Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull’s recent forays into essay writing, as well as Tony Abbott’s latest book show how politics in Australia is trapped between opposing, but outdated visions of public policy.
The Prime Minister wants to spur long-term growth but places too much faith in bureaucratic big government solutions and underestimates the social benefits of markets, choice and devolved responsibility.
Turnbull and Abbott understand the importance of markets and choice in service delivery but don’t give enough attention to whether meaningful choices are available to poorer individuals and families.
The Liberals tend to underestimate the important role for government investment in education and health and the role of regulating a carbon price market for protecting the global environment.
A third position, based on the values of empowering people through participation, has growing support in Britain from both the centre-right and centre-left of politics that transcends these divisions.
It is founded on trust as the basis for forging stronger communities and economies and a more resilient people. Trust that people get ahead when they hold meaningful choices. Trust that public officials, teachers and health professionals can be empowered to make decisions less encumbered by red tape and meaningless targets for their own sake.
It is more than the “invisible hand” guiding progress it is a faith in people rather than government dictates. It doesn’t argue for smaller government as an end in itself but it does argue for a government that is more agile, efficient and focused.
If implemented in Australia it could be at least as radical as the deregulation of the early 1980’s with as many long-term benefits.
This politics has a profoundly different vision for public service delivery to that of Prime Minister Rudd. The devolvement of power away from the hands of government control to local providers is essential for greater choice and the tailoring of public services to the needs of people.
Differential voucher funding for education and the promotion of a mixed delivery of public and private involvement in public services is vital for giving people more choice over how they access the ladder of opportunity.
Schools are the perfect example of services that should be devolved to the local level and given greater opportunities to innovate and offer tailored services within the framework of a basic, flexible national curriculum.
The Liberal party has made it easier for middle class parents to exercise school choice but have been blind to the fact that choice cannot be exercised by those poorer parents that most need that choice and have no option but to send their children to failing schools.
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