POST WAR AUSTRALIA - REFORMING BUREAUCRACY
Australian Book Review,
October 1982, pp. 11-12.
A key problem
for socialist remains that of bureaucracy. The self-proclaimed socialist
societies have been either clogged up by bureaucrats or traumatized
through attempts to retain revolutionary enthusiasms. Inside capitalist
societies, moves towards equality continued to be frustrated by public
servants who are themselves beneficiaries of unequal tensions of power
and comfort. On top of all these practical issues, the notion of
bureaucracy challenges the incipient views of “class” that underlie
Hawker is one of a growing number of Australian left-wingers to take
bureaucratic reform seriously. He is one of the few to suggest specific
proposals within a broadly Marxian perspective.
with a bill “to abolish tenure of appointment in upper level position
in public service”. In fact, he rightly advocates “the eventual,
wholesale abolition of tenure”. Long before that happy day, he wants
to politicize the policy unites government. His aim is to get social
democratic thinking into the administration; he recognizes that there is
a parallel need to get similar sentiments into a Labor ministry.
sustains the incompetent and the malevolent who respond to “open
government” by keeping two sets of files: one “open” and the other
operative. Before retirement they get their old files from Archives and
lose them so that the thirty-year rule on the release of documents has
destroyed more evidence than it has added to historical knowledge. These
fat cats then retire on extravagant superannuation benefits. It is
against such privileges and powers that Hawker directs his book.
reform area is freedom of information and here he notes the
extraordinary secretiveness of Australian officials and their
self-protective devices such as maintaining twin sets of files. “Open
government” is also seen as one way of informing politicians as well
as educating the ordinary citizen.
Tied to the
flow to people of information are Hawker’s thoughts on the
distribution of power inside the bureaucracy which he discusses in a
chapter on “Industrial democracy”. Following on from these matters,
Hawker inevitably encourages the appointment of more women, black and
immigrants at all levels.
final set of ideas brings in several political and constitutional
complications. For instance, the existing divisions of power between
Commonwealth, State and local authorities are one more hurdle to the
efficient and effective provision of services. He also wants to replace
departments by policy units and operating units. In other words, the
people responsible for delivering pensions need not be managed by the
people deciding who should be eligible for benefits.
parliament as a secondary place for instituting reform of society since
it “is within the public service that fundamental disagreements over
political and economic power will be tested”.
For each of
these areas of reform, Hawker offers a few innovations plus a
wide-ranging critique of current practices. The politician is enticed
from particular improvements towards a general transformation, not only
of the bureaucracy but also of the society as a whole.
Maser, Who’s Servant? could have been usefully arranged. Although
it is brief, it is still too long for most politicians to read. John
Cain and his ministers in Victoria should get someone to itemise
Hawker’s proposals and arguments. Even at this late stage, such a list
would provide the ALP cabinet there with a guide to why its achievements
turn out to be less than its modest intentions. Hawker’s second
chapter, “Labor’s Vanities”, consolidates the many critiques that
have been made of the ineptness of the Whitlam administration. It is to
avoid repeating all those errors that this book has been written.
conclusion, here are five specific points for further debate. First,
Hawker’s discussion of tenure needs to be extended beyond the public
service and into academe, the ABC and all the intelligentsia. Tenure is
one of the seven modern plagues: if total uncertainty is corrosive of
creativity, absolute security is every bit as debilitating.
portable superannuation needs to be planned, not ignored as Hawker has
done. Thirdly, the life-span of reforms has to be estimated: can any
loosening last more than twelve months before the old guard replicate
their self-defences? Fourthly, the use of public sector employment as a
form of social welfare for the halt and infirm has to be faced: this
issue is particularly relevant to State and local government.
false identification of governmentalism with socialism needs to be
broken. Hawker does not suffer from this muddle himself, but neither has
he confronted it openly. Since his book is aimed at the ALP, wherein
confusion is chronic and endemic, a recognition of the true nature of
state activities [as servant of capital] is an essential prelude to