Department of the Opposition

The most fundamental fact about the ideas of the political left is that they do not work. Therefore we should not be surprised to find the left concentrated in institutions where ideas do not have to work in order to survive.

Thomas Sowell

Although they have been around for a while overseas, a recent innovation by Australian Universities are Schools of Government.

On one level, you can’t fault our University administrator entrepreneurs:

  • A government policy that funds anyone who wants to study;
  • Performance measurement by quantity of graduates rather than quality if graduates;
  • A low marginal cost of production where there is no need for labs or other high fixed cost infrastructure beyond a lecture room; and most importantly
  • Asymmetric returns for the administrator entrepreneurs.  If things go well, they are promoted and paid more.  If things go badly, they are still promoted and paid more.

But putting all this aside, it is the non-teaching stuff that these schools of government offer, and that we tax payers fund that frequently raises eye brows.  Consider for example the work of Martin Bortz, Research Fellow, Melbourne School of Government.  Please note that the Melbourne School of Government is part the University of Melbourne family, and the University of Melbourne is one of Australia’s best Universities (at least Spartacus understands it is).

In a recent opinion piece for the Mandarin, a website for:

public sector leaders and executives and the many stakeholders and suppliers interested in their work

Mr Bortz has proposed the establishment of The Department of the Opposition, for the benefit of democracy of course:

This (Department of the Opposition) would be set up in a similar way to current departments. This department would house a few hundred (or, maybe, a few thousand) public servants. The remit of this group would be to consider the incumbent government’s policies, and to also deliver detailed and costed policy options that represent a workable alternative.

How neat and simple.  A few thousand public servants “to consider the incumbent government’s policies, and to also deliver detailed and costed policy options that represent a workable alternative”.

That’s right.  A couple of thousand un-elected public servants whose job it is to criticise government policy and to offer alternatives.  How is this actually democratic?  But more to the point, how is this actually different to what currently happens in varying degrees?

Another point to consider is, what if the policies of the government of the day are the best options available or are the will of the populous?  Will the Department of the Opposition recommend their decommissioning?  Spartacus somehow doubts that.

How puerile of Mr Bortz to believe that there is some universal policy truth rather than government policy being a matter of trade-offs.  Perhaps Mr Bortz consider the following advice of an academic discussing the role of expert policy advisors:

Knowledge has a fundamental role to play in both politics and policy, particularly in our hyper-rational age. Because of this, it is necessary to be vigilant about which versions of reality should influence the policy process.

While expert knowledge often has the veneer of legitimacy, we need to be mindful that it represents a particular worldview, and is written for a particular purpose. Though this may suggest some kind of conspiratorial manipulation of those in key positions of power, there are clearly limits to the extent to which expert versions of the world can shape how policymakers think (and, thus, how society is structured).

Spartacus would like to emphasise a particular sentance in the prior:

we need to be mindful that it (expert knowledge) represents a particular worldview, and is written for a particular purpose

Do Cats happen to know who wrote the prior?  It was the same Marty Bortz writing in the Conversation.

The word fremdschämen comes to mind.

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17 Responses to Department of the Opposition

  1. This already exists: Their ABC, SBS, The Age (or what will be Left of it), the Guardian etc.

  2. Habib

    It’s not just the ideas of the left that don’t work, it’s most strident adherents have made malingering a profession. They make junkies look like hyperactive entrepreneurs.

  3. Habib

    BTW isn’t what he’s yammering about called “Treasury”?

  4. RobK

    Technocrats buttressing the fortress.

  5. Rob

    It might be worth trying. My suggestion is that the government (if it were smarter than it is) hire an opposition lecturer to constantly question Mr Bortz’s academic work and standards. To interrupt and interject at his lectures to see if it improves his work.

  6. Roger

    The remit of this group would be to consider the incumbent government’s policies, and to also deliver detailed and costed policy options that represent a workable alternative.


    Would this hypothetical Dept. of the Opposition critique the government’s energy policies and recommend ending subsidies and allowing the market to determine the best supply option?

    Would it suggest ending the immigration Ponzi scheme?

    Would it suggest a migration intake based on national interest in which cultural and linguistic factors that would predict easy assimilation are weighted alongside skills and qualifications?

    Would it suggest opting out of the UNHCR Refugee Convention on the basis that it is outdated?

    No, I didn’t think so.

  7. Genghis

    The Department of Opposition could only work if Labor was in opposition because how could these cretins ever find fault with a green/left agenda.

  8. Des Deskperson

    “The remit of this group would be to consider the incumbent government’s policies, and to also deliver detailed and costed policy options that represent a workable alternative.”

    But the APS isn’t responsible for the policies of the government of the day. It’s role is to assist the government of the day in developing and implementing these policies. As Spartacus suggests, the proposal, “set up in a similar way to current departments”, would give the APS a political role that is almost certainly incompatible with the Public Service Act 1999 and with the Westminster system in general.

    The Commonwealth already has an organisation that evaluates the development and implementation of government policies from both a financial and a performance point of view and makes recommendations to government. It’s called the Australian National Audit Office. It gets by with 138 staff.

    And aren’t there were plenty of ‘think tanks’ out there already doing this sort of stuff, and – one hopes – rather more cheaply, at least as far as the taxpayer is concerned.

  9. Maybe this Mr Bortz is looking for employment opportunities for ex-Fairfax employees.

  10. Des Deskperson

    “Marty previously spent several years as a private consultant, evaluating the effectiveness and efficiency of government policies and programs. He has also worked in the public service for several years. [he has] … a Masters’ degree in Public Policy and Management (from the University of Melbourne).”

    Yet despite his public sector experience, qualifications and a taxpayer-underwritten salary, as a MU Research Assistant and PHD candidate, of around $90.000 pa (not counting 14.5% employer super contribution) he apparently has no idea of the division of roles and responsibilities under the Westminster system of government.

    it makes me a bit angry.

  11. Up The Workers!

    Sounds like a wonderful idea.

    And in the interests of fairness and equity, no doubt the academic boffins will be equally delighted to have some Government-appointed bum-shiner appointed specifically for the task, to jump up in the classroom and contradict every single thing the chalkie says to his/her students.

    “Teacher of the Opposition”. Yeah, I could see that working really well.

    That should employ a few more unemployables.

  12. JohnA

    Spartacus, I don’t know this Bortz bloke from Adam (or a bar of soap for that matter), but I can’t help thinking that his press release left a /Sarc tag off the end of the page.

    SURELY, he can’t be serious…

  13. Dr Fred Lenin

    Who the hell is going to teach anyone about government in this benighted unfortunate country? The country is in its present dysfunctional state BECAUSEof misgovernment and quality of life is sustained. IN SPITE of government stupidity . The only courses funded by taxpayers should be medical ,engineering and non bullshits ience ,and related subjects . All other courses should be self funded ,scholarships for buushit courses should not be tax deductable . The whole eduucatiioneeds to be reformed totally .never mind the gonski scam , scrap it and the peados safe schools “crap too .

  14. Bruce

    RobK notes: “Technocrats buttressing the fortress.”

    Ono may be inclined to ask: Where are the sappers when you most need them?

  15. Bruce

    “One may be…etc. etc.

  16. Entropy

    Look, all,this is about is that mr bortz has recognised an opportunity to build an empire providing qualifications for ambitious young policy area public servants to load up on their resume. It’s knowledge of the process that matters, not the actual content or subject matter.

  17. Entropy

    Another thought: wouldn’t this be in competition with, and regarded as inferior to, ANZOG?

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