Federal Budget

This week we have had a budget, arguably the first half realistic assessment of the economy for some time, with some politically unpalatable pills swallowed. Not before time.

We have also had the budget reply, which was more an election speech than a roadmap for sensible governance, and government. We still know little about the priorities and relative weight the opposition gives to the many competing demands on the resources at their disposal via our tax payments, but we know a bit more now than before the speech.

Mr. Abbott put his finger on it when he recognised in his speech that if directors of a public company behaved like politicians, there would be some very serious questions asked by the regulatory authorities. We of the taxpaying classes have been saying that for years.

So, on the standards by which Directors are judged how has our government performed, on a scale of 1-5.

    1. Formulation and execution of a strategic plan. 1/5. Comment. I see nothing that resembles a coherent plan that takes account of the short term bumps whilst assembling the capabilities and resources to deliver longer term prosperity in a volatile and commoditized world.  Long term planning to this lot is what they are doing after (taxpayer sponsored) lunch. There are a few exceptions, some good intentions that may never emerge from the policy cocoon, which gave them the 1 point.
    2. Communication with, and alignment of, stakeholders to the strategic priorities outlined. 1/5. Comment. They get 1 because they did try, however ineffectively. The only stakeholders who appear to be aligned are the militant unions who have lined up to build back some of the rorts lost over the previous 15 years.  Non public sector union membership is now around 10% of the workforce, yet they exert a huge influence on this government, way out of proportion to the numbers they supposedly represent. The internal alignment of management is appallingly bad, and has resulted in not just a trashing of the brand, but in having some useful talent and experience being relegated to the bench for speaking their mind. Successful leaders recognise that the debate around differing views, and the “due process” that is a part of creative and sensible policy development is vital, shooting the messenger went out with Al Dunlap.
    3. Development of sensible policy to deliver on the “vision” bits of the strategic plan. 3/5. Comment. The “policy” agenda of a government is equivalent to the components of the value proposition and business model of a commercial enterprise. Discussion of the current governments policy development performance could have a strong partisan element depending on your views. However, whatever your views on the individual components, I think it is fair to observe that they made considerable effort, carbon abatement via a tax regime, taxing mining profits beyond the existing tax rates, some substantial international initiatives, the disability scheme, the NBN, response to the initial impact of the GFC, and a few others.  You may not like the individual policies, the implementation may have been be buggared, but the policy thought was there.
    4. Credibility. 0/5. Comment. Nobody I speak to believes anything coming out of the mouth of a pollie, of any persuasion.  The spectacle of politicians and their mates who do not just stick their snouts into the trough, but dive in and wallow around has utterly tarnished the credibility of the whole lot. You can thank Obeid and McDonald et al in NSW, Thompson in Canberra, the sound of cabinet ministers dumping on the Rudster, who then squibbs, and absolute undertakings (as distinct from “election promises”)  made and broken with monotonous regularity. The list goes on, and on. 
    5. Performance compared to peers. 3/5. Comment. There is no doubt that Australia is in a far better position than most, if not all of economies that are reasonably comparable. The speed of Australia’s reaction to the GFC was commendable, and effective, although it can reasonably be argued that there was much waste involved. However, the financial flexability to make and implement decisions was a result of decisions taken by former governments, Hawke, Keating and Howard, and had little to do with the current regime. They just got lucky that there was money in the bank, and coal and iron ore prices went into a once in a generation spike. Discussion about how much better it could, perhaps should,  have been done while being interesting, is irrelevant except as a learning experience.
    6.  Productivity of our tax dollars, the outcomes we get from the spending. 1/5. Comment. Having run an agency outsourced from a Federal Department, and lived in Canberra  for several years, I am particularly cynical about the manner of the expenditure that happens on our behalf. Everything costs many times what it should, and would under a different, more commercial performance and accountability culture. There is simply no bottom line culture of accountability, just spend what is allocated and fight like banshees for more, as size of budget and reporting numbers are the measures of seniority and therefore salary, and associated employment perks. Obviously this is a generality, there are many motivated, educated and engaged public servants around, trying to do a job, and being frustrated by the existing culture, and it is this culture that must change before any reasonable productivity progress can be made. It is in a word, a function of Leadership, a rare commodity it seems.
    7. Governance, finally. 0/5. Comment. As Mr. Abbot recognised, any CEO whose leadership had failed as conspicuously as that of the current and former PM would not just be out of a job, and be responsible for a trashing of the share price, but would be fronting the ASIC and its investigators for breaches of more regulations than Ian McDonald has had long lunches. (It should be noted, the opposition would also have problems with the regulators, as making public pronouncements of fantasy as fact when you are trying to get someone to buy your product is illegal)

All in all, a pretty sad state of affairs that no board would tolerate. A responsible board would have identified and eliminated the causes of such hubris well before it got to the stage on show in our various parliaments around the country.

The truly scary thing to consider is how much better the current opposition will perform when they, as it is almost assumed, take over the keys to the lolly cabinet in September. I fear they will be overcome by the same stuff that has sunk the current lot, and will just govern for themselves whilst mouthing platitudes.

None of this is to deny the difficulties of government, the competing agendas and political realities of the 24 hour news cycle, and our seeming intoxication with the banal, irrelevant, and superficial. However, it is our money that is being spent, we have a right, indeed obligation, to have our say.

How would you mark these parameters, and what other strategic considerations should be made that I have missed?.