The Bible as capitalism’s manual
It’s not the economy, it’s the Covid

Crisis of competence: Our flawed pollies

Scott & gladysPAUL OATES

CLEVELAND – I don't disagree about recent observations in PNG Attitude about the political blunders made in Australia’s response to the Covid threat.

But I believe the core problem lies within our system of selecting political leaders.

In Australia, politicians are not selected by the voters but by a few party members or factional leaders at preselection ballots.

Only a few politicians are self-funded, independent aspirants prepared to spend the money, time and effort to obtain a seat in parliament, whether state or federal. It is the major political parties that hold sway.

Voters are rarely given a real option of voting for leaders who have had practical experience in management and administration.

Most aspirants work their way up an established route of student politics, trade union or business association organiser, party headquarters or MPs electorate assistant before having a shot at a seat.

Nothing in there that looks like a real job on the factory floor or setting up a small business.

Everything there to filter out independent thinking and instil an understanding that strong loyalty and conformity to the party are the keys to advancement.

The result is what causes the frustrated voter to exclaim, 'No matter who I vote for, I always end up with a politician!'

When it comes to handling threats like the current Covid pandemic, we don’t expect our politicians to be trained to deal with them personally. But they do need skills of leadership and good judgement and to have in the public service the specific skills to deal with all kinds of eventualities.

So how do we, the people, elect effective leaders to make certain they are capable, honest and the people we think they are. And that they do not believe they have all the answers and are capable of taking advice.

Even bumbling governments can operate with reasonable effectiveness if they have a trained and efficient public service. That is, a public service selected on ability and merit, not on cronyism.

What has crept into the selection process of government officials over the last 20 years or so is political parochialism and favouritism. This seems to have depleted the skills available to political leaders.

But cronies may be good to have a beer with and pretty useless when a crisis erupts that requires special skills. So, in the absence of these skills, political leaders have decided that a uniform might instil public confidence and requisitioned senior military officers to assist, especially when logistics in the problem.

More commonly, however, the public service now relies on consultants who claim special knowledge, although when the Australian government employed consultants last year to organise the distribution of vaccines, they were founding wanting and the military was called in.

Many analysts and expert commentators are writing that our civilisation has reached a tipping point, and this may well be true. I refer you, for example, to yesterday’s essay, ‘The decline of the West’, by my colleague Chris Overland.

Certainly, there is a convergence of threats on many fronts: pandemics; climate change; terrorism; overpopulation; species extinction; collapse of ecosystems; food insecurity and weapons of mass destruction.

There are more, and one of these is the failure of leaders to recognise or to confront these genuine risks.

The human race has been under immense pressure before and survived, unfortunately only with great loss. But right here, in 2021, we have a number of threats that have the potential if left unchecked to change life on Earth as we know it.

Leaders campPropaganda, spin, public relations, wishful thinking and false prophets will not help.

Every election in Australia these days seems see more and more money – often taxpayers’ money -to saturate the media with propaganda.

In 1984, the Hawke Labor government introduced public funding for political parties, intending to reduce parties' reliance on corporate donations.

Unfortunately this did not stop the misappropriation of public money, it just added to it.

Indeed, one of the serious problems in Australia’s political system is donations from business, often not disclosed. These donations are given by companies, and sometimes individuals, who want to benefit from political decisions.

These benefits come in the form of friendly laws, lucrative contracts or even cash hand-outs.

Every change in government usually is accompanied by a change or rearrangement of government departments but, in my observation over many years, no real, measurable rise in efficiency. In fact, the reverse seems to be the case.

Public servants are not expert in delivering profits and not even necessarily adept in securing efficiency gains. But they should be able to effectively provide services to the public.

Public servants always were selected on merit and ensured in their activities to govern fairly and in a publicly accountable way. That obligation has been weakened.

It is the reality that people outside the political system – and that’s most of us – don’t generally get involved in the political process. That is, until political decisions affect us personally.

Now, with Covid roaring through many Australian communities, our citizens are affected personally and they are engaged.

And they are looking at their governments and wondering what political leaders are doing to escape what seems to be the inevitable disastrous outcome of the current level of incompetence.

Surely we do not need to renovate our current system of government from the ground up.


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