Having spent the past few days feverishly reassuring the public the census was going to go off without a hitch, and then pre-emptively declaring it a success, it was almost a certainty disaster would strike the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Indeed the biggest surprise about the failure of the Census is that people are still surprised at government stuff-ups any more.
Recent reports of failings in the South Australian and Northern Territory child protection services are the tip of the iceberg. In 2014 the Ombudsman released a report noting 46,000 complaints were received about Centrelink the year before. In 2015 Australia Post was at the centre of a storm when its couriers were found not even attempting to deliver packages. We can go on and on. In 2013, the AEC lost a shipment of votes that caused the WA Senate election to be rerun. In 2009 Kevin Rudd delivered $14 million in stimulus cheques to dead people, which pales in comparison with the four men who died as a result of failures of design in Rudd’s home insulation scheme.
And you could write a book on failures of government in defence procurement.
Beyond stories of national significance, everyone has a personal story or two about bureaucratic incompetence. You would be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t spent hours on the phone or in person trying to solve a simple problem caused by government. There wouldn’t be a business in the country that isn’t sick of government interference.
Yet outside their own experiences, everyone continues to believe the government operates with a basic level of competency. They seem to think that their experiences are unique, or at least not common. Government is the first port of call to solve almost every problem. The same people railing about privacy concerns in the census or failure of our detention systems want government to take a much more active role in creating economic growth, or telling people how to run their businesses. Why do they think the government would be any better at the second than they are at the first?
If people judged government on their track record, rather than their promises, there would be a lot more libertarians and a lot less interventionists.
Simon Cowan is Research Manager at the Centre for Independent Studies
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