The tax forum being held in Canberra which ends today raises the important question: When does talk need to stop and action commence? Now, there are various possible answers to that, with varying merits of their own. There is clearly too often in politics, in recent years especially, an emphasis on holding a review or multiple reviews in a particular policy area before taking action. The question we must ask then is: Is this the way?
First, to be absolutely clear this is not about whether or not there is a mandate, these arguments apply for when in government and assume a mandate exists.
The shortest and most idealistic answer to the question of when is enough talk undertaken? is that politicians, in a perfect world should hold ideological convictions. Those convictions, in turn should be called upon in relation to a policy issue, ideally predicted prior to it occurring, or at the least in the early stages of the situation. Politics is after all a contest of ideas and all parties represent an ideology or set of ideologies they hold to be superior, so then they should trust action in line with those applicable ideologies to result in the best outcome.
Perhaps an equally idealistic and altogether very important way of dealing with politics and the political/public policy process is that of ‘professionally seasoned’ politicians or ‘real-world reviewers’. By this I mean there existing politicians in Ministerial and Parliamentary Secretary roles, who possess some form of wide experience in their particular role in the broader workforce prior to entering politics. I call this approach idealistic, yet important because it would be very hard to bring about getting experts in every field to want to enter into politics, yet to do so would quite likely mean better and faster responses to policy challenges.
The next best outcome is that talk leading to action is as the result of a single report, review, summit, forum, talk-fest, inquiry which has brought together experts or the expert opinion of one. This is a somewhat frequent occurrence in the political process at the local, state and federal level. It bypasses the need for a parliament full of experts, however this option ban be expensive as the cost of a review is likely in the multi-millions. Furthermore, time lost discussing the issue can add an uncertain financial cost to eventual action. Often too reports on an emerging problem may come into the political sphere and either be not acted on or not acted on in full.
The final and most unhelpful, stifling and expensive option is to conduct multiple examinations of an issue before acting on it. This is what we are seeing at the moment from Canberra with the Tax Forum that ends today. We have already had the Henry Review at a cost to taxpayers, just like we had countless reviews before action was taken into indigenous disadvantage. The result will be and is being found to be higher than it otherwise could have been. Not only that, multiple reviews show lack of ideological conviction, that you do not know how to act or react to a problem and most importantly, implies you do not trust expert opinion.
So the time for talk is ideally over almost before it began. It is ideal to have ‘expert politicians’ in a broad range of policy areas, including in specific niches. It must also be learnt from now on, that whilst one review or whatever you would like to call it may be a political necessity, they must be used and acted upon fully. Ideology, if it is to still be seen to be different between the parties must prevail upon politicians to act immediately according to party beliefs. Anything else other than immediate or almost immediate activity should be held up as being more costly and thoughtfully derided as such.