The Conversation is supposed to be a vehicle for university academics, but it seems to be becoming a repository for the work of anyone even tenuously connected with a university. Which means that advocacy organisations can insinuate their propaganda onto its pages, as long as one of their researchers is studying at a university.
Such seems to be the case with How efficient is Australia’s public sector? Short answer: very. The, piece funded by vested interests like the CPSU and Slater and Gordon claims that it’s very difficult to get more out of the Australian public service because it is about as efficient as it can be, and certainly as efficient as large private organisations.
The article, written by Christopher Stone, Research Director at the very left-wing Centre for Policy Development, and a PhD student in law at Macquarie University, relies heavily on verbal subterfuge to “prove” its point.
Exhibit A is a World Bank survey which places Australia as the ninth most “effective” government in the world. It then combines this ranking, with our tax expenditure as a percentage of GDP to “show” that dollar for dollar we are one of the most effective governments in the world.
He then claims:
Getting big results compared to the resources used (good “bang for your buck”) is an important aspect of efficiency, so these nations at the top right are the most efficient on this measure.
But what exactly does “effective” mean. According to the World Bank it is a measure based on a survey which:
Reflects perceptions of the quality of public services, the quality of the civil service and the degree of its independence from political pressures, the quality of policy formulation and implementation, and the credibility of the government’s commitment to such policies.
Combining this measure with percentage of economy spent on government services tells you nothing about efficiency. A government which chose to spend all of its GDP could rank exactly the same as one that spent virtually none of its GDP, because this measure only ranks what you supply with no reference to how much.
Governments can only be compared for efficiency against the things that they deliver which are comparable. So, for example, we could work out the efficiency of the education system between countries on the basis of the number of dollars spent, the number of people employed, the assets invested and the outcomes achieved.
But if one government provides education right through from pre-school to university, and another only provides primary, they could both be seen as equally effective, because that is limited only to what they supply, but it would be impossible to work out their efficiency by comparing their systems, because they are apples and oranges.
We can expect more such nonsense as the Abbott government seeks to meet Australians’ expectations of both government services and taxation levels, which are pulling in opposite directions. Public servants will try to avoid working any harder, and have a vested interest in proving that this is as good as it gets.
But should the university sector be involved in helping them propagate the propaganda, particularly from an activist whose only qualification to be writing such a piece appears to be study towards a PhD in a discipline unrelated to the field of the article?