This morning I spoke with 2CC's Mark Parton about why moving public servants out of Canberra would create a less effective APS. Here's the transcript:
2CC - BREAKFAST WITH MARK PARTON
TOPICS: Relocating Australian public servants; carbon pricing
Mark Parton: Let’s go to Andrew Leigh, Federal Member for Fraser for the ALP. He’s on the line - good morning Andrew.
Andrew Leigh: Morning Mark.
Mark Parton: We’ve just had a chat to Andrew Wilkie, he wants to throw the public servants all round the country - he’s dreaming, isn’t he?
Andrew Leigh: Well I can see where the electoral demographics come from with this. Tasmania has got a lot of seats, even though in fact I think I have twice as many voters as Andrew. I think I’ve got the largest seat in Australia and he’s got one of the smallest. But it just doesn’t make any sense…
Mark Parton: No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t. And see, I mean, he should be smart enough to know that, but I think it’s all completely Tas-centric for him.
Andrew Leigh: The thing that disappoints me Mark is the notion that we ought to take the core policy roles out of Canberra. It’s a notion that belies a lack of confidence in the national project itself. You don’t imagine that there’s conversations going on now in London, in Washington, D.C., in Ottawa, in Seoul about decentralising policy to the regions. Because people in those countries realise that when you’re dealing with complex problems like transitioning from the mining boom, climate change, the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, you’ve got to get people together across different departments. Physically together, because people work better when they’re eye-balling one another.
Mark Parton: And this is exactly the point that I made to him. He must know that. Again, it just gets down to the robbing Peter to pay Paul thing. We understand that they’ve got some problems in Tasmania, but the federal public service is not the answer to it, and why would you rob Peter to pay Paul? There are some massive challenges here in Canberra, why would you make them worse?
Andrew Leigh: Well as a nation we’re worse off if we can’t deal with complex policy problems that cross-cut departments. That’s the very value of having the public servants in the one city, and it’s why every sensible nation in the world does it. Sure, you devolve service delivery to the regions - there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s always happened, and that’s why a majority of federal public servants are outside Canberra. But the policy roles need to be here because that serves all Australians better as we grapple with complex challenges.
Mark Parton: Yes. Now we had an interesting day up under the flagpole yesterday. Most of it, of course, was in the Senate. Andrew Wilkie suggested that he thinks there is a bit of Clive Palmer basically wreaking revenge on Tony Abbott and the Coalition. Do you think there’s anything in that?
Andrew Leigh: I think it’s the responsibility of the government to work its legislation through. Yesterday struck me as being a little bit like an episode of Fawlty Towers with Eric Abetz playing Basil Fawlty.
Mark Parton: Jacqui Lambie savaged Eric Abetz; having said that, I think once she gets a year or so into her term, if you haven’t been savaged by Jacqui Lambie, you’re doing something wrong! But she suggested that Eric should lose his role in the Senate because he’s made a mess of it - would you concur with her, Andrew?
Andrew Leigh: As Penny Wong pointed out yesterday, it is pretty extraordinary to have the government filibustering - that is, trying to talk out a debate; and then guillotining - which is preventing the debate from continuing, on exactly the same substantive matter. That just illustrates to me that this is a government which is not naturally engaged in working with others. I don’t think anyone thinks that when Eric Abetz and Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott were at school that ‘plays well with others’ was one of the things they scored high on for their report cards. These guys have a ‘crash or crash through’ mentality about things and you see that in the decisions of the budget, which breaks promises and just hurts people right across the board without the consultation that I think good government demands.
Mark Parton: I think that voters in Fairfax and certainly other places around the country need to have a good look at what’s going on, and need to really understand over this - well, however long, probably six years - how much effect these Palmer United people are going to have on policy in this country.
Andrew Leigh: Well, they were democratically elected, and it’s up to the government to work to get their legislation through. Let’s be honest about what they’re trying to get through here, Mark. It’s the repeal of the carbon price, leaving Australia with no sensible mechanism for dealing with climate change…
Mark Parton: This is the carbon price that you blokes were going to repeal as well?
Andrew Leigh: We were going to move from a fixed price to a floating price, as many other countries have done. That puts a cap on carbon pollution.
Mark Parton: Well, they’re going to move from a carbon price to Direct Action, which they say is going to deliver similar outcomes.
Andrew Leigh: Unfortunately they can’t find a single economist who agrees with them. Every serious analyst regards Direct Action as a joke. Looking around the world, countries are adopting carbon prices left, right and centre. Not just the 30 developed countries but also the 200 million Chinese who are living in provinces with carbon prices. It’s a sensible, efficient way of doing things, and if you want to look at how much we will pay for every ton of carbon we remove from the atmosphere, Direct Action is going to be many times more expensive - if it ever gets off the ground - than a carbon price.
Mark Parton: Andrew, thanks for coming on this morning.
Andrew Leigh: Thank you Mark.