There are some who get it and there are many who don’t. Sadly, our elected class are significantly over-represented by those who don’t (get it).
Late last year, in one of his non-leather jacket appearances on Q+A, former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull thundered at the Australian’s Paul Kelly that “[Y]ou’ve turned this issue of physics into an issue of value or identity”. Turnbull of course was talking about climate change and the role of government in leading or not leading action.
Similarly and not surprisingly, NSW Energy and Environment Minister, Matt Kean has said similar things in that his is agenda is “based on science, engineering and economics”.
However self-righteous and self-serving are such statements, they ignore the fact government decisions have never been and never will be issues of science, physics, engineering or otherwise. Science, engineering and economics may feed into the mix, but government decisions are based on the values and risk appetites of the decisions makers. Always have been. Always will be.
It’s Government 101 – governments don’t solve problems. Governments manage trade-offs. The goal is that the net social benefit of government action, in whatever domain, exceeds the net social costs of government action.
I was once on a panel with a very senior journalist where I suggested that governments don’t create jobs and said journalist harrumphed then got on their high horse and spoke of all the nursing, teaching and police jobs that governments create. They thought they had “edd-ju-kated” me.
However, to pay for all these government-created nursing, teaching and police jobs, governments have to tax the private sector, and in taxing the private sector, governments destroy private sector jobs in the process. Taxation reduces the money in the private sector that could otherwise be spent, saved or invested.
Were the number of government nursing, teaching and police jobs greater than the number of private sector jobs destroyed? Maybe or maybe not. Such employment calculus is never in consideration. Government decision-makers are assessing social benefit based on their values. And this is why we elect representatives; to make decisions based on values.
Once it is accepted that governments deal with trade-offs and not solutions, that leads to the understanding of why the bureaucracy offers options and not answers (or is meant to). The bureaucracy offers options which then the elected government chooses from (or does not chose from) based on values.
This is why we have elections and not totalitarian technocratic government; so that we can pick between the values of the candidates, such values being stated, demonstrated or inferred. This is also why rhetorical calls the authority of scientists, engineers, economists and other (so-called) experts don’t generally work in political debates and are usually the first refuge of the incompetent politician.
Obeying the instructions of scientists, engineers, economists and other (so-called) experts, as Messrs Turnbull and Kean would have us do, has brought humanity things like the Lysenkosim, eugenics and the great leap forward. Perhaps totalitarian technocratic government is really what some of our elected representatives want, after all, such forms of government don’t require elections.
Which brings me to Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Well, it means that it is entirely unclear what values framework Mr Morrison uses in decision making. It means it is entirely unclear what Mr Morrison stands for.
Clarification. It means that Mr Morrison’s values framework is a defensive, is self-interested and is an I don’t want to lose or be criticised framework. It means that the “product” he is selling to the Australian electorate is not liberalism or conservatism or even centre-ism, but rather anti-Laborism. Vote for Morrison so you don’t have to vote for Albanese. Vote for the Liberals because they are not Labor.
This is not only a terrible offering but a terrible governing mindset. This is like saying buy Toyota because they are not Ford or buy Apple because they are not Samsung. This is not how to endear yourself to your constituents. And this is why, despite having an utterly dreadful opposition and opposition leader, the ALP is still in the game, and possibly ahead.
Prime Minister Morrison and his team are masters of the daily tactics but utterly incompetent at political and policy strategy. It’s time they either lift their games or left the field. Otherwise an alternative will fill the void as has happened in many other countries. Or worse, Australia will get an Albanese Labor government that will drag Australia economically and socially back to the dark ages. Literally the dark ages where we will be without the ability to generate and pay for energy.
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