I decided to log onto your website last week and I was most surprised to see such interest in my previous letter, Labor’s deals: the real cost?, and I thought I’d try to answer the question about how we (intelligence analysts) might make judgements about the quality of a government.
Of course, I cannot reveal any of our actual methods but I can try to give some unclassified pointers that might help in useful assessments.
First, it’s important to appreciate that we don’t see the world in the same way that politicians and the media describe it. Both of those groups have hidden agendas that can distort and conceal important information.
As analysts, our view is both stark and simple and is based on repeated experience with patterns of human behaviour. The same patterns seem to keep repeating with only the actors, time and locations changed.
It’s normally either hope or fear that leads to votes
Most people recognise such a view as realistic but, despite their experiences, seem to prefer to keep hoping that what they are being told by politicians is actually true. After all, it’s normally either hope or fear that leads to votes.
It’s also important to understand that government has the money, resources and authority to do whatever it takes to achieve social goals. They can start wars, imprison their citizens or undertake initiatives that increase the happiness and wealth of everyone.
When persistent problems occur in a high-tax environment, such as Australia, then serious questions must arise about the competence, direction, priorities and honesty of the governments.
Government is there, at least in part, to reduce social ills and when they fail to achieve this, people turn to drugs or crime or become alienated from society and businesses close while needed talent leaves. Of course governments don’t want to take responsibility for such problems but if they can’t do anything, why are they there?
Cover up some mistake or corrupt activity
When looking at a government, we are interested first and foremost in what the actual results of their policies are. What governments say is often of little interest or value as their words are too often attempts to get re-elected, justify tax increases or cover up some mistake or corrupt activity.
Of course, if we’re talking TO the government we have to pretend to believe their words, but it’s their behaviours that count. If you think about it, this is probably true in all human endeavours and interactions. In fact it is commonly expressed as the idea that “actions speak louder than words”.
By looking at the results of government policy, we short-circuit a lot of difficulties in interpreting what people mean when they say things.
This is how I noted that a key outcome of your government’s actions seemed to be the transfer of assets from the public to the private sector, which looks very much like a ‘plunder while they’re there’ strategy – i.e. politicians and others using the public’s trust for their own ends without any reference to community needs.
One good indicator of problems is how many ‘minders’ and ‘spin doctors’ a government thinks it needs, after all why have them if there’re no dirty secrets? How many do you have in Tasmania?
The priorities in Tasmania
Once we understand a government by the results it achieves, we can focus on figuring out their real priorities, again without paying too much attention to what they say.
In Tasmania it looked to me as though the priorities were:
1)conceal the actual priorities with ‘spin’, bluster or threats,
2)massive transfers of public assets to select private sector groups,
3)reduce debt and/or build surplus,
4)various other things like tourism and then, well down the list…
5)alleviate the suffering of needy Tasmanians (eg hospital, dental, aged care).
I’m sure that using the techniques described readers can come up with their own lists and reach their own conclusions. We can then go on to interpret what governments say in light of their real, observed priorities.
If my simple priority list for Tasmania is indicative then I’d question the state of the democracy itself, so I’d look for other clues. For example, in Australia your defamation laws preclude public revelations about people actually guilty of serious offences; this suggests high-level compromises that defeat democratic principles. Such evidence indicates that corrupt activities are not only tolerated, they are protected by law!
I’d then look to see whether senior politicians were moving to correct the weakness or avoiding action; that would help us understand the types of people and activities that they were supporting.
Looking after the shop until a real leader comes along
I’d also look at what the government or country was all about, what was their guiding principle, goal or aspiration? What vision of the future are their activities organised around? In the case of Tasmania or Australia, I have no idea what vision of the future the government is pursuing, neither did I meet anyone over there who could describe it to me.
Without a guiding vision I’d conclude that the politicians were not leaders at all, they are just looking after the shop until a real leader comes along.
A ‘look after the shop’ government can be distinguished by its focus on order for the sake of order, rules for the sake of rules and so on. Such a government does not inspire the population in any way and their political campaigns are based on their abilities as ‘managers’. When a government focuses a country on management, it manages resources and money as if they alone are the keys to prosperity and happiness. Too often they ignore human needs and the needs of social groups and communities.
Such a government also tends to keep a country in stasis while the rest of the world is changing. For example a glance at your telecommunications infrastructure shows it to be well out of step with advancing economies, in fact the OECD has told Australia that its overall infrastructure investments are too small. Your labour laws appear to be going backwards as do your health and education systems, plus many community activities have been lost due to insurance requirements.
Without leadership, there is no-one to inspire Australia or Tasmania to become a leading light of anything, there are only tiresome speeches about money and efficiency; elaborate excuses for failure and abstract justifications that allow others to plunder your resources.
Would you like your children to be like your Premier?
As a test, ask how inspirational your Premier, or your Prime Minister, is. Would you want your children to be like them? Are you looking forward to your future?
One last tip, keep a scorecard of how your government is doing, the results that they actually obtained. It’s hard to remember their real performance after years of promises, press stories, rhetoric and lies so write down the things that are important, the hospital collapses, the betrayals of public trust, the scandals along with any good achievements.
Such a record is a much better guide to voters that the hokum of an election campaign.
So there you have it, one way to assess the performance of a government. The results might look pretty bleak but at least they’re honest and it’s only by honest appraisal that we, as humans, can usefully work out what to do next, where to put our priorities.
Our decisions are helped enormously by a vision that shapes a broader meaning for society and defines a future that we can reach together, and that can benefit everyone. Such a vision unites people in complementary activities regardless of distance.
All substantial progress appears to be guided by far sighted and desirable goals that benefit all, goals that shape a broader meaning for society and sketch out a future worthy of greater effort and unity – goals that inspire collaboration and innovation and that usher in an era of exciting and positive change.
I truly wish you well with it.
N.B. The nature of my work means that I can’t provide contact details. If you want me to contact you, put a note on your site although it might take me some while to respond depending where I am etc.
For an analytical breakdown of Adele’s ideas go to:
Table of wealth transfer in Tasmania