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The Forum > Article Comments > Real challenge is public service > Comments

Real challenge is public service : Comments

By Jenny Stewart, published 30/3/2011

More critical to NSW than physical infrastructure like roads and public transport is the intellectual infrastructure of the public service.

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If this is the best a professor of public policy can come up with, her position should be abolished.

"The problems Ė or at least the visible symptoms of some of them Ė are well-known. The city of Sydney needs better public transport, and so does the State as a whole."

Jenny does not attempt to offer proof of this. She apparently reasons "Because government has chronically failed to perform it's function, therefore the solution is more government."

It reminds me of PJ O'Rourke's comment "If a private business fails to perform its basic intended purposes, it ceases to exist. If a government department fails to perform its basic intended purpose, it gets bigger."

But if the solution is not more, but better government, without consulting profit and loss, "how" specifically is government going to know what bus routes and bus stops there should be, what wages and conditions should be, compared to all the other possible uses of the same resources for transport and all other possible uses, so as to avoid waste, and best serve the needs of the consumers?


The answer is, they can't. We are looking at economic illiteracy, folks.

Did you know that, in the last year, the NSW buses ran the equivalent of 50 return trips to the moon, EMPTY?

"The most important challenge, however, has to do with rebuilding the governmentís most critical infrastructure Ė the public service."

Oh that's a good one. That's like calling a gall or cancer "critical infrastructure". The implication is that it is serving the urgent and important needs of the consumers of its services better than any alternative use of the same resources would do. But if that were true, the people would pay for them voluntarily, wouldn't they?
Posted by Peter Hume, Wednesday, 30 March 2011 9:36:09 AM
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Well, it's a good post apart from its trajectory coming from neoliberalism.
The nub of the problem is in political attempts to muzzle objectivity from the public service and the biggest single vandal here was Howard, with his decade long onslaught on the commonwealth public service and its capacity to deliver advice objectively, without fear or favour, in order to establish a neolib regime (following Keating, another bent reprobate). Nowadays, if governments aren't forced by the corporatism default to policy implements like privatisation, regardless of any actual good or harm done, we say this not "reform" and governments are "holding out" (at least according to the Murdoch press).
But this is "reform" based on ideology, greed and the imperatives of property rather than human need; thinking that comes from America.
Neoliberalism and social democracy are philosophical opponents, they have different objectives. The right wing Eastern subs elites cannot see humanity past Sydney Harbour bridge, the rest of the population are just commodities, to these people.
One person's "reform" is another's subjugation.
Posted by paul walter, Wednesday, 30 March 2011 3:44:13 PM
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Paul, if you would like to translate your post to English, as distinct to jingoism I will see if I can read it.
Posted by Hasbeen, Wednesday, 30 March 2011 5:56:36 PM
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Sounds like a reasonable, temperate stance. I certainly agree that the Public Service needs resuscitation, at least. Still, Iím uncomfortable about offering uncritical acceptance of Professor Stewardís analysis. Iím more than willing to blame the outgoing Labour politicians for the parlous state of the State, but itís not obvious to me that bad politics is the whole problem.

Iíve read elsewhere that, since Carrís departure, the size of the NSW Public Service has increased by 26%. Now I donít believe everything I read, and maybe Professor Stewart can enlighten me, but there certainly has been a significant increase. Newspaper adverts confirm NSW is ALWAYS hiring. Yet the increased numbers havenít exactly been reflected in better services. In my area (Lake Macquarie), numerous major infrastructure projects have been announced, but very few have actually commenced. Those which are under way seem to proceed in fits and starts. Does it really take nearly six months to install traffic lights at a single intersection? Over a year to replace seating and shelter roofs at a single train station? Why does it take eight men and two trucks to mow a small lawn at the local netball court, when thereís only one ride-on mower and two whipper-snippers in use?

At a higher level, town planning has become arbitrary, and development applications absurdly time-consuming. Roll-out of a flash new digital ticketing system for public transport has become a bad joke. Scandalous waste within the BER program has been repeatedly identified, but not acted upon. In my local area (Lake Macquarie), bus schedules have been Ďimprovedí several times, but usage is way down. I could go on for pages.

Now Iím quite happy to blame the outgoing government for a very great deal. Still, it isnít obvious to me that the Public Service at state and local levels isnít also in need of a serious shake-up. My local ex-MP didnít manage the the mangled, late, or inefficient projects ó the Public Service did, and does.

Am I way off the mark? Iím ready to be corrected.
Posted by donkeygod, Wednesday, 30 March 2011 8:40:59 PM
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Well put donkeygod.

Ultimately it has to be about value for money. Resucitation ideally would involve redistributing funds to the service delivery end of government IMO and away from the navel gazers and pontificators. The management/project/policy areas are too bloated and over-emphasised with little value to be had in over-staffing.

Organisations that deliver services are best managed by fewer people with most personnel employed at the public interface in a pyramid shape. The current structures are in some cases inverted or too square-like to be effective and garner little satisfaction from ratepayers and taxpayers.

Hence why seats are not fixed in public trains, long waiting times in hospital emergency rooms, or why the long queues on phone services or in some government offices (not to mention the annoying phone trees that tell us how important our call is but leave us hanging in anticipation). Government is almost as bad as the private sector on that front.
Posted by pelican, Thursday, 31 March 2011 10:02:08 AM
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I think, while lacking in details or practical solutions the underlying sentiment of the article is quite astute. Barry O'Farrell's biggest problem isn't building roads and public transport, but what to do with the Public Service. While politicians continually espouse the rhetoric of macroeconomic reform and restructuring, I cannot help feel that all they are doing is shuffling the chairs on the decks of the titanic. The really difficult and most urgent reforms of government is microeconomic reform, whether it be the inner workings of the bureaucracy, or the internal functioning of a hospital. Key to this will be how to bring an already disfuncitonal and dispirited bureaucracy along, whether it be through privatisation or outsourcing, or imposing another round of structural reforms (following a plethora of already failed initiatives). Key will be attracting and hiring of competant and capable senior management (or retraining the current set)which will have the capability to of invigorate the public sector to take action and stand up to incompetance, while retranching those who do not want to come to the party. Lets face it, it won't be much different to taking over a failed or failing business with all of its issues, however in this case the incentives to create success (i.e. avoiding bankruptcy) will not be so apparent. Finally who knows what a highly militant and disruptive union base will try to inflict upon us. I don't envy O'Farrell's position!
Posted by Dougal, Thursday, 31 March 2011 3:02:23 PM
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