Brown Study

Brown study

4 April 2020

9:00 AM

4 April 2020

9:00 AM

What with all the monumental stuff-ups by the public authorities in the campaign against coronavirus, it is not surprising that a lot of them have been subjected to criticism for their obvious failure to do their job. On the stuff-up scale, most of them are a good ten out of ten. But the criticism is monstrously unfair. Public servants are supposed to fail on everything they touch. So the public servants we lambast for their incompetence were only doing what was expected of them: to stuff things up. If they concentrate on failing, as they obviously do, and with such accomplishment and polish, it means more government money for their empires to rectify their own failures, more laws and regulations to control our every thought and action, more subservience  of the individual to the state, more pompous international organisations to join and more public hysteria demanding that things be done at our expense. So the public sector cannot succeed without failure. Indeed, it can scarcely survive. But if a public project should by some accident succeed, it is its death knell. How can you justify an empire to solve a problem which no longer exists? If the crisis is over and the problem is solved, it means no more giant dollops of money at budget time; no more never-ending increases in staff numbers, no promotions to ever-escalating levels of so-called management, no more cutting edge computer systems that never work, except to justify buying new cutting edge computer systems that never work, no more regional, rural and remote offices to be set up to duplicate everything done by head office, no more trips to Geneva for annual talkfests and no more of the Holy Grail, the Order of Australia for the top brass. Public servants blanch at the very notion of success. Success marks the death of any public project. And that should explain why the public service failures during the virus crisis, far from deserving criticism, should be heralded as paragons of public service success. Not only were those involved doing their bit, but they went the extra mile in failure, establishing new gold standards in incompetence.

Just think about the three most prominent blunders to see how good they have been. First, when the virus appeared over the horizon, there was a clear choice in front of us. Should we keep our supply of emergency hospital equipment and supplies and organise it for the inevitable arrival of the virus? Or should we sell it all to China so that we have none for ourselves? Had we kept it here, our own epidemic would have had a more limited effect, with no shortage of sanitiser, masks or ventilators. But sending it to China would mean that our problems would be much greater, requiring an inquiry into how this happened, sourcing equipment overseas, paying inflated prices, delays in delivery and going into lockstep with the Chinese, which we had already shown we were so good at when we leased the Port of Darwin to that same lovable nation. Clearly, selling medical equipment to China was the better option. With this one master stroke and with no objection from our public authorities who are supposed to be supervising these things, we lost our emergency supplies and have had to spend millions to replace them.

Then there was the über scandal of the good ship Ruby Princess. Here again we had a choice. Should we allow its more than 2,000 passengers to disembark when it reached Sydney and thereby spread the virus which would occur if they were allowed to jostle each other and wander around unchecked while finding public transport? Or should we put them into quarantine? Obviously the former. And it worked. Just when our tally of infections was quite minor, we conjured up a new crop, incurring massive government spending, more lockdowns, and wonderful, time-wasting friction between the Australian Border Force and the state health and port authorities. And it all threw up demands for more powers for the authorities to prevent this happening again.

Then there was the third crisis, allowing hundreds of returning air passengers to gather together in clear violation of the government’s own social distancing regime, enforced at Sydney airport by, apparently, no one. Again, the choice was clear. Do we make them stand away from each other, spread them out, or perhaps find a bigger arrivals hall? Or do we let them mill around in a crowd, infecting each other. Clearly, the former would have been safe and successful, meaning it would have been a public service failure. But our officials took the latter and wiser course, which increased the chaos and the public distress, showed there was a real public crisis that required attention and called out for more money to be spent on it and, of course, more powers for the authorities who caused the problem.

So it is obvious that the public sector has failure ingrained on its heart, as only failure can justify spending money and accumulating power and control over the people. Moreover, there is nothing strange, these days, about pushing the country into a public sector mindset in view of Morrison and Frydenberg’s recent doings. In fact, it is very appropriate because we are all socialists now. What other word is there for the financial nightmare that Morrison and Frydenberg are dragging us into, with the government now paying the wages of workers and even the self-employed, direct handouts to those already on welfare, massive government spending, bottomless debt and even our courageous private sector pleading to be bailed out. Worse, for me, is the notion now gathering strength that you do not need to look after yourself because the government will. And all done in the name of the Libs who used to believe in self-reliance, thrift and small government.

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