Useful work for surplus public servants

Commenter dd replied to my critical appraisal of the achievements of the Gillard era, pointing out that over 500 pieces of legislation went through and that counts as a huge success for various interests such as the trade unions movement and others who support the ALP including the regulatory drones who have proliferated under all governments since the 1970s. Typical of this is a new regulatory agency described by Alan Moran of the IPA.

As the present Parliament was drawing to a close one of the uncontrolled government entities, the Standing Council on Energy and Resources (SCER) started to implement an agreement to establish a new qango, a national energy consumer advocacy body, the Australian Energy Consumers Organisation (AECO). SCER is a regular meeting of energy ministers with a long agenda determined by bureaucrats keen to extend their empires. Having proposed a new body, it then set about validating its sentiments that this was a good idea. Cover for the establishment of this bureaucratically pre-ordained AECO was provided by the appointment of two seasoned bureaucrats, former head energy regulator John Tamblyn and former head of the Commonwealth industry department John Ryan.

Lo and behold Tamblyn and Ryan found fresh gaps in the regulatory arena to be filled by drones and activists…The SCER set about filling the newly discovered regulatory gaps. It scoured the world for suitably qualified people but appointed two seasoned consumerists to head up the new agency. The appointees are Fiona McLeod, the former Victorian Ombudsman, who developed the AECO proposal, and Catriona Lowe of the Consumer Action Law Centre. Both are veteran campaigners and proponents for their view of consumer interests, on whom the costs of the body eventually fall.

Agencies like the IPA don’t have the resources to do the research required to document the costs and benefits of hundreds of things like that and the amendments to the Fair Work Act that PM Kevin Rudd waved through despite his pledge to consult and cooperate with the business community. So here is an idea to make some use of the best of the surplus bureaucrats who will be surplus to requirements under an Abbott administration. The idea is not original, it is just a “Regulation Impact Statement” (compared with the Environmental Impact Statement required for buildings and infrastructure) applied on a grand scale using the kind of resources that have never been applied to the task before.

Maybe people like the evil dwarves at the IPA probably have a Regulatory Impact Statement Form already prepared that can be rolled out to take account of the costs, benefits and implications of laws and regulations. The form would need to cover more than just the dollars and cents involved, it would indicate the sponsors of the legislation, the interest groups, lobby groups and others who wanted it, and it would attempt to assess the full cost of the impact in terms of time taken to comply with bureaucratic procedures, and the decision-making power allocated to faceless bureaucrats who are not visible or accountable to the public.

The same audit should be extended to all the agencies of the grievance industries, including the innumerable Human Rights Commissions and every other tax funded niche occupied by members of Nick Cater’s elites, the agencies of the “adversary culture” as they have been called. BTW that link takes you to a very fine site that I must mention in a Roundup or two in future.

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25 Responses to Useful work for surplus public servants

  1. The Pugilist

    Turn the bureaucracy back on itself (a ‘counter-bureaucracy’ if you will) – tie it up with red tape and give the counter-bureaucracy comparable resources to the bureaucracy. Make the hurdles and hoops much harder for bureaucrats and politicians to get anything up…I like the idea. Who would fund it though? The State is not going to hamstring itself, you know!

  2. Leigh Lowe

    Useful work for surplus public servants?
    Hmmm.
    Well they don’t move around much so perhaps we could glue reflective tabs to them and use them as replacement highway posts.

  3. Token

    Has anyone done a count of the # of pieces of legislation passed per parliament or year like Milt did?

  4. Poor Old Rafe

    IPA has a report on the exponential growth of pages of regulation each year since way back when. By the time you get to 2012 you would probably not see John Roskam behind the pile, let alone the author.

  5. Badjack

    If they are as clueless as Treasury then their results would be questionable

  6. Fess

    Refer to the “office of regulation review”, part of the productivity commission. They have exactly this task, but I doubt the govt has been listening to them any more than they have listened to the rest of the productivity commission. Too busy listening to the social media cheer squad to take serious advice.

  7. Empire Strikes Back

    Elegant idea, but I wouldn’t trust their output Rafe.

  8. Andrew of Randwick

    There is already a requirement for a regulatory impact statement (and a human rights compliance) – but a Prime Minister can exempt legislation from analysis – or speed the legislation through parliament before the committee chairs report back.

  9. David

    You beat me to it Andrew. It just seems that the RIS are usually written by the same drones who come up with the idea of the regulation in the first place. Try and point out the follies in some of them and you are descended upon like the Locusts on Egypt – been there, done that at State level under a previous Labor Gummint. The talk about consultation you usually get when the proposals are first put up are pure bulldust.

  10. blogstrop

    I’m continually reminded of the terminology: A patronage system run by vicious mediocrities. Their droppings are everywhere.

  11. I’m not usually a supporter of more legislation, but I do recommend a Two-for-one Deletion of Unnecessary Legislation Bill, whereby any new Bill to establish an Act of Parliament must include the mechanism for deleting two unnecessary Acts.

  12. whereby any new Bill to establish an Act of Parliament must include the mechanism for deleting two unnecessary Acts.

    In the same sphere of influence, naturally. Either that, or a bill to regulate a certain sphere of commerce etc. must be comprehensive and supercede & annul all previous legislation pertaining to that sphere of commerce. One Bill to rule them all, so to speak.

  13. Poor Old Rafe

    In the 1970s I recall a story in the Sydney Morning Herald about some old laws that were repealed, one related to washing barrels within 60 yards of a public place and the other was about herding pigs on main roads.

  14. Poor Ole Rafe doesn’t seem to be having much luck at finding anything productive that politicians do. Repealing legislation might not seem productive, but it enables many others to become productive once the road is cleared so people can actually get to where they want to go rather than being entrapped in red tape.

    Oakeshott claimed that he thought the Gillard government was very productive because of the number of bills that they passed. Politicians are good at passing bills from the treasury to their colleagues. Just ask Craig Thompson, he knows a thing or two about bills being passed in places people prefer to conceal.

  15. Andrew of Randwick

    Oakeshott claimed that he thought the Gillard government was very productive

    No wonder he likes Julia. His constituents have enjoyed a once in a lifetime funding bonanza. As for the rest of the country we have enjoyed no such windfall.

  16. Jessie

    Andrew of Randwick at 5.04pm,
    Would you please provide some links viz RIS, exemption from analysis, compliance with Human Rights

  17. Andrew of Randwick

    To Jessie #963185, posted on August 17, 2013 at 11:15 am
    Below are some quick directions – not necessarily the best or the most important – do not have more time this morning.
    .
    I do know that Gillard/Rudd, besides using the guillotine excessively to stop debate (over 200 times), they also exempted a lot of legislation from the RIAS and HR requirements – especially as they were rushing to finish the sitting days before calling the election. Someone else can do the research on exact quantum.
    .
    regulations: http://www.finance.gov.au/obpr/proposal/index.html
    human rights: http://www.aph.gov.au/parliamentary_business/committees/senate_committees?url=scrutiny/cominfo.htm

  18. nemo

    I think, on the whole, Regulatory Impact Statements are a farce.

    Essentially, they are written by officials (think Sir Humphrey Appleby) with an agenda. The statements are invariably composed of a few trite observations and refleshed out with meaningless waffle so as to give the impression that they are the result of proper consideration of the issues.

    The statements give figures as to regulatory costs which are entirely fanciful. I have never yet seen any hard evidence to support such figures, nor have I ever seen any of them being subjected to an independent review.

    To sum up, Regulatory Impact Statements conceal a great deal more than they ever reveal and, in many cases, they serve as a device for deception.

    I think a better approach would be to impose a kind of “sunset clause” on new regulatory regimes. The idea would be that after a period of (say) 2 years of operation of a new regulation, an open enquiry should be held by a Parliamentary committee as to whether that regulation should be continued. It would have to be a committee with some real teeth (as it were) to it – so, the committee could question the officials who administer the regulation, call for other evidence (eg, from industries concerned) and with members of the public having the right to make formal submissions.

  19. Poor Old Rafe

    Interesting NZ example of the way incentives work for senior public servants. For years the NZ public depts and instrumentalities ran deficits (overspent) and were routinely topped up, so a culture of over-spending was entrenched and big spending was rewarded with more money.

    Enter Roger Douglas. The game changed and to signal serious intent some of the most profligate departmental heads were advised that their services were no longer required. One of the worst offenders asked for an interview with the Minister. He pointed out that under the old rules, big spending was rewarded. Could he please have a go at playing the new game? And so he became one of the most effective cost cutters and budget balancers in the business.

    It’s all about incentives, stupid!

  20. I read somewhere “if there be any incentive in love….complete my joy by being of the same mind”. Maybe the writer should have written: if there be any love in incentive, I will complete joy by being of the same mind.

    Nothing like incentive, which for most people means “clothed with plenty of high value dollars and cents upon performing a specified action”…and nothing to do with morals. As on observer heard: “How high!!…Sorry!…You said bend over? (!) Ohhh! The pain of it all!… (“Not if you are like Slippery P. Slipper”, said the fly on the wall.).

    No real incentive then in posting…no money in it.

    Maybe I will have to contemplate the incentive of goodwill and generosity…as the Irish lass, with that little bit of sex appeal, informed me, “There is a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. All you have to do is find it.”

    IF there be any incentive…nothing like one good golf shot on a short 3 par course…if you know what I mean.

  21. Jessie

    Thanks Andrew of Randwick,
    All RIA guidelines nicely updated July 2013

    Note Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) and Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA). Is an RIA done at State/Territory/NGO or Local Govt level and RIS at Federal level? If so then it is little wonder that so much bullshit gets manipulated through to sign off level.

    Presumably the Evidence (and process) based approach is in vogue. In spite of little or poor access to actual evidence, as outlined in the PC chapter linked p8. Biblio to this chapter have to be reviewed separately.

    In relation to Nemo’s comment, a sunset clause is included but at a 10 year interval. See C8 Legislative Instruments Act 2003. It would seem a Freedom of Information Request to find which bills were exempted by PMs could be done.

    Julie Novak’s paper Big Government by Numbers is of interest to read in this discussion.

    Hope the links++ get through Sinc 🙂

  22. Graeme No.3

    Poor Old Rafe
    #963294, posted on August 17, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    Exactly as C. Northcote Parkinson suggested in 1959 in The Law and the Profits. It was, as you might gather, about overspending by the government, and what could be done about it.
    Being English, his suggestion was to deny promotion and honours to all who spent the most.

    The success of his other predictions make other predictors e.g. Tim Flannery look very rank amateurs if not incompetents.

  23. Jessie

    Myrmecophaga tridactyla August 16 @3.23

    How wrong you are about highways.

  24. Fred Lenin

    I always remember Sir Humphrey Appleby as the epitome of ALl senior public servants,his great statement “masterfull inactivity ” and his committees of enquiry describe the ethos of the public service perfectly.
    Privatisation of most functions of government ,and continual review of efficiency of the remaining public servants by a non political body could result in a better form of public service get the elected idiots out of the way, make MPs a part time job at. $ 30an hour so they have to have a real job,and cut out the super ,pensions and perks,keep the Bastards Honest.the alp has brought politics into Total Disrepute.

  25. Andrew of Randwick

    Jessie #963440, posted on August 17, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    Presumably the Evidence (and process) based approach is in vogue.

    Jessie you prompted my memory (I was working around, not in, Infrastructure Australia) that I once read (I think it was in a PC report) that even if you can’t do a benefits calculation that does not mean that a cost-benefit-analysis should not be done. In this case you just make up the benefits until the proposal passes the hurdle – the authors went on to cite some academics that ‘proved’ this was a good way to proceed with ‘good’ government initiatives.
    UPDATE:I have found the quote but not the source.

    In its advice on measuring costs and benefits in policy analysis, the Department of Finance and Administration (2006, Appendix II) underlines the importance of counting non-market improvements in the quality of life. In 1996, a group of eminent economists, including Nobel laureate, Kenneth Arrow, set down principles for good cost-benefit analysis, noting that: “Not all impacts of a decision can be quantified or expressed in dollar terms. Care should be taken to ensure that quantitative factors do not dominate important qualitative factors in decision making. (Arrow et al. 1996)”

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