There has been a lot of talk about a lack of adult input into Rudd government policy making. Today Peter van Onselen raises the issue in The Australian. Three individuals are singled out as being too young and inexperienced for the positions that they hold.
Chief of staff Alister Jordan, 30, press secretary Lachlan Harris, 30, and senior economics adviser Andrew Charlton, 31, are three of the most powerful players in the Rudd government because they are listened to and trusted by the Prime Minister in a way cabinet is not. But they are all relative political novices with no experience in the labour movement and next to none in industry or business.
So let’s take all of that as given and read and so on. It is only when we get to the end of a long feature piece that the real problem begins to emerge (emphasis added).
While Rudd’s young advisers may have been given too much responsibility too early in their careers, their failings are ultimately the Prime Minister’s. It is he who appointed them and chose their counsel to the exclusion of advice from others.
Who appoints the prime minister – apart from the GG who has the formal duty? Who gives the prime minister council even if and when he doesn’t want it?
The Rudd government has been an institutional failure – the rules of the game appear to have been violated on many fronts. Sure it is possible that poor appointments may have been made, but they should be rare and quickly fixed. Sure dumb policies were announced, but again they should be rare and quickly fixed. But we see none of that. Silly ideas are common and persist. Decisions are made in haste by a small number of people with little consultation.
Maybe this attitude does explain what’s wrong.
Senior Labor sources believe arrogance is a key reason Rudd and his entourage don’t seem able to turn around their fortunes. Says one: “The advisers around him work on the idea that ‘we are smart; the punters are dumb; they won’t recognise that we are running a scam’.”
Yet this too is hard to believe. Government and bureaucracy are process driven institutions – these processes are there for good reason. Similarly the ALP itself is an institution with rules, proceedures and traditions of doing things. Mistakes should be rare and quickly fixed.
So blaming a bunch of 30-year olds isn’t the solution to the Rudd government’s problem, blaming Rudd himself is part of the solution, but we need to look at the institutitons themselves. The machinery of government, the bureaucracy, and political parties should be fairly stable and conservative institutions. Within those institutions there should be a group of fairly hard-headed, thick skinned individuals whose primary function is to prevent institutional failure. Right now I can’t see where they are, or what they are doing.