If the pace of the first six months of the Rudd Government was hectic, the rubber is really set to hit the road from July when a number of key external reviews conclude.
There are currently 26 external reviews on foot (whatever that means), commissioned by the Government since it came to office. (You can view them here or by clicking on the image below).
This doesn’t include the plethora — count ’em — of COAG working groups and departmental reviews underway. These are external reviews, usually conducted by hand-picked outside experts. We’ve also included the two Green Paper processes currently underway, which are extensive consultation exercises, and the Defence White Paper, which has its own team of advisers as well as Defence personnel.
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Between July and October 2008, 16 of the 26 reviews are scheduled to be completed, including major Industry portfolio reviews of the automotive and TCF industries, a review of the NT intervention, two key defence reviews and two green paper consultation processes.
And there’s the little matter of Ross Garnaut’s interim report at the end of June.
The higher education review will report in December. Which is also when the Government will respond to the 2020 summit. Those senior bureaucrats thinking that at least this year they’ll get summer holidays might want to think again.
The problem with external reviews like these is that they can’t be ignored or avoided like internal Government reviews – or even reviews by Parliamentary committees which, if the Government doesn’t like how they report, can simply not be responded to. External reviews, created by the Government itself, have a profile. Important people have given valuable time to conducting them. They create expectations, and have to be dealt with quickly.
What the Government will discover when it has these reports dumped on them en masse later in the year is that it won’t be told anything much that its bureaucrats wouldn’t have told them. The Howard Government eventually discovered this after commissioning a number of independent reviews when it arrived in office. I recall John Sharp (remember him?) waving a copy of a very expensive consultant’s report and lamenting that his department could’ve come up with the same thing far more cheaply.
This isn’t a subtle way of suggesting that bureaucrats are the repositories of all wisdom, merely that for most policy issues there’s only a limited number of solutions, and if they’re unpalatable they don’t get many tastier when served up by a prominent businessman or ex-politician.
Still, it’s only taxpayers’ money, and there’s plenty of that to go around. And at least the Government gets to append the word “independent” in front of advice that would otherwise simply have been served up in an internal brief. Then again, there’ll still be plenty of paperwork for public servants.
Each report from each of these reviews will have to be internally assessed, and advice offered to the relevant Minister, along with some flash talking points about how the Government “is very actively considering the report,” and then Cabinet submissions will follow. Good old-fashioned policy grind – just the way Kevin Rudd likes it. Let’s see how many leaks they yield.