If you read one op-ed today let it be this one

Rod Maddock has an important message in this op-ed.

There is something of a cult of independence in Australia: independent broadcasters, independent wage tribunals, and a host of independent regulators. Independent in this context means independent from political interference.

It seems odd in a democracy to want to establish experts, or expert panels, making important policy decisions which are not subject to political control. Surely the basic rationale of our representative democratic system is to allow politicians to take hard choices for society but for voters to hold them responsible for those decisions through the ballot box. Having politicians pass those decisions off to unelected commissioners and other officials appears to weaken our democracy.

It is easy to see why politicians might want to escape scrutiny by hiding behind expert panels and expert commissioners. By establishing terms of reference, and in appointing commissioners, they have some ability to shape the decisions taken but they can escape responsibility for the particular decisions taken. This suggests politicians are likely to set up too many independent entities, to grant and extend independence more freely than is really in the public interest.

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34 Responses to If you read one op-ed today let it be this one

  1. goatjam

    Surely the basic rationale of our representative democratic system is to allow politicians to take hard choices for society but for voters to hold them responsible for those decisions through the ballot box.

    Yeah, exactly. In this context control=responsibility and that is something the modern class of politician will run a mile from.

    Anything that might shorten their time at the trough is to be avoided at all costs.

    I don’t need to contribute to the Fairfax bottom line to figure this out.

    Politicians today are gutless wonders, Tony Abbott being the “Prime” example at present.

  2. Marion of the Glades

    Exactly! There would appear to be an inverse relationship between the number of independent reports received by government and the outcomes achieved in policy.
    One would think that the combination of knowledgeable Ministers and public service staff would be an adequate base for getting done what’s needed. Plus the odd phone call.

  3. Habib

    It’s also a novel interpretation of the word “independent” as well, established, funded and pretty much directed by government to me is about as independent and viable without said connection as a 6 week foetus.

  4. .Dr.Sir Fred Lenin

    Gutless professional politicians ,who dont want to lose their great jobs and pensions will do anything to avoid criticism. Set up commission with a close comrade as commisar,he takes the flak if IT hits the fan,remove him from the job then quietly give him a better job.All the Sleaze in politics is due to hanging on to the job,after all where would these useless first year uni student politicians get a Real job?
    Restrict them to one tern only in a lifetime ,you would get inexperienced politicians ,but the PS and country runs its self anyway and part rime politicians would only suggest. Policy which would have to pass a Referendum before becoming law.The PS would be constrained bt the Referenda too, referenda would dictate all their actions the loss of power would destroy the evil political parties which are subject to the criminals who own them
    ,NO pwer ,No money!

  5. MACK1

    The link is paywalled but: the counter argument is that governments benefit from access to the best brains in the country, which are scattered throughout society including business and the professions. Many of these people are reluctant to engage in the political process because of the possible adverse effect on their reputation and career, particularly with the plethora of rabid anti-business journalists throughout most of the media. People may remember the attacks by one Mr Keating on anybody in business who dared speak out against him, with support from his press gallery cheer squad. Independent panels allow experienced and knowledgeable people to contribute without being directly involved in the political process. The Reserve Bank arrangements have been successful, and at state level some of the workers compensation systems have been well managed by independent boards with good business experience. Infrastructure Australia would benefit from a standalone board with transparent processes operated by experienced people to do cost-benefit analyses and rank the national needs. We need some of this independence.

  6. Bruce of Newcastle

    I don’t know about AFR, which I don’t look at since its paywalled, but stablemates The Age and SMH like to say “Independent. Always” at the top of their webpages. Also they like to refer to the Grattan Institute, the Australia Institute and Flannery’s Climate Council as independent think tanks.

    All of which are über-lefty political groups.

    Which means whenever I now see the description “independent” I know they are lying.

  7. goatjam

    “We need some of this independence.”

    The trouble is that these so-called “independent” bodies are horribly stacked with people who support your own world view.

    Case in point is the Human Rights Commission. The HRC is so completely stacked with rabid leftists that everything they espouse and do is now the anti-thesis of what their role is supposed to be.

    Ditto the Productivity Commission, Fair Work Australia and even the goddamned judiciary.

    The Liars Party is particularly adept at stacking these “independent” organisations with their own fellow travelers. Contrast the LNP, who recently appointed ex Labor politicians to key roles in “independent” quangos in a misguided attempt to appear impartial. Numpties.

  8. goatjam

    “horribly stacked with people who support your own world view”

    That didn’t come out quite as I intended. I meant the world view of the people doing the stacking, not YOUR worldview MACK1

  9. Which means whenever I now see the description “independent” I know they are lying.

    The word ‘independent’ should not be used of ANY GOVERNMENT-FUNDED ORGANISATION.

    I might even extend that scope to arts grant funding.

  10. Staphy

    It’s pretty clear that representative democracy is increasingly failing to represent our wishes. We essentially elect a dictator for 2-3 terms then vote them out in anger. So I say the more independent bodies taking policy decisions (which should be matters of evidence, not failed ideology) away from these mugs the better.

    Futhermore the people themselves can’t be trusted with decent policy much of the time, as decades of failed drug policy has shown. We’re petty, partisan, ideological laypeople, led around by an infantile and unscrupulous media. Plato knew people couldn’t be trusted to enact decent evidence-based policy and wondered if a technocracy might be better, and he was onto something.

  11. johanna

    There is nothing new about this – on the contrary, it is deeply ingrained in Australian political culture, and has been since Federation.

    Political historians speculate that it mirrors the British political system of the time from which many of our institutions are an outgrowth. From late Victorian times onward, the Brits became increasingly reliant on statutory corporations as a way of distancing various government functions from Ministerial meddling. It was (mirrored in Australia) perceived as a method of countering political corruption and the incompetence of elected politicians.

    In Australia, some of these rationales were amplified by the tyranny of distance and lack of infrastructure. So, things like communications, electricity supply, water and drainage, and so on were (probably justifiably) considered to be too important to be left to the vagaries of pork barrelling politicians. Hence, statutory corporations became the preferred method of delivering essential services in a reasonably equitable way.

    As well, organisations like the Industries Assistance Commission (now the Productivity Commission), the various industrial tribunals, and even universities, were deliberately structured to provide “arms length” governance, for the same reasons.

    I think it is important to understand the historical context here. In fact, with privatisation of utilities, the trend is slowly reversing in Australia.

    While the statutory corporation model had mixed results, it was not so much a way for politicians to duck responsibility as an expression of the distrust that Australians had of politicians – and indeed, of politicians’ own distrust of what their opponents might do in office.

  12. Alfonso

    Not just hiding behind “expert” panels….they want to hide behind the High Court.

    You give activist High Court judges a Constitutional Preamble with which to “interpret ” the intent of the rest of the Constitution and create exclusive rights for ideologically special groups and golly gee…..we in Parliament would love to do something about it but the High Court has spoken, plebs….sorry too much.

  13. H B Bear

    When you have responsible Ministers like Lord Turnbull of Wentworth content to oversee independent boards like the ALPBC that fail to fulfill their legislative charter you have moved completely outside the rule of law.

  14. ella

    O/T but related.

    In 1985, New Zealand Attorney General, Sir Geoffrey Palmer, started his ‘great quango hunt’.

    He had identified hundreds of the bastards he wanted to destroy.

    In the end he failed, since they seem to have increased in number.

  15. John of Dandenong

    ‘independent’ panels, private ‘accreditation’ programs, thug unions and the law industry run the country, parliamentarians have shown they don’t have the fortitude to make difficult decisions and accept responsibility. Its called lack of leadership.

  16. BilB

    Our problem in this country, and the US, is that we have politicians who are prepared to ignore 97% of professional and scientific expertise on important issues and make decisions based on an ideological basis that is dished up to them from a decrepid entirely self interested media mogul. Our political class are not worthy of our trust on pretty well everything.

  17. goatjam

    “ignore 97% of professional and scientific expertise on important issues”

    Oh FMD, another global warming nutter, give me strength.

  18. Alfonso

    Sorry BilB, Cook has demolished the 97% bullshit.

  19. Alfonso

    Try Cook’s 97% has been demolished.

  20. BilB

    Your “demolition” claim comes from your 3% (margin of error) contingent, and you think that is how the country should be run, Alfonso and GoatJam?

    It is pretty obvious that you have not considered the possibility that you just might be wrong, and even more obvious that you have no contingency plan for that possibility of being wrong, to which I say again…and this is how you think that this country should be run?

  21. Alfonso

    ‘how you think that this country should be run?’

    Easy, try reacting to reality, not 17 years of zero warming which even if it’s CAGWarming is utterly unaffected by whatever the .0004 of a degree contributed by Australia in return for devastating the economy with BS subsidised wind power etc. We adapt not pretend as a way forward comrade.

  22. johanna

    Troll derailment in Aisle 5. Cleaners, please wear protective gear. Everyone else, stay clear or you will make things worse.

  23. Our problem in this country, and the US, is that we have politicians who are prepared to ignore 97% of professional and scientific expertise on important issues and make decisions based on an ideological basis that is dished up to them from a decrepi[t] entirely self interested media mogul. Our political class are not worthy of our trust on pretty well everything.

    FIFY

  24. Pyrmonter

    ignore 97% (well, 83%) of professional opinion … we’ve been doing that (and, albeit at a much lower rate, continue to) for roughly 125 years.

    http://www.cato.org/blog/super-majority-economists-agree-trade-barriers-should-go

    I haven’t noticed the left blocking the streets in the name of what was, once, a liberal left cause.

  25. Alfonso

    And comrade, to appreciate the real nature of the 97% try searching What’s Up With That for some detailed demolishing.

  26. Tim Neilson

    BilB
    #1405026, posted on August 5, 2014 at 1:22 pm
    I don’t know what form of psychological problem you are suffering that has given you this psychotic belief in the long since debunked “97% consensus” falsehood. I’m told that one symptom of various forms of mental abnormality is the patient’s inability to self perceive their cognitive deficiencies. Obviously you need professional help. However, you may start the road to recovery by observing the colossal divergences between CAGW “consensus” predictions and reality, and the way in which even the IPCC is edging as surreptitiously as possible away from past dogmatisms.

  27. Staphy

    http://www.cato.org/blog/super-majority-economists-agree-trade-barriers-should-go

    I haven’t noticed the left blocking the streets in the name of what was, once, a liberal left cause.

    Good to keep in mind federal Labor did the lion’s share of work for Australia in the department.

  28. JC

    Good to keep in mind federal Labor did the lion’s share of work for Australia in the department.

    Which labor government are you referring to, surely not the last one, commonly known as the Australian Liars Party.

  29. Grumbles

    As the Senator noted in his article about speed limits, the other problem is we get the same idiots no matter who we vote for, the government changes but the totally inept fools recommending we sacrifice freedom, in the name of security or charity, stay the same.

  30. Toiling Mass

    ’97%’ is the new ’42′.

  31. Ant

    The parliamentary remuneration tribunal is an especially odious entity.

    Whenever I hear that they’re putting their noggins together I see pigs and snouts and smell pork.

  32. Squirrel

    Yes, a timely reminder of a growing problem.

    There are good reasons, in some instances, for independence from executive government, but it has long since passed the point where what is little more than plausible deniability has been turned into an out and proud political art-form.

    Aside from issues of democratic accountability (including in the sense that the appointment of like-minded commissioners and boards etc. is a neat means of politicians continuing to rule from beyond the political grave) there are typically extra costs, compared to performing the same functions in the mainstream bureaucracy.

  33. 2dogs

    The GFC established what a folly having “independent” decision makers really is.

    All those rating agencies were “independent”, but in the end, they were all wrong, and their independence meant nothing.

  34. siltstone

    Maddock is exactly right.

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