Maxwell Newton, “Bureaucratic Outrages,”
Australian Penthouse, July 1980, pp. 45-50.
Millions of your tax dollars will be wasted this year by profligate public servants enmeshed in their own self-preservation society.
I am filled with despair over what is happening to our country. Australia is being destroyed, its initiative killed, its resources wasted and its people dulled by bumbling bureaucracy. As you fill out your tax returns this year try not to remember the millions and millions of dollars which will be lost without trace by a scandalously inefficient public service.
The size of the government share of Australia’s annual income and expenditure has now reached the point where it represents the most important single threat to the viability of our economic system.
After a horrible decade of government profligacy during the Seventies, the judgement must be made that Australia now enjoys most of the disadvantages of a full-fledged socialist system, with few of the advantages. Spending by governments and their offspring, the so-called “statutory authorities”, has exploded out of control to the point where a single department, Social Security, now pays out $250 million every fortnight — through a system so stretched by simply pumping the pension cheques out that there is no hope of satisfactorily policing any frauds.
Even more frightening and potentially more costly is the ghastly waste in the huge government sector. Unless strong control and efficiency systems are imposed on the huge government sector we will continue to suffer from endemic inflation, slow growth of productivity (and hence of living standards) and growing lawlessness on the part of all the main elements in our society. There is very little evidence of such control systems being devised, let alone implemented. Government debt has ballooned in terrifying style during the past six years — the years when we have reaped the full force of the whirlwind of waste and spending mania unleashed during the Whitlam years.
Were it not for their freedom to borrow without limit to finance their annual losses, (for which we might use the polite word “deficits”), all governments in Australia would be bankrupt by now. In contrast to the stark issues which face spendthrift privately-owned organisation, there is no automatic stopper on governments and their statutory authorities. Governments and government authorities don’t go broke when they spend too much, they simply borrow more money from the rest of the nation — which means from the decreasingly important corporations and individuals still left in the so-called “private” sector.
Authorities like the Australian National Railways can contribute a loss of $68 million to the near-$1000 million a year losses incurred in running the nation’s railways without even lodging a report to the owners — us — from 1975 to June last year. ANR knows it will keep being supplied with our tax dollars even when it is castigated for having no system to identify where its money is being spent, and where losses arise.
At least ANR eventually turned in a report. The Wheat Board, on the other hand, has still to provide a report for 1977-78 on the way it handles the $1000 million a year in wheatgrowers’ funds for which it is responsible. Attempts to palm off a glossy “report” lacking in crucial detail did nothing to placate the outrage at the board’s cavalier attitude.
Yet even when a report is provided, it can still leave us in the dark. After a 2.5-year delay, the Capital Territory Health Commission won the right to present its accounts in a way which still doesn’t reflect the extent of possible future liabilities to be met by the taxpayer.
Nowhere is skill at diverting and delaying embarrassing inquiries into expenditure more evident than in the upper reaches of bureaucracy. The Commonwealth Public Service Board attracted the wrath of a parliamentary watchdog committee for trying to hide the fact that its far-reaching MANDATA computer system was, according to the committee, three years behind schedule at a putative cost of $18 million a year — more millions which can only be made up from the spiralling tax grab.
When the public refuses to pay higher taxes, as is now becoming the case, governments and government authorities still grab the money through borrowing.
By now, almost 40 percent of Australia’s gross domestic product each year is consumed by governments and government authorities. Ten years ago, the government take was less than 30 percent.
To finance this stupefying growth in government spending, governments and their authorities have run more and more into debt. Thus, in the four years ended 1972-73 (the last four pre-Whitlam years), the total deficit — or “loss” — of all State and Commonwealth government and their authorities was just over $650 million a year.
In the four years ended 1978-79, (the first four post-Whitlam years), the total comparable deficit — or “loss” — was some $4700 million, within the space of four or five years, the annual indebtedness of all governments and their authorities has risen by 600 percent.
This huge growth in annual government borrowings reflects the desperation of bureaucrats in their fight against cuts in their spending programs. It also reflects, of course, the degree of powerlessness of the Cabinet, the elected Ministers, in any attempt to bring the army of bureaucrats to heel.
In authoritarian socialist countries, waste and inefficiency have been punished by banishment and the firing squad.
In Australia, government inefficiency is more likely to be rewarded by the grant of more government money to cover embarrassing losses. Government bureaucrats play with great success on the ignorance and fear of Ministers; they fight tooth and nail for the retention and expansion of government spending programs; they hide their actions; they deceive.
Meanwhile, the embattled populace outside the charmed circle of government extravagance find themselves under the lash of ever-increasing government demands for more and more taxes.
Thousands upon thousands of Australians have come to resent this. They have joined the “underground economy”, where the cash society and the self-employed exist together.
The evidence of mass tax evasion by the self-employed inhabitants of the underground economy points up the lawlessness in so many public attitudes as individuals make their own practical protests against the uncontrollable surge of government spending. Annual losses in government taxation from this evasion is estimated at something in the order of $3000 million — enough to cover two-thirds of the annual deficit of all Australian governments and their authorities.
The ordinary wage and salary earners — the PAYE mugs — know they are being robbed. Their only option is to strike and they are doing so with a force and frequency which threatens the stability not only of the economy, but also of the peaceful nature of the society we live in.
In the past 10 years we have increased the proportion of gross domestic product accounted for by government outlays from about 30 percent to nearly 40 percent. By now, additional annual spending equivalent to about $10,000 million a year has been diverted to the use of governments. All that money is now being used in the least efficient way. All that money has been diverted from the use of private businesses and individuals to the use of governments — a huge diversion of annual resources to the least efficient area of the economy.
Add to that the disastrous effect on individual and corporate private energies of the tax burden (which falls with such increasing force on the narrowing base of the “above-ground” private economy) and it is not hard to isolate one most important strand in the explanation for the decline in the growth of productivity in the so-called “capitalist” democracies.
The social security nightmare
Every fortnight the Commonwealth Government posts out about two and a half million pension cheques, including unemployment dole cheques.
There are about nine million adults over 19 in Australia. Thus, almost one in three of all the adults in Australia gets a pension cheque from the Commonwealth each fortnight. The frantic growth in the number of Australians on a government pension has overwhelmed the Department of Social Security.
Of the two and a half million on a government pension, about half a million are on a veteran’s pension. Excluding those veterans (the total number on veterans’ pensions is relatively stable), the number on other pensions has risen from about 650,000 in 1958, through about 900,000 in 1968 to almost two million today.
In the 10 years ended 1968 — when government spending was under relative control and Menzies was in power — the numbers of non-veterans pensions rose by more than 100 percent, while total population rose by only about 18 percent.
Armies of old, invalid and “unemployed” have gone on to government handouts. It is evident that the task of policing the torrent of cheques going out to pensioners and unemployed is quite beyond the resources of the Department of Social Security. Departmental officers freely admit that they cannot hope to police the volume: they are totally pre-occupied with getting the job done, of handing out something like $250 million a fortnight. There is virtually no system or resources available to the Department of Social Security to police the handout of pensions and benefits.
The Auditor-General of the Commonwealth knows full well the size of the headache, but is not doing anything to investigate the Social Security efficiency at this time. Social Security is being given “a year or two to try to fix itself up”, yet there is practical evidence of fraud on a grand scale. In Australia, there are about 4.5 million households. These households receive 2.5 million government pension cheques each fortnight: more than one in every two Australian households gets a government cheque each fortnight.
To put it another way, 10 years ago every 1000 Australians at work supported about 200 people on pensions at work support more than 400 on the pension or on the dole.
While we experience reports of some 400,000 “unemployed” in Australia, the true situation is one of labour shortage, particularly in all skilled areas. BHP and other major Australian corporations are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars advertising for labour here and overseas.
The flow of immigrants to Australia is picking up sharply, in response to the true situation — one of labour shortage and of painful job opportunities for those actively seeking work. Notably, unemployment among single males under 20 is about 20-25 percent of the estimated number in the age group. Yet unemployment among married males of all ages is negligible. As soon as they get married, young men have to get off the dole bludge and into a regular job.
Nothing truly significant can be done about the control of government spending until the bleeding wound of the Social Security Handout is stopped. Let me repeat that: there will be no solution to the problems of destructive government deficits, of uncontrolled government spending growth, of ruinous taxation and internal discord among our people until the torrent of money flowing from the Department of Social Security is held back. This means there will have to be a means test of some kind. There is no other way. Failure to realise this terrible truth simply makes nonsense of all other rhetoric about “getting government spending under control” or of “stopping government waste”.
The Social Security colossus is out of control. The Department itself is seen to be virtually powerless to stem the flood. Eventually, huge scandals will be uncovered, as they have been in the Department of Health, where it was found about $230 million had been overpaid to chemists in the past six years. No one is to be blamed. It is all to be blamed on alleged errors in computer programming.
The railways morass
By now, the Australian railways system’s losses have reached the area of $1000 million a year. These losses therefore account for something like 20 percent of the entire deficit of all Commonwealth Government, State government and all State and Federal statutory authorities.
In NSW, the losses in the Public Transport Commission are in the region of $400 million a year. In Victoria, VicRail loses in the order of half its revenues each year. These losses amount to a vast subsidy for inefficiency, political cowardice and selected community groups (such as country train users, passenger or freight).
It is argued, by the so-called managers of these financially disastrous transport systems, that they cannot hope to make profits because they are under political restraints which forbid them from closing uneconomic services. This argument merely underlines the urgent need to take these systems out of the area of politics and put them right back into the area of commercial reality, where loss-making activities are simply wiped out through the pressure of financial failure. The railways losses underline most importantly the built-in failure of any enterprise owned and controlled by elected politicians — there is no automatic system for eliminating loss-making activities. Loss-making activities are always kept going, because there is always money available to finance losses.
But the argument about political control assumes railways administrators know where their losses are occurring, and can identify areas where losses are caused by political pressures. The history of the Australian National Railways suggests that the railways administrators do not know what their costs are and fly blind most of the time, not having any accounting systems which will identify loss-making areas and hence the extent to which losses are politically inspired.
The Commonwealth Auditor-General recently carried out an “efficiency-audit” into various parts of the ANR accounts and found that the ANR had no policy in relation to costs, no policy on identifying which costs are relevant and how they may behave with various traffic flows and time spans.
The main adjustment factor used by ANR in rate setting appears to be that of inflation in the Consumer Price Index, tempered with “what the market will bear”.
The Auditor-General made this damning comment:
The need for a realistic costing system is pervasive, not only would such a shortcoming seriously inhibit the Commission’s capacity to meet the terms of its legislation in its commercial activities but it would also compromise its accountability for whatever loss-making public service obligations it may be committed to, the costs of which should be clearly identifiable.
This investigation by the Auditor-General into a small part of the ANR operations indicates the frightful morass of stupidity in which railway administrators operate and underlines the fact that “political interference” is often just an excuse for railway administrators who do not want to take the trouble to find out where their costs and losses are.
The horror of the ANR does not end there. In 1977-78 the Australian National Railways (incorporating the old Commonwealth Railways and since 1975 the Tasmanian railways and the non-metropolitan part of the South Australian Railways) employed over 13,000 people, its capital expenditure was more than $40 million and its assets were more than $225 million. Its net operating deficit was $68 million, the largest deficit of any Commonwealth statutory authority. Yet this huge organisation does not know what its costs are and as of late 1979 had no way of finding out what they were.
What is more, this vast organisation, subject to amalgamation in July 1975, had not given any report of its activities to the Parliament (and hence to its owners, the Australian taxpayers) until June 1979. Even then, the ANR only gave a report for the years 1975-76 and 1976-77. Only then was it discovered what a horrific loss the ANR was making.
We only know the preliminary extent of the ANR losses because Senator Rae’s Committee on Government Operations found out in a questionnaire directed to the ANR management. The ANR certainly did not volunteer the information. We also know from the fact that the Auditor-General made a preliminary efficiency audit of the ANR that “for 1978-79 funds appropriated under Division 662.1 as a subsidy to meet operating losses amounted to $60 million and a further $32.5 million was appropriated as advances under Division 957.2”.
So during 1978-79, an amount of $92.55 million was appropriated from taxpayers to be used to support the crumbling finances of the Australian National Railways. Yet this same body had not delivered a report for the whole period since June 1975 when these appropriations were approved.
Senator Rae’s Committee commented:
We would like to stress again that the ANR is one of the Commonwealth’s most important statutory authorities. Its impact on the Australian economy is highly significant. From the point of view of those managing the economy, to remain in ignorance of the activities of such an authority is surely to operate partly in the dark. And what of the taxpayers? Their monies were being invested in the ANR in large quantities for some years without information being provided in return. This was in spite of the large losses being incurred by the Commission.
To table these reports in Parliament so late, and with so little explanation, demonstrates the indifference on the part of the executive government to the importance of accountability to the Parliament and the people.
A public listed company would have long since been delisted for failing to report. However, the Parliament continued to appropriate funds for the Australian National Railways Commission!
Stories like this make the stomach churn. Tens of millions of dollars are poured into a business which does not have the decency to report to its owners — the people of Australia; the business does not have any policy of identifying its costs and of relating its marketing and pricing policies to such costs, it makes huge losses, even on its own admission; yet it continues to receive vast torrents of free money on which it does not pay a dividend and never looks like paying a dividend.
What hope is there for our country to raise living standards and defeat inflation when this sort of scandal goes on without check?
One final point: we would never have known any of the above had it not been for two men — Senator Rae and his understaffed Committee on Government Operations and the Auditor-General of the Commonwealth, Don Craik, and his newly-developing and hopefully potent team of “efficiency auditors”.
We ask ourselves: why is this allowed to go on? It is allowed to go on because the money is always available to cover up losses and prevent any chance of market forces making changes.
Thus, TAA has evidently failed to make adequate provisions for superannuation payments to be made to its staff. This was a decision of the TAA management. Yet TAA is now some $90-$100 million behind in its appropriations to meet its responsibilities to its superannuable staff. Eventually, this money will be found from general government revenue. You can bet on it.
Until all Commonwealth and State government commercial enterprises are sold to private business there will never be a solution, because eventually, the money is always found to bail the managers of these “enterprises” (if that word may be used to sanctify such shambles) out of the trouble into which their immunity from commercial pressure inevitably leads them.
Delay and deception
As of February 1980, the Australian Wheat Board had still not tabled a report to Parliament for the 1977 and 1978 years in the form legally required.
A saga of delays and deception by the board are all aimed at delaying the recounting by it of the full details of its stewardship of up to $1000 million in wheatgrowers’ money each year. Despite vigorous demands from the Committee on Government Operations and the unprecedented action of a unanimous vote in the Senate condemning it, the Wheat Board has still not fulfilled its legal obligation to tell Parliament and the Australian people what it has done with their money.
The board at one stage got so desperate it put out a version of the 1978 Report in “glossy” form with plenty of pretty pictures, but none of the financial information required by law and which it has still to provide.
Senator Rae’s Committee had this to say:
We are of the opinion that to produce and distribute a version of the report which lacks basic statutorily-required information, with the implication that this is the “final” report of the Board’s activities for the year, is so misleading as to amount to deception.
Despite threats from the Senate, no one at the board has been sacked for this gross indifference to Parliament and the people.
Nor is anyone in the Wheat Board going to be sacked for the fantastic “errors” discovered by the Auditor-General in the board’s accounts. Some of the errors described by the Auditor-General’s office in the Wheat Board’s accounts were “Clerical posting error $41 million”; “Inaccurate bank adjustment $31 million”; “Overestimate of wheat handling costs $12.4 million”; “Interest posting mistake $989,000”; and “Not brought to account in statements $2.5 million.” The errors were set out in a schedule prepared by the Auditor-General’s office covering 11 pages, which listed 134 errors covering amounts of up to $41 million.
No one in the Wheat Board has been sacked for this shambles, either, nor will they be sacked.
Another fiddle has occurred in the accounts of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories. Under recent legislation, the CSL is empowered to keep all its profits from its commercial operations, while the Commonwealth will make up all costs in CSL’s so-called “national interest” operations.
This is a sound start, providing for identification of the element of subsidy in the accounts of a government authority due to its need to undertake uneconomic operations for political reasons. It also means that the bigger “commercial” profit CSL earns, the more it has available for its “own” use.
Unfortunately, the CSL accounts do not provide for payment of anything like a realistic rent on some 33 acres of land owned by the Commonwealth at Parkville in Melbourne, a choice area. CSL pays only $123,000 rent on this vast tract of choice Melbourne real estate. Again, CSL does not pay any rates on the land. Nor does it appear that CSL has made a realistic provision for superannuation commitments, having provided only 15 percent of its wages bill while other Commonwealth statutory authorities have provided up to 25 percent. The difference amounts to about $1 million a year and has been accumulating since September 1976, when the latest Commonwealth Superannuation Act was introduced.
On this unrealistic cost structure, CSL is permitted to compete with private firms, allegedly on a “comparable” basis.
The fiddle in the CSL accounts is, however, as nothing compared with the fiddle which has been organised by the bureaucrats in the Commonwealth Health Department, to hide the true cost of Australia’s vast and ramshackle hospital system.
Battle for secrecy
The CSL fiddle serves to make the profits of CSL bigger and to protect the CSL bureaucrats from the full effect of “real world” commercial competition.
In the case of the Health Department, a whole system of accounting has been adopted which actively militates against outsiders being able to find out just how much it is costing to run the nation’s hospitals.
The issue came to a head in a fight between the Auditor-General and the Capital Territory Health Commission. The commission, apparently in cahoots with the Commonwealth Department of Health, fought tooth and nail against the Auditor-General over the form of the commission’s accounts. This fight went on for 2.5 years and only came into the open because the delay in the tabling of the commission’s 1975-76 report automatically brought the matter under the purview of Senator Rae’s committee.
The Auditor-General had demanded that the health commission should provide its report on an accrual accounting basis. The commission fought for, and successfully achieved, the attention of a cash accounting basis.
As Senator Rae’s Committee described it:
The Capital Territory Health Commission stated in evidence that it would be possible to show more financial information in its reports. This would involve a statement of assets and liabilities. The assets would include cash on hand and at the bank; deposits and advances; sundry debtors; stocks at cost; prepayments and other current assets; fixed assets in terms of land and buildings at cost; office furniture and equipment at cost; clinical plant and equipment at cost; plant and machinery at cost; motor vehicles at cost; and other fixed assets. Liabilities could include creditors and accrued expenses …
The situation appears to be that because the provisions of certain liabilities are excluded from the accounts used by hospitals, the complete liability of Government and of the taxpayer for the services is unknown. There are few more expensive facilities financed from the public purse than hospitals. It is bad enough that the financial details of these services are not known and even worse when the ignorance included unstated liabilities referred to above which could be leading to a large and mounting degree of indebtedness which the taxpayer at some stage will have to meet.
A 2.5-year fight by the bureaucrats in the Department of Health has succeeded in preventing full disclosure of the cost of running the nation’s hospitals. The Department of Health which fought against having its accounts prepared on a full accrual basis (the sort used by every commercial concern in the land) instead of on the penny notebook system of cash accounting, admitted to Senator Rae’s committee that because various liabilities are not disclosed by cash accounts, the full true cost of operating Australia’s public hospitals is not known either to the department, the Parliament or the public.
How important it was to the Department of Health bureaucrats to win this fight is indicated by their powerful rearguard action against the Auditor-General. The total amount involved in the cost-sharing agreement on hospitals between the Commonwealth and the States is estimated at more than $2000 million for 1978-79.
Any official of a privately-owned listed or unlisted company in Australia who presented his accounts on a cash basis would soon find himself prosecuted and behind bars for fraudulent misrepresentation. Yet armies of bureaucrats routinely hide behind these lies in order to protect themselves — and their administration of massive amounts of public money — from appropriate scrutiny.
A source of much of the waste in all government programs is the virtual impossibility of stopping them, once started.
No better example could be found than the Northern Territory Forestry Program, as investigated by Mr Kevin Cairns’ admirable House of Representatives Standing Committee on Expenditure.
Since 1959, about $30 million has been spent on this program — yet almost no timber has been produced. In an attempt to hide the true cost of the program over the years, the Northern Territory bureaucrats have successfully split the cost of the program under differing heads of expenditure when the estimates have come before Parliament. This has helped to prolong the life of a program which has produced not a tittle of useful timber, despite almost a quarter of a century of failure and high cost to taxpayers.
In its report, Mr Cairns’ committee stated inter alia:
To give on example of the inconsistencies in resources assessments, the Department of the Northern Territory in 1974 informed the Forwood Conference that the anticipated production of hardwood sawn logs in the Territory in 1980 would be 58,000 cubic metres. Despite criticism from foresters this figure, again for 1980, was raised in 1977 to 82,000 cubic metres. The committee is now informed that the figure has been revised in 1978 to zero.
I have now been informed that despite the totally damning nature of the standing committee’s report on the Northern Territory Forestry Program, it is continuing and the new self-governing Northern Territory Government is having just as much trouble in closing down the Forestry and Timber Bureau as was the case when it came directly under the control of the Commonwealth Government.
The standing committee stated in conclusion:
It became obvious that the objectives (of the program) were unrealistically ambitious and based on misleading advice which disregarded the real situation of the native forests and plantation potential. The committee wishes to place on record its concern at evidence which suggested that efforts from within the management and research structure of the Department to have the program critically reassessed were ignored and suppressed by senior management.
The committee’s findings indicate that departmental review of the program in any realistic, practical manner was lacking and finds no justification for the stifling of attempts to implement such procedures internally.
Despite all the committee said, the forestry program still continues and is proving virtually impossible to kill. Certainly, it takes time to kill failures in some commercial enterprises, but eventually the lack of money and unwillingness of lenders and shareholders to cough up kills them. Not so in the government arena, where deception and delay are developed to such a high skill by bureaucratic practitioners.
The government stroke
It has always been assumed by outsiders that the government way of doing things is the slow way.
One striking example of the truth of this view was the experience of the Commonwealth Public Service Board in its attempts to introduce centralised manpower and employment records through its MANDATA system. This project became the archetype of government bumbling, inefficiency, high-cost and low-yield operations. It has been investigated by the Auditor-General, by the Government, by the Public Accounts Committee.
An ambitious scheme, it floundered due to appalling management by the officers of the Public Service Board, who failed to involve themselves at a high level with the costly and developing computer project which has experienced delays, cost increases, changes in development strategy, and changes in product specification. Substantial potential “clients” of the MANDATA system within the Commonwealth Public Service and associated authorities have refused to become involved and have tried to develop their own computer recording systems for management of their staff records.
In its investigations of this chaotic project the public accounts Committee stated:
[We] had considerable difficulty and experienced inordinate delays in obtaining appropriate documentation about MANDATA from the Public Service Board. We were given stock explanations for non-production of the material requested. We were told the material requested was (a) used in the preparation of Cabinet documents; (b) were Cabinet documents; (c) were used in the preparation of interdepartmental reports; or (d) were such reports. The committee is strongly of the view that witnesses should not be able to use the screen of alleging privileged status for these documents to escape scrutiny.
Here we have the same old story of bureaucratic secrecy, delay and deception, in order to avoid scrutiny and to be able to get their own way.
By now, the MANDATA project is years behind schedule, despite efforts by the Public Service Board to cover up the extent of the delays. The Public Accounts Committee commented:
The Auditor-General in his 1975-76 report pointed out that the 1971 feasibility study envisaged the start of implementation of a basic operational MANDATA system in early 1975, and the completion of implementation of a full system by late 1979. As things turned out, a basic system was operational in June 1977 and implementation of a “full” system is now planned for July 1981. While this gives the impression that MANDATA is approximately two years late, it should be kept in mind that the “basic system” in operation in 1977 fell considerably short of the basic system it was originally intended to deliver in 1975. Similarly, the “full” system now to be delivered in mid-1981 does not include all the features originally planned for delivery in 1979. The committee’s view is that MANDATA is running at least three years late, relative to the schedule in the 1971 feasibility study.
The committee went on to say it believes:
that if any consideration is given in future to extending the powers or responsibilities of the Public Service Board for Automatic Data Processing co-ordination, it should take into account the Board’s handling of MANDATA. Until the board conclusively demonstrates a greatly improved capacity to manage ADP development, we believe it would be unwise to extend its power to control other departments’ projects.
The committee tried to estimate the cost of the delay in the MANDATA project. Based on the total expected cost of the project of $67 million (in 1978), the committee estimated the cost of a month’s delay in the implementation of the MANDATA computer program to be of the order of $500,000 a month. Hence, the annual cost of the 36-month delay already established is some $18 million.
More importantly, the Public Accounts Committee went on to compare the average time for the installation of big computer systems in the Commonwealth Public Service, with the private sector. It concluded:
It will be seen that the typical time for Commonwealth procurement is greater than three times the typical time for the private sector.
To the best of my knowledge, no one has been sacked over the disaster of the Public Service Board MANDATA program — although many disillusioned men have left the board and the public service and have gone to find jobs elsewhere.
We need only translate the cost, the delays and grand chaos of the MANDATA shambles into a general assessment of the relative cost of doing business in the public service and the private sector to appreciate the enormous costs our country is suffering from the continuing diversion of resources to the least efficient area — the government.
Is there any hope of our country being saved from the fierce waste of government operations? My own view is that there is very little.
The basic government structure and the nature of government operations are such that the whole of the emphasis is on delay, deceit and self-preservation.
Self-preservation is the key. Efficiency rates a very poor third after self-preservation first and self-preservation second.
In respect of the Commonwealth Government, it is a fact that only about 60 percent of all Commonwealth expenditures come before Parliament for approval at all. The rest fall outside the Budget control system, operating through Parliament.
In the whole of the vast Commonwealth apparatus, which spends about $30,000 million a year, there are only a very few individuals occupied with trying to control the efficiency with which money is spent.
This include the Auditor-General Mr Don Craik, the chairman of the House of Representatives Expenditure Committee, Kevin Cairns, the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Mr D. Connolly, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Government Operations, Senator Rae, and two young officials, Messrs Michael Tallberg and Tim Mackey, respectively official secretaries of the Public Accounts and Senate Operations committees. Both these young men are Grade 10 in the Third Division and they are expected to find the secret failures of dozens of officials far their senior.
The inherent problem of control of government spending is that it is by nature irreversible. Officials, having once got a job, will never allow themselves to lose it. Secrecy, delay, deception and freedom from the sack are all on their side.
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