THE WAY Australian government is conceived and its operating assumptions, creates severe problems for the citizenry because whether governments choose to represent, protect or provide services to any group of Australians appears to be entirely optional notwithstanding one of the highest rates of payment to government in the world.

It appears that taxpayers are here at ‘Her Majesty’s Pleasure’, with our governments taking the seats of past colonial rulers (the Crown) and only being held accountable via a vote held every few years. If the government is exposing you to harm, or wasting billions in public monies, there’s really nothing you can do except vote them out at the next election.

Our whole system of governance is simply not good enough to deal with 21st century problems.

Rights and responsibilities

There was a lot of pontificating from the last federal government about citizens’ responsibilities, with John Howard arguing strongly against our having any clear written rights.

From the point of view of citizen responsibilities let’s take a look at how much we give government.

From various studies, it seems that governments take 47% of Australians’ income by various means, taxes, rates, charges, imposts and so on. Payments to government are non discretionary (i.e. must be made) which only leaves 53% of income for optional items like food, shelter, transport, power, water and medicines. Quite a bit of that money is taken up by cost increases created by government e.g. compliance and business taxes leaving only about 40% of income as discretionary funds. For those on more modest incomes (around $50,000 p.a.), this means constant compromises in food, heating and vehicle maintenance. These same people are most affected by price rises of vital items like water and further increases in non-discretionary payments to government.

Readers might like to total up for themselves how much of their income goes to governments in total and determine whether they are getting real value for that money.

It appears that the total costs of Australia’s over-governance is driving more and more people into debt and poverty. Instead of government improving its service quality, relevance and productivity and thus reducing both their and our costs, they just demand more money, time and power.

Their behaviour is lazy and uncaring and it’s driving Australians broke.

At the same time, our politicians and senior public servants vote themselves generous payments and benefits that do not apply to the rest of us. Their million dollar superannuation funds are paid for by taxpayers who cannot afford it, and who will never get the opportunity to enjoy the kinds of benefits available to government employees and politicians.

When we look at what rights we get in exchange, we find nothing of any substance.

The way things are, the government has all the rights, ordinary Australians cop the responsibilities. The way the system is set up is totally unsustainable.

Corporate connections

Embedded into our systems of governance is a political party donation scheme that allows corporations that cannot themselves vote, to contribute monies to political parties. Since corporations only act for profit and are proscribed from actions that detract from profitability, it’s a fair bet that the purpose of donations is to gain profits through some form of influence or favour. It’s only the larger corporations that can afford to make meaningful donations so odds are that political parties are pretty close to large corporate donors – remarkably similar to what we see happening around us.

When a corporation receives subsidies from government, it can divert some fraction of those subsidies back into a political party, thereby effectively laundering taxpayers’ money through that corporation or entity1. The bigger the subsidies become, the more likely the party donations will increase to keep the money flowing.

Until we change the system of donating to political parties, it’s probably hopeless to expect the political parties to focus on taxpayer, rather than corporate, needs.

An interesting story in The Australian2 stated…‘Interest rates will have to remain high for as long as the commodities boom lasts, with Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens yesterday making no apology for the pain being inflicted on parts of the nation missing out on the mining riches’. This clearly shows where government priorities lie. Nowhere is there any mention of any plan to help disadvantaged regions benefit from the mining boom.

No service standards

In Australia, we don’t know what we’ll get for our taxes. The Lennon government thought race courses, football teams and gambling were the best investments for our taxes while blithely watching essentials like health fail to support the needs of the people.

Even the basic service of representation was denied to many during the much loathed pulp mill approval process. In this case the two major parties supported the proposal before it had been assessed, then dropped the requirement that the RPDC assess the project and gave it to a pulp mill supplier to approve, again at taxpayer expense. In the process the parliament denied taxpayers any rights of natural justice under the Pulp Mill Assessment Act Sec 11 by removing any right of redress by anyone harmed by the proposal. Considerable public monies were provided to the proponent of the project while the public was denied any government help. These actions violated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (articles 7 & 21) by treating taxpayers differently to the proponent under the law and delivering preferential access to government for the proponent.

The parliament ignored the risks of the project to taxpayers and took the word of the project proponent as final, thus exposing taxpayers to unknown harm while preventing them from seeking redress if such harm occurred.

The government thus chose not to exercise any duty of care towards tens of thousands of concerned taxpayers while diverting taxpayers money to assist the proponent in their business.

From just about any standpoint, these kinds of choices by government are unsupportable and appear to entirely violate the (unenforceable) political oaths of office.

The development and implementation of service standards that define what services Australians will received for the their taxes is an important way to assure that essential taxpayer services are supported before optional personal follies like racing, gambling and strutting the world stage.

Governments’ failure to provide good service costs taxpayers huge extra amounts of money – from hospital mistakes3, quarantine failures4, customs systems failures, bungled investigations and millions of errors by Centrelink – government service is riddled with error that adds further costs to already overburdened taxpayers.

When service standards are in place, it becomes possible to build on quality, thereby lowering operating costs and the unnecessary costs of dealing with government error.

No accountability

Without some mechanism to force governments to act ethically and legally, the citizens are merely bystanders in a sideshow funded by their labours and taxes. The electoral cycle is too long for people to wait to assure themselves that governments are behaving responsibly.

Accountability is also seriously impaired due to the restricted nature of the Tasmanian parliament after the Liberal and Labor parties voted to reduce the size of the house, reportedly to keep the Green menace at bay. Many knowledgeable people have now called for a restoration of the parliament to assure appropriate representation and enable greater accountability.

No rights

Australia is the last Western democracy to deny its people’s a bill of rights. Such a bill could be designed to protect the citizenry from arbitrary and unfair government. A bill of rights can set the lowest standard that a citizen can expect from their governments.

One example is the proliferation of conflicts of interest in public decision making bodies. While the problems of conflict of interest are well understood, the citizens have no right for their cases to be heard by impartial judges. Governments, councils and other bodies are often populated by people with a pecuniary or other interest in matters under consideration. The forestry industry has taken advantage of this weakness resulting in much of the political focus being on forestry instead of on essentials like water, food, air, transport, health and so on.

Struggling for change

Barring ‘emergencies’, any change that is beneficial for taxpayers usually has to wait until all of the other requirements of the major parties have been met - completion of agreed funding deals, lining up new funding deals, internal party wrangles and so on - all appear more important than determining what taxpayers need and then delivering it.

Not only is Australia’s over governed system absurdly expensive to taxpayers, it isn’t delivering a country where the enterprises of the citizens can flourish.

Instead of delivering valued services, governments spend most of their energies telling us what to do thereby creating huge compliance costs that eat further into household budgets. BCA estimated compliance costs in 2005 at around $86 billion per year5.

For a population of 20 million that’s about $4,300 per person!

The various regulatory failures (e.g. HIH) that we see tell us that government methods don’t work. Throwing more money at failed systems in the current financial climate is both unjustifiable and unsustainable.

Given the errors produced by our governments, where is their authority for telling the rest of us how to do things? If they can’t manage themselves, who are they to tell us how to run our affairs?

The interim PAL policy has land owners being forced to prepare a land management plan to gain development approvals yet what are the governments credentials as land managers?

From an systems perspective it appears that Australian governments cannot run reliable and productive services, they have little commitment to making sure that taxpayers needs are represented, they expect us to pay ever higher taxes and charges, and they expect government officials and politicians to enjoy benefits, salaries and superannuation entitlements that taxpayers cannot afford and will never enjoy themselves.

I believe that Australians deserve a much better deal for their taxes.

Watch this space

Mike Bolan
Mike is a complex systems consultant, change facilitator and executive and management coach.


Mike Bolan

From an systems perspective it appears that Australian governments cannot run reliable and productive services, they have little commitment to making sure that taxpayers needs are represented, they expect us to pay ever higher taxes and charges, and they expect government officials and politicians to enjoy benefits, salaries and superannuation entitlements that taxpayers cannot afford and will never enjoy themselves.