Fortunately for us all, Kevin Rudd is exhibiting many hallmarks of a professional leader who clearly has a lot of useful ideas for reawakening Australia. The sheer speed and energy of his team in signing up to Kyoto, dumping ‘Work Choices’, setting a useful agenda for federal/state relations, visiting aboriginal communities and dropping into Baghdad & Kabul is an encouraging and very welcome change from the self-satisfied denialism of the previous outfit. Net bloggers are saying that the energy and activity coming out of this younger, more energised and brighter group of politicians is like a ray of sunshine bursting through the Howard overcast.

Rudd’s latest initiative to use the heads of Government meeting as a forum for ideas and action is long overdue. It’s pretty clear that we humans can get a lot further by co-operating with each other, than by fighting. A fight may be in order at times, but when we need to develop something that is beyond our individual capacities, or when we face common threats, co-operation is the key.

Sadly under Howard the state and federal governments just couldn’t bring themselves to co-operate in the public interest, instead preferring to adopt a series of postures to claim some imagined high moral ground. Hopefully, it’s going to be a lot harder now for the States to use fed/state relations as an excuse for non-performance. Of course, in Tasmania they can still blame the Greens!

Another encouraging sign is that the federal government realises that it has to cut spending by some $10 billion per year (according to Access Economics). This could lead to improvements like stopping the dysfunctional tree MIS schemes (hint - write to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) before Jan 18 ‘08) and slashing Australia’s productivity destroying bureaucracies.

It has been found repeatedly, all over the world, that it’s always better, cheaper and faster to do something right first time around. Constant checking, reversing, penalising and regulating are little more than expensive recognitions of failure to get things right.

Australia’s model of governance has a heavy reliance on administration and grindingly slow reaction, which has devolved into the public service giving the rest of us whole loads of compliance and reporting work to do, while the citizens act as guinea pigs for untested products and services. The ‘dead hand’ of bureaucracy costs our businesses around $86 billion each year in non-productive compliance costs ( Red tape, health top ministers’meeting  ), locks up our governments in ponderous administration and consumes billions of tax dollars to support paperwork and storage while destroying business productivity. If a business had the same focus on administration as our governments, no business would be done, they’d be too busy keeping their position papers up-to-date and holding meetings.

A moment’s thought reveals that no amount of bureaucracy can combat climate change, deal with drought, improve our health, prevent financial collapses, improve our education, fix our roads or deal with any real problem. Bureaucracies produce virtually nothing of value, they just get in the way of useful initiatives, act to drive our creative people offshore and detract from our national productivity.

Instead of bureaucracies, governments could provide genuinely useful services that, when used, produce the required outcomes and avoid whatever pitfalls bureaucracies pretend they’re protecting us from.

The savings to government by slashing bureaucracy would be immense. The dysfunctional state system is costing us over $30 billion each year ( Crazy state system costing us billions ). The savings to the rest of us would be even greater (e.g. 227 pages of regulation about how to open a cheque account   Red tape, health top ministers’meeting ).

The combined costs of compliance ($86 bn) and state posturing ($30 bn) represents over 15% of GDP that produces virtually nothing useful!

I say, good luck to Wayne Swan and Lindsay Tanner in their razor gang exercise. If they can keep the good stuff and cut out the useless, Australia will be well ahead. Of course, they’ll face regiments of bureaucrats all presenting self-serving reasons for greater powers and budgets like an army presenting arms. Contribution to productivity is a test that they should all face.

Tough times ahead

There are growing forecasts of tough times ahead. We face pretty serious economic consequences from ‘Reagonomic’ deregulation of US finance institutions that has led to easy credit that has built into the ‘sub-prime’ crisis, probably only just starting to have its effects. According to reliable commentators, the US could still be up for $2 or $3 trillion of loss, with who knows how much spread around our trading partners and our own institutions.

In all of this, Howard employed policies that effectively drove our manufacturing offshore. We’re not ‘addicted to imports’ as bureaucrats and economists like to claim. Our trade gap is largely because we don’t make what we need in Australia therefore we have to buy it from overseas.

Uncompetitive policies include excess regulation and interference that makes businesses uncompetitive, high levels of taxation that push up living costs, inadequate infrastructures to support businesses, a lack of skills, and government fantasies that giving money to selected corporates somehow equals supporting business.

Our trade gap is dodging around $2.5 billion a month with an external debt climbing over $600 billion even as we speak ( The World Factbook 2007 ). We are becoming more and more beholden to external financial groups and instead of building our capacity to pay this off and become more self sufficient we have used our monies unwisely. While this ‘relaxed’ attitude to our national security occurred without obvious pain, the holiday could well be at an end as the US sub prime collapse progresses.

If the banks themselves come under pressure, they’ll raise interest rates and charges early in the piece. Many households could find themselves in a severe credit squeeze as they’re caught in ballooning non-discretionary budget costs (total of taxes, rates & charges now exceeds 50% of most people’s income) and credit card and mortgage debts. Mortgage holders under these pressures could easily find themselves in trouble at a time when banks are unlikely to show any sympathy to their plight.

As mentioned earlier, our governments could do a lot to help Australians by getting out of our way, but they need to drop the cash handout mentality that they employ.

Take a tip from Rudd

Rudd has a positive outlook for Australia, that’s clear. It’s also clear that a positive outlook is energising for individuals.

We need to know what we want before we can go out and get it.

The human brain is pretty good at finding ways to get what it wants, the real trick is figuring out what that actually is. I’m not referring here to anything mysterious like ‘The Secret’ but rather to our ability to spot opportunities, develop ideas and move towards some desired state.

A common reaction to positive ideas is to state that our politicians, system, laws, people etc are too hopeless/corrupt/stupid/self absorbed. While it is undeniable that our politicians are generally hopeless performers who appear more keen on their own benefits than on actually representing the community, we need to find ways to take more control over their actions. We probably won’t do that by disengaging.

Of course, debt is a pretty good way of controlling people, that’s why it’s called debt bondage. How can you argue with your boss etc. if everything you own depends on your salary?

Debt bondage is an excellent reason why our new waves of ‘retirees’ are often well positioned to become involved and to make a difference. We can no longer look forward to swanning around in a Winnebago until we’re wheeled into the aged care facility to terminate our days sucking creamed spinach through a straw while watching black & white re-runs of the Brady bunch. No, this fine model of Western thinking could be closed to those who retire today.

Many of today’s retirees have the advantages of no debt and a lifetime of experience. Throwing these advantages into improving our situation totally shifts the model from ‘retirement’ to ‘active involvement’. Instead of seeing ourselves slowly slipping into senility, we can imagine and create a future where our most experienced people actively use their life skills and lessons to help everyone else to create a better place for us all.

Wouldn’t that be fun?


Mike Bolan
http://www.abetteraustralia.com

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

Mike Bolan

Of course, debt is a pretty good way of controlling people, that’s why it’s called debt bondage. How can you argue with your boss etc. if everything you own depends on your salary?  Debt bondage is an excellent reason why our new waves of ‘retirees’ are often well positioned to become involved and to make a difference. We can no longer look forward to swanning around in a Winnebago until we’re wheeled into the aged care facility to terminate our days sucking creamed spinach through a straw while watching black & white re-runs of the Brady bunch. No, this fine model of Western thinking could be closed to those who retire today.