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Address by Ian Sinclair



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ADDRESS BY THE RT. HON. IAN SINCLAIR, MINISTER FOR

COMMUNICATIONS AT THE PRESIDENT'S LUNCHEON, AUSTRALIAN

INSTITUTE OF SYSTEMS ANALYSTS, 12 JUNE, 1981 AT 1 P.M. 54.

You as systems analysts come from as many and varied a background as do politicians.

I note however that while your professions include all those involved with data processing as well as accountancy,

mathematics, commerce and engineering, you are a bit light

on for farmers and lawyers. ' .

Being both of those, as well as a politician, I was a little disappointed to see that none of these three

callings are represented in the membership of your Institute.

In this respect there is a fundamental problem in the

structure of our Australian workforce. The immobility between Government business, the professions and academia frequently means that best use is not made of the human resources available.

The cross-membership of disciplines represented in your Institute provides a.lead which our community could well

emulate to its advantage.

It is certainly true that distance under difficulties of communication, perhaps more dramatic at the moment than

normally hamper significant developments in this area and contribute towards the parochial approach to national

problems so many Australians adopt.

I suspect that is part of the reason for the suspicion of

Canberra and the criticism that those who live there do

not necessarily share the same experience as the rest of

us.

Assembling in meetings such as this, there is however, an

opportunity to glean a little of the ideas and objectives

of an important section of the business community and perhaps

to apply those ideas in other arenas.

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My general feeling on decision-making is that the inputs

in decision-making accept the acknowledged areas of expertise

but really the best decisions emerge from those with the widest experience coupled with their ability to think and

act with the greatest use of this experience.

Decision-making can therefore involve developed business and

management skills as well as just the plain, instinctive,

seat-of-the-pants feelings.

Briefly let me canvass with you some of the decision-making

processes that come to make the Government decisions which ·

you and I have to live with.

Government, as someone said, is essentially a matter of making

decisions which are authoritative. ·

The idea of responsible government developed in the 18th and

19th centuries moved towards the process of providing

Cabinet responsibility to the Parliament for the particular

policies and actions of the Government.

In the past 100 years this has moved, with relatively little

philosophic change, to incorporate increasingly complicated,

but not necessarily overbearing public service bureaucracy.

The basic political philosophy is moulded around the clearly

established political parliamentary arena which in itself is

a product, if I may say, of practical and pragmatic minds.

As long as the system provided for Cabinet responsibility

to Parliament for the particular policies and actions of a

government, there is then a refined process of decision-making.

Now these are of course the higher points of arguments justifying

the system of government as it exists in this country now.

"Responsible government embraces several elements including

popular control of administration through Ministers, orderly

conduct of public business, and in our State and Federal case,

... . . /3

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an essentially two-party, government/opposition system of

Parliamentary politics and representation., T (sourced to R.W. Cole)

The question remains, however., in just how authoritative is responsible Government?

Indeed, the reverse of this question may also be asked. When

the Government, began its Review of Commonwealth Functions, these were, in the widest sense, questions which we were

attempting to face. .

The Government’s power to control its own functions sounds

like a contradiction in terms, because surely Government is all about the exercise of power. And if any of the implements

of power in our society should be seen to be representing

power, then certainly it is Government that is the manifestation of power.

Many of our critics however suggest that there are tight concentrations of power,, represented by inner groupings

within parties or within the Cabinet structure.

Before the emergence of modern bureaucracy ministers did

indeed have unquestioned control over the Government machinery.

The wider involvement of modern government in an increasing

number of the facets .of our lives has meant that decisions

become infinitely numerous and infinitely more complex, necessitating a growth of a bureaucracy to the size of its

disturbing proportions today.

Now the suggestion is of course that this, vastly increased bureaucracy.has, of itself, become the power base and that

its mandarins are the source of all power and knowledge

within the Government structure.

Perhaps an understanding of the way in which this arm of

government is structured would lead you, as those 'involved

in determining decision making processes in private industry,

towards a better knowledge of the decision making processes Government. / 4

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The Prime Minister and Cabinet have always had the power to

determine the basic departmental structure in the Public

Service and in doing so tailor jobs to individuals abilities

and capacities in the process of buildfng an effective administrative system. .

A significant difference between the Australian and American system is that whereas the change of administration in the U.S. means significant changes in the bureaucracy to even

relatively junior levels, our concept of permanency inhibits

change even at the one level where the Government take the

decision on the appointee i.e. at the permanent head level.

Some control, however, is possible through the application of staff ceilings.

On the basis of three year forward estimates presented at the beginning of each year staff needs of each department

are assessed by the Public Service Board and recommendations are made to the Government. .

These have been significantly under review by the Government

on several occasions since we were elected in 1975. The

result has been a demonstrable reduction in the number of Commonwealth Public Service employees.

This is not at the price of reducing the administrative

facilities the community requires.. Rather it is the

application of the same principles that apply in any

commercial enterprise where the cost of the service needs to be related to its.value, the moreso as that cost

represents a significant part of the citizens' annual tax

payments. · '

While the staff ceiling process has served and continues to

serve its role as an effective means of reducing the total

size of the service this does not of necessity lead to greater

effectiveness of departments or of public servants.

/ 5

This then was one of the reasons that we looked to reviewing

in a much wider sense, the range of Government services

through the Review of Commonwealth Functions which of course became known as the Razor Gang.

Year by year there are many requests to expand the area of

Government involvement in the affairs of the citizen. The

creeping growth of bureaucracy has been of major concern,

yet there have been few occasions when any significant

attempt has been made to restrain it.

The Review commissioned by Prime Minister Whitlam and chaired

by Dr. Coombs provided for financial cuts across a range of areas of Government commitment.

The objective was to re-direct Government expenditure not

to contain it.

The Lynch Committee has had as its objective not only the reduction of Government spending but a philosophic commitment

to reduce the level of Government involvement in the lives i

of individual Australians.

The Committee’s terms of reference were:-* whether some Commonwealth-functions can be taken over or sold to private enterprise.

* whether we can reduce or eliminate regulations imposed

on private, commercial and individual a'ctivity by the

Commonwealth

* whether the states can more appropriately and efficiently

handle the functions and responsibilities now undertaken by the Commonwealth alone or in sharing with the states.

* whether generally Commonwealth functions, might be reduced,

perform more efficiently, or be eliminated altogether.

The result, I believe, will lead to stronger and more effective

government.

It will ensure there is no undue involvement of the Federal .

Government or duplication of the functions of other governments in the Australian community.

- 5 . -

/

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The decisions in fact embrace a collection of many steps

towards reduced Commonwealth involvement.

Some, like the abolition of the Prices Justification Tribunal, have attracted more attention than the smaller ones.

In my own area, the abolition of the Australia Post Courier Service does not mean that the Post Office will not be able

to provide for expeditious delivery of parcels and letters

from one destination to another. It does mean that Australia

Post will not embark on operating a general carrier-type

business in an area where many private enterprise carriers are effectively able to provide a community service.

The inquiry into the operation of Telecom is not intended

to prejudice the continued operation of this, the major Australian employer next to the Government. I

It is intended to ensure its maximum efficiency and the

utilisation of private sector capital and know-how in the

rapidly changing technology applicable in the communications industry.

As you would conclude from the gist of the Government policy

statement I issued last night regarding the resolution of

the pay .claims between Telecom and the unions, there is

certainly a necessity for strong leadership by Telecom

within Government policy objectives in areas where it

functions and can be seen to have conditions parallel to

those operating in the private sector.

In the current climate of the Government's relations with

Telecom we are clearly in a position where we need to

reconsider both in the light of the R.C.F. requirements and in the industrial situation of the past fortnight the

general structure of the manning of that statutory authority.

I have several times this year, advocated the need for a

form of staff labour in all essential services. Earlier

this week in talking at the National Press Club I again pointed to the need for such staff in times of industrial trouble.

.../

- 7 “

Essential duties needed to maintain the basic levels of public

services can and should be carried out by responsible officers

of the various authorities when there is a need to reduce the

impact of industrial action.

If this means some restructuring so that key staff personnel

are available to operate the sophisticated computer switching

gear which is the genesis of the present breakdown in the

telecommunications'system then the Commonwealth will examine the way by which this can be achieved.

It is strongly my view that there is no sacrosanct right of any Government employee to withdraw labour to the detriment

of the public he is employed to serve.

Indeed, in the circumstances of the present Telecom dispute · it is apparent that not only has there been severe disruption affecting the social and business contact of ordinary

Australians, but there is the. cost from additional wage payments to be made, as a result of the agreement between Telecom and the '

unions.

This will inevitably lead to higher costs for the services

provided and a. reduced ability to fund the capital requirements of new technology to meet community growth.

In putting together these few thoughts on the direction of

decision making in Government I stress that we need to look

at ourselves as well as others. We should not wade in the comforable warmth of self-deception.

As Chesterton said: "A puritan is a person who pours

righteous indignation into the wrong things."

On the other side of the coin, Hazlitt said: "Life is the art of being well deceived."

Perhaps more importantly for us all is the necessity to

recognise the responsibility of each of us not to be deceived

but to have genuine regard for the interests of the other fellow