Cutting Government Red Tape

Tony Abbott, the Leader of the Opposition, has often said that the first duty of government is to do no harm.  Recently he also spoke of government doing fewer things but better.

The next Coalition government is committed to reducing the size of the Commonwealth public sector in an intelligent and strategic manner.  This will inevitably also result in major changes to the structure of government functions and expenditure.

It will be achieved through rigorous scrutiny of all spending programmes against the following criteria – what is the problem being addressed, is the public sector best equipped to deal with it and are there better, more cost-effective approaches?

An early priority will be to implement a two year public service temporary recruitment freeze that will not involve any redundancies, but would see about 6,000 Commonwealth employees who voluntarily retire or leave each year not be replaced. The recruitment freeze will apply on an agency-by-agency basis but uniformed and frontline service positions will be exempt.   In part these cuts will follow from other election commitments such as the repeal of the carbon tax and the associated administrative structures.

Greater back office synergies and efficiencies will be pursued through a culture of continuous improvement.  The creation by the Howard Government of the Department of Human Services in 2004 was an important step in this process by bringing together Centrelink, Medicare and the Child Support Agency to create a more client-centred culture and exploit potential cost savings from the sharing of services.

The Coalition strategy is underpinned by a strong commitment to returning more personal responsibility to individuals and utilising the expertise of business and the not-for-profit sector in dealing with important social problems.

The Howard Government achieved considerable success in devolving service delivery to the private sector and community groups.  One of the earliest and most comprehensive examples was the job network that replaced the Commonwealth Employment Service.  Job placement was contracted out to private providers to achieve economies and efficiencies and provide a more tailored, responsive service to job seekers.  The result was more effective job placement services, better value for taxpayer money and better opportunities for unemployed people to return to the workforce.

In the area of welfare dependence, more personal responsibility will mean a shift in emphasis from income support payments to activity-based measures and programmes that encourage return to the paid labour force, particularly the young and those on disability payments.

The Coalition’s commitment to addressing inappropriate or heavy-handed government regulation will also affect the size of government.  The Productivity Commission estimates that reducing excessive compliance costs and paperwork will add $12 billion to the national economy.  To deliver these benefits Tony Abbott has committed to reducing compliance costs by $1 billion across government departments.  I am chairing a task force that is addressing these issues.  We report in six months.

In a similar vein, the Coalition also plans to establish local boards composed of relevant practitioners and members of the community to run public hospitals and schools.  These boards and councils will choose leaders, employ staff and control budgets.  This approach will encourage more responsive decision-making that is better suited to local conditions and draws on the talent available in the community.

Spending on major infrastructure would be subject to a rolling fifteen year programme with projects being prioritised using published cost-benefit analyses.  Transparency in project assessment will improve confidence in government-decision-making and promote better outcomes.  This approach will ensure that major projects are not treated in cavalier fashion and, like Labor’s National Broadband Network, approved without adequate scrutiny from a public interest perspective.

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While businesses like Rio Tinto and Westpac have been applauded for their approaches to improving flexibility, the entire burden can’t be placed on business to change overnight. While change is happening in business, we can put measures in place at the other end to make childcare more functional so both parents can have the flexibility to work in the way they choose. That is why a Coalition Government would investigate all the options to determine what range of options would work best for families. And if that includes tax deductions for nannies, we will consider it.

We will continue to congratulate and promote businesses that provide flexible arrangements that take care arrangements and the needs of parents, as well as gender equality more generally, into consideration. But we also need to provide affordable options for child care that allow mums and dads to work hard at their careers too, and that is what an elected Coalition Government would do. I think families are smart enough to realise we are trying to do the right thing by them and help them pursue their careers while bringing up their children in a way that works for them.

As a nation we cannot, in one breath, cheer on the idea of more women on boards, more women in senior executive positions and more women in the workforce generally, while allowing the antiquated argument that nannies, or other forms of childcare that exist outside childcare centres, are somehow extravagant or only for the rich. And there is no excuse for the Government to do nothing in this area. If a rebate for nannies was recommended by a Productivity Commission inquiry then it is only logical that some form of regulation for nannies under this system would be introduced, and pay and conditions for nannies could well improve under the formalisation of the industry.

Nannies do not make sense just for wealthy parents. For many mums and dads, having someone come into the home to care for their children will just make more common sense. And if, as a result of that, more women can stay in the workforce, remain in the workforce and climb to high-earning, high-profile positions, not only will it go some way to clawing back the chronic gender pay we will have done a great thing for equality of opportunity in this country.

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