By Christian Kerr
Liberals are always bashing public servants
for this and that – but the Palmer Report’s diagnosis of Immigration as “process
rich” and “outcomes poor” can be applied across most public policy administration under the Howard Government, despite all the
Liberal mantras about red tape.

Malcolm Farr recently picked up a line like one I raised earlier in The Reader. “The
Government has changed significantly over the past five years,” he wrote. “The
daring has evaporated from its considerations and been replaced by inertia… These
days many of the adventurous advisers have gone from ministerial offices and
have been replaced by public servants who simply keep the place ticking over. Boldness
is at a premium and timidity rules. Passion has left the building.”

Last October, when the prime minister
announced his new ministry after the election, the big news was the creation of a new Department of Human Services “to
oversee and improve the delivery of important government services.”

Little has been heard from its minister,
Joe Hockey. Yes, he’s got a huge job to do, but we’re seeing little evidence of
a revolution to match the PM’s words about how the new department “reflects the
strong commitment of the government to reinvigorate public administration and
improve the delivery of services to the many Australians who have contact with
these agencies” and will “ensure that the government is able to get the best
value for money in delivery with an emphasis on continuous service improvement
and a whole of government approach.”

Perhaps something’s looming. Perhaps it
will be safe to raise proposals when Parliament resumes in a couple of weeks
with the Coalition in control of both houses.

But perhaps we should look further at what
Palmer called “the achievement of quantitative yardsticks rather than
qualitative performance.” That happens because of – not despite – Liberal

The last thing any government
agency needs is the imposition of another layer of bureaucracy on top of
the old-style procedure manual – yet this is how the Howard Government seems to
think it can cut red tape and improve public administration.

But of course, all Liberal MPs have been
successful business managers. They wouldn’t be in parliament otherwise, would

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey