Calls from two Nick Xenophon Team parliamentarians and Independent Member for Indi Cathy McGowan to establish a Federal Minister for Young People proves that bad ideas in Federal politics are not the exclusive domain of the major parties.
NXT MP Rebekha Sharkie has justified the idea by claiming that “children and young people feel like they’re being spoken at, not spoken with by the federal government,” “Justin Trudeau is also the Minister for Youth in his country” and this is “not just a left wing idea.”
The problem with this proposal is not whether it is said to be left or right wing. The problem is that it is just a bad idea.
There are currently 42 executive officeholders (ministers and assistant ministers) in the Australian Government with a total of 54 portfolios.
Then again it could still be worse. Bill Shorten’s current Shadow Ministry has 48 officeholders and a whopping 84 portfolios!
There are now eight ministers in the Prime Minister’s department including the PM, and ministers assisting the PM for the public service, cyber security, counter-terrorism and cabinet, as well as one who is just the Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister.
There is an Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation who also reports to the Prime Minister, as well as a Minister for Urban Infrastructure who confusingly reports to the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport.
A total of four ministers occupy the social security portfolio, there are also four in foreign affairs and trade, and while there is a Minister for Communications there is also a separate Minister for Regional Communications.
It is little wonder that Federal Government spending has accelerated from $140 billion in 1997-98 to $441 billion in 2016-17, and gross debt is set to pass $500 billion later this year.
The more ministers, their staff and bureaucracies that exist, the more certain it is that they will look for more to do and more places to spend taxpayer money.
Rather than asking how many extra positions we can create, taxpayers should instead be asking what we can eliminate.
For example, why does there need to be two federal education and training ministers when the federal government doesn’t run any schools, or three health ministers when hospitals are run by the states?
Why does there need to be a Minister for Urban Infrastructure given that planning, land management and transport are largely State responsibilities, and how many of the Environment Minister’s responsibilities could be returned to the States or allocated to the Industry portfolio?
As well as the Cabinet-level ministers for foreign affairs and for trade do we really need a federal Minister for International Development and the Pacific and an Assistant Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment?
Given the extent to which the Federal Government has already displaced the private sector and State Governments over the last thirty years, the current, unwieldy Administrative Arrangements Order would be a good starting point for serious moves to begin peeling back federal red tape.
Young people need a taxation system that acknowledges and rewards savings and investment, an education system that gives them the skills to cope with a competitive international marketplace and most importantly of all, a state that sees them as individual citizens with amazing potential rather than another disadvantaged group to be ‘represented’ by politicians.
It is the uncontrollable growth of government and the consequential stifling of entrepreneurship and burden of debt, which has done more to damage the prospects of younger people than anything else.
A new Youth Ministry would create jobs in Parliament House and the bureaucracy to be sure, but that is about it.
Brett Hogan is director of research at the Institute of Public Affairs.
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