Peter Martin April 05, 2012
"Kevin's style was to lock himself in a cave ... then emerge as Moses from the mountain" ... president of the Australian Institute of Public Administration Percy Allan. Photo: AP
IT MAY be popular now, but Labor's $36 billion national broadband network is shaping up to be a financial disaster that will set Labor's image back decades, rebranding it the party of waste and extravagance.
That's the view of Percy Allan, president of the Australian Institute of Public Administration and a former head of the NSW Treasury under premiers Wran, Greiner and Fahey.
Releasing a report card on "public policy drift", he told the Herald that Kevin Rudd came to office in 2007 promising "evidence-based" decision-making, but never spelled out what the term meant.
"True evidence-based decision making requires consultation. Kevin's style was to lock himself in a cave and put in all the evidence and then emerge as Moses from the mountain with the tablets to tell the people what they would get."
The broadband network is a case in point.
"It would have been quite possible to say ahead of the election 'we are going to ensure everybody can have an opportunity to be hooked up to the internet at good speeds, and when we get into power we are going to put out a green paper on the options for doing that and we are going to get feedback and make a choice,' " Mr Allan said.
"That choice might be to spend $36 billion ripping out copper wire and disconnecting Foxtel cables and starting afresh, which is the proposition we are facing. But had they examined the need, examined options and consulted they might have discovered cheaper ways to fill the need.
"If a lower than expected proportion of people end up subscribing to it because they don't want to pay Rolls-Royce prices for a Rolls-Royce service, this thing is going to be a financial disaster - watch public opinion then."
From the Opposition, Labor would be tarred as a party of waste.
"It already has an image problem from the Whitlam years. If this thing goes under, the Liberal National Party will be able to say here's just another example of waste and extravagance by Labor, the Labor brand.
"It may not take that long to backfire. When 10 per cent of it is rolled out we will have a good idea of the take-up rate."
The institute asked the management consultants Howard Partners to examine 18 high-profile federal projects for the quality of decision-making that brought them about. It found 10 deficient - the alcopops tax, Building the Education Revolution, the broadband network, the Darwin to Alice Springs railway, FuelWatch, the green car innovation fund, the green loans program, the home insulation scheme, Grocery Watch and the set-top boxes for pensioners program.
Passing the test were the national disability insurance scheme, the minerals resource rent tax and the emissions trading scheme.
The institute wants projects worth more than $100 million to be subject to a 10-step process.
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