Yesterday’s Crikey Daily contained a cracker of an example of how Sir
Humphreyism is flourishing under the Howard Government – despite all
the Liberal mantras about red tape and small government.

Malcolm Farr
recently picked up an issue I raised earlier in The Reader. “The government has changed significantly over the past five years,” he
wrote. “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ministerial offices and have been replaced by public servants who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.”

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 mantras.

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 politicians have been successful business managers. That’s why they’re in parliament, isn’t it?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey