As Australia woke up on Sunday morning, as a nation we found ourselves metaphorically slumped over a picket fence, shoes missing, hair suddenly coloured blue, to see Tony Abbott cycle past as the new Prime Minister and whilst in a groggy state and with our heads thumping as if in a hangover thinking "Oh Dear, what have we done?"
Of himself I don't think that Mr Abbott is "the great Satan" for a second. He will probably make for a fairly standard sort of orthodox conservative Prime Minister and provide stable leadership within the Liberal Party; so in than respect I don't see him as necessarily a bad thing. What I am concerned about isn't so much this term of office but the next one following the 2016 election and the one after the 2019 election (assuming Tony decides to sensibly set aside his wish for a double dissolution).
What I fear about an Abbott Government will not happen in the first or possibly second term but might very well happen in the third term.
Mr Abbott went into the election campaign, only releasing costings and actual policy three days before an election. To actually achieve his savings will require the axing of about 600 public service jobs per month between now and June 30 2014. The problem with axing public service jobs isn't so much to do with eliminating waste but the nature of the jobs which end up being removed as a result.
If a government holds out the carrot of voluntary redundancies, then the people most likely to take them up are those people who have the most to gain monetarily. What that essentially means is that the people with the most experience, the people with the greatest skills and the people who potentially have the most to teach and pass on what they know are the first to go.
If you assume that half of the public service is wasteful (which I'm not going to suggest is the case because having been a public servant I can tell you we were hideously understaffed and overworked) then the half which goes are either the people whom a lot of the burden of work falls upon and those people in management who basically take free money and game the system. It is the worst of both worlds.
Instantly the policy designed to remove "waste" rewards wastrels and creates a skill drain and a brain drain. What is left is a public service which is less competent at doing the thing which was intended; serving the public.
Of course when you create a less competent public service by policy design, it leads to the impression of even more waste and the expectation that government isn't able to deliver; thus the door is open to privatisation.
The thing is that once privatised, you're never going to get back the thing which was privatised ever again.
When you think about entities like Telstra, the Commonwealth Bank, the Federal Airports Corporation etc. these things have on occasion gone onto produce massive massive profits. Those profits which would have rightfully have belonged to the government where they could have been reinvested or used to defer the costs of the public service, never again get ploughed into the public purse.
Think about it, Mr Keating who privatised the Commonwealth Bank in 1991 effectively has to date forgone in 2013 dollars the equivalent of $110bn. Mr Howard when he privatised Telstra effectively forwent in 2013 dollars $33bn to date. Now I don't know about you but I find that personally insulting. If someone in business tried to pull that sort of feculence, they'd be shown the door faster than Usain Bolt can run when he is late for the bus.
Mr Abbott's own words are of note here:
We will abolish new health and environmental bureaucracies. We will deliver $1 billion in red tape savings every year. We will develop northern Australia. We will repeal the mining tax. We will create a one stop shop for environmental approvals. We will privatise Medibank Private. We will trim the public service and we will stop throwing good money after bad on the NBN.
- Tony Abbott, Address to Institute of Public Affairs, 5th April 2013
I know I've made mentino of this before but:
For example, privatising the ABC, Australia Post, Medibank Private and SBS alone would transfer 44,200 employees to the private sector – an amount 15 times greater than the Gillard government’s proposed 3,100 APS staff reductions for this financial year.
- Julie Novak, page 2 of Razor cuts, not paper cuts: A framework for rightsizing commonwealth government employment, Institute of Public Affairs, October 2012
If Labour does what the unions tell them too, then on the other side, the LNP does what organisations like the IPA tell them too. Policy in this country is hardly created by the parties anymore but by the people who fund them. It is the ones who pay the piper who get to decide what tunes are played.
This is what really scares me. Mr Abbott is by nature, a continuance of the Howard spirit whom he learned his trade off as a Cabinet minister from 1998 to 2007. He was part of that government which sold Telstra and the Federal Airports Corporation. Now that he is in government as the top dog, I can pretty well much guarantee that the ABC, the NBN and Medicare will be either privatised or dismantled by the end of the decade.
That's a world which I don't particularly want to live in but one which the Australian public thanks to three years of goading by the media and by scaring the illiterati who live in places like Sydney's west, we may have inadvertently signed up for.
2013 is not the election you are looking for, you can go about your business... move along.