Do you ever wonder why, in Australia, we can never achieve anything through politics? Sure we have an obstructionist Senate because of minor parties or the Greens always being able to veto decisions, but it seems we also have a deeper problem, an obstructionist public.
When either party wants to achieve something there is always a rumble of discontent through the community until the government decides that it is probably better to do nothing than to try to do anything.
I’m probably thinking of tax reform. There was a really good argument in favour of a rise in the GST or a broadening of the GST if it had permitted removing a host of small inefficient taxes. But, no… Too hard.
One problem that seems pervasive is that we never look at all the trade-offs and net benefits of choices and the public never trust what they are told in any case. In business this is not generally a problem because each decision to spend money has to have a business case. Couldn’t we just use something similar in our public spending or tax decisions? We know that expenditure review committees do consider things in this way but the public never get to know what has been discussed.
The public are often portrayed as naive and surveys would show that people want more spent on hospitals, schools and roads with lower taxes and a reduction in the budget deficit and public debt.
One way around this is to engage the public more in the decision-making process and to judge their views in a more intelligent way. Ordinary people do know about trade-offs and would be the best to judge how to divide up the public purse. We just need to ask the right questions.