Brown Study

Brown Study

14 June 2014

9:00 AM

14 June 2014

9:00 AM

Those of you who have read this column recently know that what has been agitating me is the expansion of government which has put us into hock. There have been two themes I have drawn on to develop the argument. The first is that although the budget pruned some of the exotic plants flourishing in the government jungle, a lot of others were allowed to continue growing. So, we are still apparently happy to pay the dole forever, after a decent interval of six months while the recipients have a rest from school and a gap year in Bali. We are still apparently happy to go on paying tax payers’ money to families to supplement their incomes, as if there were a duty on government to go anywhere near such a thing. We are still happy to encourage single women to have babies and to pay them for their achievement, which must be quite an incentive. We are still apparently happy to have two state-owned broadcasters that are government-owned businesses undercutting the private sector. And we have mustered up enough strength to impose but a trifling $7 copayment on visits to the doctor, but not enough to keep the pharmaceutical and disability schemes under some control. There is so much room for other economies that I have tried to encourage Mr Abbott and his team to take the budget criticism in their stride and go further. As Machiavelli pointed out, you get the same amount of criticism for a small cutback in handouts as you do for a big one; there is no sliding scale of outrage in response to government decisions, so you may as well go for broke.

The second theme is the part that the not-so-new parliament house plays in the never ending expansion of government. All those vast committee rooms and facilities have to be used for something and what they are used for is to invent solutions to largely non-existent problems, always replete with a new tribunal, regulations and of course lots of vision, which never comes cheaply.


There is now a third theme, which I discovered to my shock and awe the other day: the number of staff to which members, senators and ministers are entitled. As a new MP, I had a staff of one and if you consider the real role of a member of parliament, to represent their constituents, that was enough; but your backbencher today has four. Naturally Clive Palmer plays his half-starved Oliver Twist role and wants more. When I was a minister, we had five members of staff; that also was enough. Ministers now have up to 22! What on earth do they all do, except look busy? As with facilities in parliament house, these benefits have to be used; politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum and if there is a committee room here or a staff member there, the system will engage it with things to do, new schemes to be devised, more false hopes to be raised that government can solve people’s problems with other people’s money. With these forces at work, the sheer extravagance in spending money, the working environment that encourages more government activity and the staff behemoth running it, is it any wonder there is a debt and spending problem?

Government always seem to be expanding. The reaction to the Prime Minister’s trip overseas is an example. The letter writers to the Age and their camp followers are having a field day as they rage at his notion of forming an international alliance to combat extreme climate change responses and they all want more government control — obviously to kill industrial activity and prosperity. To bolster their case they cite in aid President Obama’s announcement of cutting greenhouse emissions by 30 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030. I happen to think that Obama is a good man, but the idea that he can legislate such a plan is fanciful; what US politician is going to vote to destroy all industry in his electorate? To do it by executive act alone is possible but will create administrative complexities. So a conservative alliance of significant countries would strengthen the case for restraint and balance, rather than the witchcraft that is usually promoted as the solution to climate change. Abbott’s plan raises another good point. The Left has always used international treaties and conventions to expand government power, a real boon in particular for creative judges, thought police and leftist politicians. But why not use international bodies like the International Labour Organisation to lobby for the free labour market; the international telecommunication organisation to oppose the renationalisation of telecommunications as we see fit with the NBN; and the UN Human Rights Council to promote freedom of speech and thought and stop the strangulation of personal freedom?

But sometimes the Left is good for a laugh. The appointment of Gerard Henderson as head of the judges’ panel for the PM’s literary awards has brought out the hysterical best in them. Henderson is no good for that role, according to Chris Feik in the Age, because he disagrees with ‘leading commentators’ such as David Marr and Malcolm Fraser, his criticism is ‘incessant and obsessive’ as opposed, presumably, to being half-hearted and wishy washy and he could not be unprejudiced because he is, well, Gerard Henderson. The sheer chutzpah leaves you out-chutzpahed. But of course Mr Feik is not prejudiced, which is a relief because he is the publisher of the Quarterly Essay, the hymn sheet of the Left.

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