'Black hole' in the system threatens good public policy, Moran Says: Deakin Policy Forum 2012

By Joan Wu, ESSA Events Director 2012

Terry Moran, former Labour secretaryDuring a speech at the Deakin Policy Forum this week, Terry Moran called for more accountability and transparency in our troubled system of government. Moran, former secretary to Prime Ministers Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, was quick to emphasise that it is not the quality of civil service, which is exemplary, but rather the nature of parliamentary democracy in the current system that is to blame.

To understand why greater accountability is the key, Moran points to the “black hole” of responsibility when it comes to policy decision making.

Today, advisors and consultants in the nation’s think-tanks drive the discussions behind important public policy, out of sight from the public. This is a concern because should things go pear-shaped, politicians may pass the blame onto influential third parties, escaping unscathed. At the same time, advisors themselves are not held to the same standards as public servants.

Without clearly defined roles and responsibilities, politicians lose efficiency covering all bases, ultimately sacrificing important long term issues in favour of more immediate political concerns. The other extreme is that no risks are taken at all.

In order to build bridges of certainty between the idea generators and the policy makers, Moran suggests that solutions should fall within a few broad themes. Firstly, the public sector should have transparency similar to that in the corporate space. Secondly, greater clarity should be achieved regarding a policy maker’s roles and responsibilities.

This means that the delivery of services and city planning should be returned to state governments while the federal government should concern itself with large scale orchestration and supervision. Fewer, better paid politicians at the top bear the responsibility for policy decisions, aided by professionals who are also put in front of parliament. And the issue at hand is broken down in simple terms for the public, now that the process itself is open.

Of course, such a reform will have to pass through parliament first. The sheer scope of this monolithic change may be enough to deter conservative parliamentarians and those who prefer the current system, with all of its places to hide.

Joan Wu (follow Joan on twitter @wu_joan)