliver to customers, so that in theory they’ll be held responsible for their customers’ copyright infringement or access to ‘banned’ material as defined by the Attorney General’s office (what matter the A.G. has dictating what material I can freely view, I have no idea) thanks to the basically unreported negotiations of the Trans Pacific Partnership.
    If anyone can freely say that this opaque process was in any way democratic should kindly go back to Stalinist Russia where they can take part in all manner of opaque processes.

  20. Nick Ferrett

    The restraint on MP’s taking lobbying jobs would be less oppressive if the job of an MP was made a part time one. If they had to keep ordinary jobs, the restraint wouldn’t mean very much.

  21. Tel

    Our national leaders need to regain the habit of educating the electorate about a realistic role for government.

    Yeah, because there’s a strong incentive for people feeding off the public to explain to the victims how much blood they have lost.

  22. 3. INDEPENDENT POLICYMAKING
    … There is a strong argument for extending the success of the RBA to other areas of ­economic debate, such as fiscal ­policy and climate change.

    The only ‘success’ was that Wayne Swan didn’t get to set exchange rates.
    Abolish the RBA and let Tasmania adopt its own currency.

  23. entropy

    The problem with factions and career politics can potentially be resolved using the entropy solution:
    Politicians only get the average weekly wage, and a public service department processes travel allowance and other entitlements, which will be the same as any other policy officer.
    Ministers get paid at the 90th percentile of Australian Incomes, and get the same allowances as a low level SES. PM gets a Dep Sec pay and conditions.

    My reasoning is this: Too many politicians pursue politics as a career, rather than a service. The above pay limitations make it less likely that a numpty straight out of Nappies University will instead have to develop a career outside politics first. This should ensure that they actually have a clue how most people live, and the value of business, before they turn to a second life serving their country or chasing power games (nothing will fix that).

    The other key problem can only be solved by the union movement itself. Break up the super unions back to smaller ones actually focused on their members, and only promote to positions in head office from reps on the shop floor. No more appointments from the student union handed to the union by the aligned faction.

  24. nerblnob

    It’s amazing how many Australians I meet seem to think that over-regulation is the only thing keeping them from being raped by Big Business.

    When I point out that it’s Small/Medium business that suffers most, some example of someone running a small business pops up, who has no problem with the current state of things.

    Inevitably their business is one that profits from the regulations. But produces nothing.

  25. johanna

    entropy, you seem to be in favour of more regulation to save us from the problems of over-regulation.

    What’s more, the PM already earns a lot less than many senior public officials. How has that improved public policy?

    More generally, I fail to see how banning ex-MPs (more regulation!) from certain forms of employment helps to improve the standard of government. The failure, if any, is in stopping the operation of the Old Pals Act, which is already prohibited by things like procurement regulations.

    It’s classic bait-and-switch – something bad has happened, so we need a new law. The fact, which is always carefully avoided, is that we need enforcement of the laws and ethical standards that are already there. Graft and corruption has never been legal.

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