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Lang Hancock, “What would we do without our government?,”
speech at Sydney’s Sebel Town House, December 11, 1978.

Thanks you for the opportunity to address you today and to present my thoughts.

Let me start with Canberra. If I were to say that I like Canberra then I would surely be a hypocrite since I firmly believe that this bastion of bureaucracy is nothing but a super-expensive monument to the stupidity of every politician since federation.

Right there in their ivory towers, second and third generation public servants who have been born and bred in an atmosphere which is totally divorced from the realities of the commercial world, dream up a never-ending list of impositions which they seek to impose upon those of us who are still tenacious enough to continue to subscribe to the supposedly free enterprise system.

The bureaucracy is to the economy of this country what overhead expenses are to industry and even though they cannot be totally eliminated we must at all times strive to keep them at the bare minimum.

Due solely to our own stupidity in tolerating a succession of weak and ineffectual governments of both colours, we have allowed our public service, State, Federal and Local authority, to expand out of all reasonable relationship to this country’s need for them, and today we are faced with a situation where the barons of the bureaucracy are firmly in control of our nation’s affairs.

To avoid having to accept criticism for decisions and policies made on their own behalf our politicians constantly refer everything to the academic theorists of the bureaucracy and there is nothing more certain than the fact that academics (and the public service is top-heavy with academics) will find every possible excuse for procrastination and in many cases, ultimate stagnation.

I am old-fashioned enough to believe that most business and economic principles are learned best in the school of hard knocks and bitter experience.

I am also old-fashioned enough to believe that our elected representatives should be the decision-makers and I fail to see that the great mass of responsible and thinking people throughout the world and throughout history, are and were, only prepared to follow strong and decisive leadership.

We don’t have to look far to illustrate this point, in fact a good hard look at our own state governments will quickly disclose those of our leaders who enjoy the support of the masses — and bear in mind that in this country they have to do it the hard way under constant criticism from an uncontrolled media who in the main appear to be biased towards those with irresponsible attitudes or socialistic tendencies.

I consider myself to be fortunate in that I know the Premier of Queensland Joh Bjelke-Petersen. In Queensland they have decisive leadership under a Premier who is strong enough to withstand constant criticisms levelled at his government over many issues including the mythical erosion of so-called civil liberties. I have not yet been able to determine what civil liberties have been restricted other than the right of noisy minority groups to close our streets for demonstration purposes while the mass of responsible people who do not wish to be associated with the demonstrators are greatly inconvenienced.

If we wish to look at the effects of decisive leadership in other countries, look at Singapore. Under Lee Kuan Yew’s government, Singapore has been transformed into having a growth rate five times that of resource-rich Australia. Bearing in mind, Singapore has no internal resources (it even has to import water) other than leadership and a workforce willing to work.

The polls illustrate the popularity of decisive leadership in that country.

A quick analysis of our Federal Cabinet will soon illustrate why we as a nation don’t enjoy decisive leadership and why there is so much reliance on the bureaucracy.

Our Cabinet is overloaded with gentlemen farmers and academic theorists, and we suffer from an almost total lack of Cabinet Ministers with practical grass roots business experience.

This lack of practical experience and reluctance to accept advice from those who might be outspoken against present policies, is reflected in their weak and conciliatory decisions and even in the advisory committees that they appoint for specific purposes.

Briefly, just take a look at the Treasurer’s 16 man Economic Consultative Committee. This committee whose opinion is called on to give advice on Australia’s very economy, was formed without one single representative from private companies.

If we had strong leadership capable of dictating to the bureaucracy the policies that this country need, then we could surely hope for a great reduction in the size of the bureaucracy itself and a very different approach to the problems which the bureaucracy places before industry.

Can you imagine the highly desirable yet totally unlikely situation of promotion in the public service being awarded only to those who devote their energies to the removal of the many non-essential government-imposed regulations?

What a change it would be to have the bureaucracy assisting industry in this way instead of hindering it.

Yet these are the type of dictates that should rightly emanate from our Federal government.

Australia is in a desperate situation, however, our government appears to be content to fiddle around with give and take taxation and even more give and take social benefits, the result of which continues to drain our economy.

Australia’s problems are elementary and basically they are government-created.

Australia’s overheads are too high and as I stated earlier, the bureaucracy is our overhead.

In simple terms our cost of government is so high that we are forced to bear the burden of unreasonable taxation as the only means of supporting the bureaucracy and the government’s extravagant social welfare and intervention programme.

Politicians never mention the fact that family and private companies which our government continues to discriminate against, have a tax commitment of 78c in the dollar and if they wish to retain the maximum possible amount of cash within their company for capital improvement and expansion then their tax commitment increases to 82.7c in the dollar — surely this must be the only country in the world where free enterprises are penalised for expansion rather than encouraged to do so.

Of course there are those in government who would have you believe that the answer to our problem lies in increased government spending on all types of work programmes, but let me remind them that government spending isn’t a stimulant to the economy; it’s a drag on the economy.

Perhaps you agree with my stated philosophy to this point, but let’s take a good hard look at who is responsible for our present dilemma — We are! Yes, you and I and almost without exception, everyone in this room is guilty. Perhaps to different degrees but guilty nevertheless, guilty for condoning escalation of the “big brother” attitude, guilty for not standing up to our politicians and stopping them from gaining popularity by pandering to the whims of whinging minority pressure groups, guilty of further condoning the “give-me” “give-me” syndrome, in fact, guilty of apathy to a situation which for many years has required action.

How much time have you spent writing, talking or openly publishing to politicians and top bureaucrats about absurdly high taxes, lack of incentive to industry and general mismanagement at political level?

The answer is probably “very little” to “none at all” because for reasons, unknown to me, most of us are too polite when it comes to laying facts right on the line for our political representatives.

There seems very little point in working our butts off to increase profit when we can only hope to retain about 20c in the dollar for our effort. Yet we stand silently by and allow our politicians to encourage the parasitic growth of a bureaucracy which gobbles up the major portion of our taxes in supporting its own existence, and regulating or ruining ours.

It is time that we, the often-referred to silent majority, flexed our muscles, for if we don’t then there is nothing more certain than the fact that Australia will become a totally socialistic state.

We may well ask ourselves, what specifically should be done to minimise the adverse effects of inept and weak and growing government.

I believe that it is essential for businessmen to confront the problem as a primary responsibility of corporate management and to speak out and be counted on all issues which effect the very basic structure of the free enterprise system.

In recent years I could almost count on my fingers the number of responsible businessmen who have consistently been outspoken on major issues, even when such issues threaten the very fabric of our society.

When challenged on their silence these stalwart supporters of free enterprise almost invariably subscribe to the same alibis: “It just isn’t wise to be that direct to politicians.” Or in my case they say: “You’re just lucky that you don’t have co-directors and shareholders to kick you in the behind.” I suggest that your board, your co-directors and your shareholders might welcome as a refreshing change, some sign that their corporate managers have not abdicated their responsibility to preserve the freedom of the marketplace and that they are prepared to challenge the arrogance of officialdom at every turn.

An article which appeared in The Australian recently quoted me as saying that we only need four government departments.

  1. The Titles Office — so that we know who owns what area of land.
  2. The Treasury — to collect taxes and pay the cost of these four departments.
  3. The Police — to ensure law and order.
  4. The Defence Department — to ensure Australia’s security.

Whilst at first it may seem that I am being unrealistic, let us further analyse this statement and determine just which government departments are really essential.

Scully’s department, administering the nation’s resources and trade. Perhaps I am a little biased picking on this one first! Last month it announced “exporters who wish to enter into negotiations under new or existing contracts will be required to obtain specific approval before making any offers or responding to any offers or entering into any commitments”. This has sent shudders of shock into Australia’s trading partners.

The largest importer of Australian iron ore after Japan will buy its ore elsewhere if the above policy comes into effect. The chairman of the largest company concerned with such ore trade has written to our Prime Minister to tell him that if the Australian government interferes with trade negotiations, then his country will not even bother to hold negotiations to buy Australian ore in future. I have just come back from meetings in Europe, Asia and America and am sincerely hoping that the mining companies and other concerned people stand up firmly against this policy to make sure it is never implemented.

I have already telexed the Prime Minister and several other Ministers that I believe, in Australia’s best interests, that this interfering department should be closed, before it has a chance to close off the enterprises it is administering. I now take the opportunity call publicly for this departments closure.

Let’s look at another area of real waste — the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

A bureaucratic monster, which from the tenor of its interview programmes appears to be dedicated to the destruction of law and order and the elimination of whatever political party happens to be in power.

You may well say, “But I like the A.B.C. programmes!” And I say to you, would you be prepared to pay $200 a year to have the A.B.C. channel available on your T.V. set? The answer will be, “No.” And there lies the root of this nation’s problem.

We now expect to receive, as a matter of right, many things which a nation of 14 million people simply cannot afford and in my opinion at least, the ABC is a totally unnecessary $143 million a year expense which would be best disposed of to private enterprise.

Department of Transport is another prize example of how to the waste the taxpayer’s money.

In aviation, a nation of this size cannot justify, and has no need to justify, its own testing and certification authority when in our wildest dreams we could not match the technical know-how and expertise of our American counterparts.

Aircraft certified as airworthy in the U.S.A. are flown across the Pacific and then stripped down to ensure that they are airworthy by Australian standards — bloody ridiculous!

Tens of millions of dollars worth of aircraft are used by the Department of Transport as toys for the boys under the pretext of testing instrumentation equipment and ground installations — all totally unnecessary.

There are many other branches of the bureaucracy that should be marked down for immediate elimination.

  • The Prices Justification Tribunal — not eliminated, just diminished by our weak-kneed politicians.
  • Medibank — not eliminated, just reduced and complicated by our champions of procrastination.
  • Consumer Affairs — in the interests of consumerism, free enterprise is becoming far less free.
  • Ethnic Affairs — I always felt that immigrants were encouraged to come to this country to become Australians and not to be taught their ethnic background as decided on by this branch.

I could no doubt come up with similar comments in reference to all government departments but there are so damned many of them that I would need to have exclusive address rights for the next three days if I were to do them justice.

It really boils down to the fact that we only need four government departments.

This problem of mushrooming bureaucracy is common to many of the so-called developed and democratic nations and I would like to take time to read an extract from an address given by California’s Governor Ronald Reagan, following his unsuccessful Presidential campaign, and I must comment that there are many Americans who would accept these words in a much more serious vein today. I quote from Ronald Reagan’s address:

During the Presidential campaign last year, there was a great deal of talk about the seeming inability of our economic system to solve the problems of unemployment and inflation. Issues such as taxes and government power and costs were discussed, but always these things were discussed in the context of what government intended to do about it. May I suggest for your consideration that government has already done too much about it. That indeed, government, by going outside its proper province, has caused many, if not most of the problems that vex us.

How are we to blame for what has happened?

Beginning with the traumatic experience of the Great Depression, we the people, have turned more and more to government for answers that government has neither the right nor the capacity to provide. Unfortunately, government as an institution always tends to increase in size and power, and so government attempted to provide the answers.

The result is a fourth branch of government added to the traditional three of Executive, Legislative and Judicial; a vast federal bureaucracy that’s now being imitated in too many states and too many cities, a bureaucracy of enormous power which determines policy to a greater extent than any of us realise, very possibly to a greater extent than our own elected representatives. And it can’t be removed from office by our votes.

To give you an illustration of how bureaucracy works in another country, England in 1803 created a new civil service position. It called for a man to stand on the cliffs of Dover with a spy glass and ring a bell if he saw Napoleon coming. They didn’t eliminate that job until 1945.

In the U.S.A. there are only two government programmes that have been abolished. The government stopped making rum in the Virgin Islands and they stopped breeding horses for the cavalry.

It all sounds very familiar doesn’t it and it leads one to believe that Reagan may be a better politician than he was an actor.

In Australia I cannot think of any government department that has been abolished and not replaced with several more cumbersome alternatives.

It is all too easy to accept the difficulty of eliminating government departments yet we condone and at times encourage the establishment of new departments with their never-ending impositions on free enterprise.

A wiser man than I once said: “There ought to be a law against saying, there ought to be a law”.

As mentioned earlier, Australia’s problems are elementary and straightforward, however, our politicians endeavour to continually cloud the issue by carrying on with a lot of garbage about what a great job they’re doing on controlling inflation.

Only a week or two ago I received multiple-page letters from the Prime Minister in answer to my criticism of government policy. But the pages avoided the real issues and expounded theories about how reduction in inflation would act as a cure-all. For the sake of this country I would hope that the letters were written by a very junior clerk.

Politicians will no doubt continue to keep on looking at their meagre achievements through rose-tinted glasses while the major issues likely to have positive and long-term effects on the economy will be ignored.

The Treasury’s academic theorists would try to bamboozle you with science about the cause and effect of inflation. There is really only one thing worth saying about the government’s control of this problem.

Inflation is caused by one thing, and it has one answer.

It’s caused by government spending in excess of its income and the problem will go away when government stops excessive spending and not before.

Politicians who would have you believe that higher taxes applied to businesses relieve the individual, are either deliberately dishonest or economically illiterate.

As stated earlier, taxes have now reached an unrealistically high level to support our gigantic bureaucracy and to a lesser degree, our over-generous welfare schemes.

The result — a total lack of incentive for investment in free enterprise with a consequential drop in the demand for labour, hence unemployment, and a dismal growth rate.

Our current government has achieved the highest expenditure of any government in Australia’s history, gobbling up our taxes for this and still producing the largest budget deficits in Australia’s history. In other words, it’s not enough to rob us through taxation now, the government is also robbing future generations who will be saddled with these debts. Future generations will also have to pay back our Australian government’s massive foreign loans, a situation which would not be necessary if the government simply got out of the way and let us earn foreign exchange by developing our national resources.

Desperate situations call for desperate measures, however, I firmly believe that the answers to Australia’s problems are equally as straightforward as are the problems themselves.

A. Slash the bureaucracy — Federal, State and Local Authority.

B. Prune, and in many cases, eliminate wasteful social benefits.

C. Reduce corporate and personal taxation to an acceptable level, suggest a flat 20% tax.

D. Restore incentive to investment industry, by returning to a limited government, free enterprise economy.

Having taken this recommended action industry will quickly absorb the surplus workforce created by defunct or greatly reduced government departments.

If this once great nation is to move forward then the government should be persuaded by all of us to do one simple thing: “Get out of the way; let the initiative of free enterprise supply the energy that this country so desperately needs.”

(in order of appearance on Economics.org.au)
  1. Ron Manners’ Heroic Misadventures
  2. Hancock's Australia
  3. Hancock on Government Help
  4. Wake Up Australia: Excerpts Part 1
  5. Wake Up Australia: Excerpts Part 2
  6. Lang Hancock's Five Point Plan to Cripple Australia
  7. Governments Consume Wealth — They Don't Create It
  8. Up the Workers! Bob Howard's 1979 Workers Party Reflection in Playboy
  9. Jump on the Joh bandwagon
  10. John Singleton and Bob Howard 1975 Monday Conference TV Interview on the Workers Party
  11. Governments — like a red rag to a Rogue Bull
  12. Lang Hancock's Pilbara-Queensland Railway Proposal
  13. Singo, Howard and Hancock Want to Secede
  14. Lang Hancock's Foreword to Rip Van Australia
  15. New party will not tolerate bludgers: Radical party against welfare state
  16. Small and Big Business Should Oppose Government, says Lang Hancock
  17. A Condensed Case for Secession
  18. Hancock gets tough over uranium mining
  19. Hancock's threat to secede and faith in Whitlam
  20. PM's sky-high promise to Lang
  21. Lang Hancock: "a catherine-wheel of novel suggestions"
  22. Govt "villain" in eyes of new party
  23. The spread of Canberra-ism
  24. Govt should sell the ABC, says Lang Hancock
  25. 1971 Monday Conference transcript featuring Lang Hancock
  26. Aborigines, Bjelke and the freedom of the press
  27. The code of Lang Hancock
  28. Why not starve the taxation monster?
  29. Lang Hancock 1978 George Negus Interview
  30. Party Promises to Abolish Tax
  31. Right-wing plot
  32. "The best way to help the poor is not to become one of them." - Lang Hancock
  33. WA's NCP commits suicide
  34. "You can't live off a sacred site"
  35. Hancock: King of the Pilbara
  36. Bludgers need not apply
  37. New party formed "to slash controls"
  38. Workers Party Reunion Intro
  39. Workers Party is born as foe of government
  40. Government seen by new party as evil
  41. Ron Manners on Lang Hancock
  42. Does Canberra leave us any alternative to secession?
  43. Bury Hancock Week
  44. Ron Manners on the Workers Party
  45. Lang Hancock on Australia Today
  46. Hancock and Wright
  47. Lang Hancock on Environmentalists
  48. Friends of free enterprise treated to financial tete-a-tete: Lang does the talking but Gina pulls the strings
  49. Lang Hancock, Stump Jumper
  50. Lang Hancock: giant of the western iron age
  51. The Treasury needs a hatchet man
  52. We Mine to Live
  53. Get the "econuts" off our backs
  54. 1971 Lang Hancock-Jonathan Aitken interview for Land of Fortune (short)
  55. Gina Rinehart, Secessionist
  56. 1982 NYT Lang Hancock profile
  57. Enter Rio Tinto
  58. Hamersley and Tom Price
  59. News in the West
  60. Positive review of Hancock speech
  61. Lang Hancock International Press Institute General Assembly speech, Canberra, 1978
  62. Australia's slide to socialism
  63. The Great Claim Robbery
  64. Why WA must go it alone
  65. Lang Hancock in 1976 on Public Picnics and Human Blights
  66. MILLIONAIRE PUTS MONEY BEHIND SECESSIONISTS
  67. Resource Management in Australia: Is it possible?
  68. The gospel of WA secession according to Lang Hancock
  69. Crystal Balls Need Polishing
  70. Minerals - politicians' playthings?
  71. John Singleton-Ita Buttrose interview (1977)
  72. Boston Tea Party 1986 style, hosted by Lang Hancock and Bob Ansett
  73. Singo says Lang Hancock violated Australia's 11th commandment: Thou Shalt Not Succeed
  74. Singleton: the White Knight of Ockerdom
  75. Tactics change by Hancock
  76. Lang Hancock complains to Margaret Thatcher about Malcolm Fraser
  77. 'Phony crisis' seen as 'child of politics'
  78. Lang Hancock on nuclear energy
  79. Lang Hancock beats the left at their own game on civil liberties
  80. Lang Hancock's Favourite Books
  81. 1977 Lang Hancock Canberoo poem
  82. Hancock's playing very hard to get
  83. Hancock proposes a free-trade zone
  84. An Open Letter to Sir Charles Court
  85. John Singleton 1976 ocker Monday Conference Max Harris debate
  86. Lang Hancock in 1984 solves Australian politics
  87. Lang Hancock on the Workers Party, secession and States Rights
  88. Lang Hancock asks what happened to Australia's rugged individualism?
  89. Precis of Ludwig Plan for North-West
  90. Announcement that Lang Hancock will be guest of honour at the Workers Party launch
  91. Lang Hancock's March 1983 attempt to enlist "former presidents of nations and heads of giant companies" to save Australia
  92. Lang Hancock asks us to think how easily environmentalists are manipulated for political purposes
  93. Invest in free enterprise
  94. Democracy is dead in Australia and Lang Hancock's education
  95. Lang Hancock Incites Civil Disobedience
  96. Hancock sounds call to battle Canberra
  97. Mining policy a threat
  98. Over Whitlam's head
  99. Lang Hancock suggests that newspapers don't give space to politicians unconditionally
  100. Lang Hancock on saving Australia from socialism
  101. Secede or sink
  102. Australia can learn from Thatcher
  103. John Singleton. Horseracing. Why?
  104. How Lang Hancock would fix the economy
  105. Lang Hancock: victim of retrospective legislation
  106. Lang Hancock supports Joh for PM
  107. Hancock seeks miners' tax haven in the north
  108. The Ord River Dam
  109. Why Lang Hancock invested in Australia's film industry
  110. Lang Hancock's 1983 letters to The Australian: Lang's precedent for Steve Jobs, renaming the Lucky Country to the Constipated Country, and more
  111. Australia's biggest newspaper insider on manipulating the media
  112. 1980 Lang Hancock-Australian Penthouse Interview
  113. Canberra: bastion of bureaucracy
  114. Pilbara can be the Ruhr for South-East Asia
  115. 1982 Lang Hancock-John Harper Nelson Interview
  116. Australian elections are one of the greatest con games in history
  117. Our leaders are powerless
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