How the Coalition should Prepare for Government

By Gary Johns from: The Australian February 26, 2013

“NO Gillard, no Gonski.” Hey, sounds like a good deal. We get rid of the government and save $6 billion a year, beautiful. How about an alternative: “no Abbott, no advance”. While Labor ministers and Labor members in marginal seats counsel their staff to take on no further personal financial commitments, it is time for everyone else with an interest in government to get thinking again about good government.

The legacy of five years of Labor is how not to govern. The Rudd-Gillard-Swan governments have trashed not only the Labor brand, but also the idea of competent government. While Hawke-Keating was an advance on the Whitlam government, and Howard-Costello an advance on the Fraser government, Rudd-Gillard-Swan is degeneration. It degenerated on three levels: it enhanced the commonwealth tendency to arrogance in relation to the states, it entrenched blind faith in stimulus, and it furthered the notion of government as nanny, sidelining individual responsibility and crowding out charity.

Labor has conspired with a huge and growing “caring cadre” whose role is to exaggerate problems for governments, but most of all carers, to solve. In light of the “expand the need for government” strategy, an Abbott government has some serious thinking to do about the purpose of government.

In the first instance, Tony Abbott has to be the stable boy to clean up Labor’s detritus. Once the ledger is repaired, the carbon and mining taxes and the hate speech sections of the discrimination act repealed, it will be time to start work on the long term. What should the Coalition do to advance Australian interests?

In general terms, an Abbott government must appreciate that every federal government suffers from a major failing – a propensity to buy into every issue. Each minister in the incoming government must learn this phrase: “Previous governments have tried and failed (insert silly idea), we do not intend to waste your money making the same mistakes.”

When an animal rights group shows some footage of cattle deaths in Indonesia or Saudi, insist they visit the local slaughterhouse in Australia, and remind the viewer that almost all Australians eat meat and that viewing animal rights through the eyes of an ideologically motivated vegetarian is not the basis on which to set policy.

When the scare stories of super trawlers arise, remind Australians that they love to eat fish and that the least harvested waters are around Australia. Stopping reasonable trawling in Australian waters requires our needs to be satisfied by the catch off the depleted Asian shores to our north.

When scare stories on climate change are aired, remind Australians that there is no hope of lowering the world’s dependence on fossil fuels in the intermediate term and that the best course of action is to adapt using the best science. Australia must get beyond the climate change phenomenon. Clarify for the electorate the difference between the science of climate change and feasible responses to risk.

In specific terms, the Abbott government needs to work on three things.

Cede responsibility to the states for programs where the states have the overwhelming role in the delivery of the service: specifically, transport, education and health. The golden rule should be, if the commonwealth does not wish to deliver the service in toto, then leave it to those with the major responsibility.

When the economy slows, as it almost certainly will during the course of the life of the next government, do not announce a stimulus package. Keynes is dead; let him rest. Instead, announce a deregulation package – cut regulations to cut costs. In extremis provide a tax holiday. Lean towards getting out of the way, not barging in.

A huge apparatus now extends from charities to government, including the official statistical gathering bodies of the commonwealth, to create the politics of gloom. Charities should not be funded to enter public policy debate, including producing data that creates the next crisis. Charities are free to lobby and exaggerate on their own time and money, not on the taxpayers’.

How is the opposition preparing for government? Bob Hawke and others such as finance minister and later treasurer Ralph Willis were meticulous. The Abbott team must be the same. An Abbott government should start the way it means to end, as a smaller, though powerful unit. It should consist of a smaller cabinet, and it should administer fewer departments. Abbott will have the authority to pull this off. Currently, there are 21 cabinet ministers, nine ministers, 12 parliamentary secretaries.

On the opposition side, there are 20 shadow cabinet ministers, 12 shadow ministers, 15 shadow parliamentary secretaries. This is not a good start.

Eighteen cabinet ministers and 18 parliamentary secretaries should suffice. There are too many ministries for silly walks: consolidate. Make the government look and feel solid. That would be an advance worth voting for.