So we have the long expected reform of the federal public service in Australia. Sort of. There are fewer departments, but they are bigger. They will most likely still employ the same total number of bureaucrats. What will be new is 6 to 12 months of administrative chaos in the merged departments as people and facilities move around and try to gel together their different ethoses and IT systems. “Having fewer departments will allow us to bust bureaucratic congestion, improve decision-making and ultimately deliver better services for the Australian people,” says the PM. I wish I had his faith.
These are the new super-departments:
- The creation of the Department of Education, Skills and Employment, which will consolidate:
- the current Department of Education; and
- the current Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business.
- The creation of the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, which will consolidate:
- the current Department of Agriculture; and
- environment functions from the current Department of the Environment and Energy.
- The creation of the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, which will consolidate:
- the current Department of Industry, Innovation and Science;
- energy functions from the current Department of the Environment and Energy; and
- small business functions from the current Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business.
- The creation of the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, which will consolidate:
- the current Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development; and
- the current Department of Communications and the Arts.
- The Department known as Services Australia (formerly known as the Department of Human Services) will be established as a new Executive Agency, within the Social Services Department.
And this is the new list of the big 14 – 13 probably would have been unlucky and led to never-ending recriminations “which one will betray the Lord?” – and their big heads:
|Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment||Mr Andrew Metcalfe AO|
|Attorney-General’s Department||Mr Chris Moraitis PSM|
|Department of Defence||Mr Greg Moriarty|
|Department of Education, Skills and Employment||Dr Michelle Bruniges AM|
|Department of Finance||Ms Rosemary Huxtable PSM|
|Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade||Ms Frances Adamson|
|Department of Health||Ms Glenys Beauchamp PSM|
|Department of Home Affairs||Mr Michael Pezzullo|
|Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources||Mr David Fredericks|
|Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications||Mr Simon Atkinson|
|Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet||Mr Philip Gaetjens|
|Department of Social Services||Ms Kathryn Campbell AO CSC|
|Department of the Treasury||Dr Steven Kennedy PSM|
|Department of Veterans’ Affairs||Ms Liz Cosson AM CSC|
There you have it – 18 chuhuahuas replaced by 14 cavoodles. Or you can instead have the Daily Chrenk’s plan for government overhaul and federation reform: drown a few puppies, put up a few for adoption, and keep a few lean, mean German Shepherds.
Let’s face it, only five departments are really justifiable:
- Attorney-General to handle the legal side of government
- Department of Defence to, well, defend us
- Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to talk to the foreign folk
- Department of Home Affairs to handle immigration and internal security
- Department of the Treasury to decide how to divvy up the little tax it collects
Education, Health and welfare in all forms should all be properly handled on the state level, without any duplications, overlaps or the Canberra sugar daddy being constantly hit for more money. Veterans’ affairs is mostly welfare, which should also go to the states, with the more symbolic and commemorative aspects of the portfolio to be given to Defence.
Other departments, like Agriculture and Industry are essentially middle class and business welfare, which government should not be doing in the first place. Stay away from all the myriads of exemptions, concessions, grants and other vehicles of special treatment and have lower taxes across the board instead to stimulate the economic activity and make people’s lives easier. The same applies to Employment.
I remain to be convinced that there is any point to the federal involvement in areas like Infrastructure, Transport, Communications, Environment, Employment, Energy, Resources or Regional Development. Again, these are areas where the states are in a better position to work in, if at all. There is no need here for any overarching Commonwealth narratives, and we could do with some competitive federalism, where states actually experiment in the best ways of facilitating their own economic development and infrastructure. When there is a need, states can get together and agree on the topics that affect them all or some of them (like a new inter-state railway line).
Lastly, Finance’s much reduced responsibilities can be subsumed by the Treasury with its.
Many people will no doubt say that I’m grossly overestimating the states’ ability to run things. Maybe. But maybe with more revenues on hand and with the action switching from Canberra back to the capitals, state politics will be able to attract better talent, which currently tends to gravitate to Club Fed, leaving very much the B teams back home. I think it would be worth a try.
When in doubt: don’t mend it, end it.