When the Public Service Goes Private

August 6, 2007 at 3:50 am (Uncategorized)

I seem to have missed something, somewhere along the line. You see, I thought, erroneously it seems, that the role of the public service was to provide… well, public services. You know, infrastructure. Healthcare. Education. Telecommunications. Road and transport networks. And I thought one of the basic functions of government at all levels was to protect such public services from the grubby paws of big business, which never has the general public’s best interests at heart. I thought the role of government was to protect citizens from exploitation by providing a range of basic services freely available to all, and when I say freely, I mean taxpayer funded.

I didn’t think the role of government was to try to corporatise its entire remit. I didn’t think both state and federal governments were supposed to seek to privatise public services. It’s a contradiction in terms for a very good reason. They’re fundamentally at odds. Government is not supposed to be a profit centre per se. It is simply not appropriate to run a country like it’s Macquarie Bank. As taxpayers and citizens, we are the all-important stakeholders, not shareholders, and I think somewhere along the line these terms have become rather confused in the minds and deeds of our elected representatives.

Elected representatives. I have to choke back a mirthless laugh when I say it, but politicians are supposed to be the elected representatives of the general populace. They are supposed to represent, protect, and promote the interests of all Australians. They are quite literally supposed to be acting in the public’s service. And yet in too many cases that is not what I see across the political spectrum in this country. I don’t see the public’s interests being championed at all.

Part of the problem is accountability. Politicians seem to be above scrutiny except within the confines of their own little frat club. Have you ever seen question time in federal parliament? It’s like a high school debate, except with more colourful language. It does not inspire confidence. It’s so nice to see that the red-nosed, pompous old boys’ jocularity of some members of parliament keeps the rest of them so mightily entertained after a steak and cab sav lunch, but for me, I’d really rather a bit more bang for my taxpayer buck. I’d like politicians to be more accountable to all Australians for the way they spend our money and our resources and our time.

This is a country, not a corporation. The chronic apathy I see all around me is, I believe, partly the result of a population that knows it’s been sidelined in all areas of administration. Citizens are not margins of profit potential, and yet increasingly that’s how the provision of services is decided. It’s not right, and it’s precisely what the establishment of the public service was designed to avoid.

‘Australia’ should stand for more than a ‘robust economy,’ because its citizens should care about a lot more than money. We are on the philosophical, ethical, cultural and educational skids, and I for one don’t like the view from the edge. We should be looking to the future, to the Australians who will come after us, when we decide who we are now and what kind of world we want to live in and leave behind. Being a politician ought to be about having the vision and the balls to fight for the fact that it’s always bigger than us, them, and the next goddamn election.

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