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Albo’s in da house: If it moves, the prime minister is determined to review it

A long playlist of policy reviews shows the Albanese Government is doing its best to ensure Australia dances to a different tune in coming years, writes David Fagan

Feb 20, 2023, updated Feb 20, 2023
Image: Nine News

Image: Nine News

Paul Keating is credited with the blindingly obvious observation that changing the government will change the country. Less than a year in, it’s clear that Anthony Albanese (aka DJ Albo) is determined to change the country, or at least, review it into submission.

The to-do list, or at least the to-review list, is already formidable. Get your dancing shoes on and loosen your limbs for a year, maybe two, of the Canberra shuffle – lots of noise, lots of movement and, hopefully, some solutions to the nation’s problems.

The show’s already started with the government acting quickly on its emissions reduction and integrity commission promises. But there’s more to come. Much more. The big-ticket moves are led by the carbon emissions safeguard mechanism (carbon tax) to be legislated over coming weeks along with the accompanying but still stalled reforms to national gas and electricity markets which will give effect to the carbon promise.

But in the background, can you hear the rising drum beat of the defence review, delivered last week by Sir Angus Houston and former defence minister Stephen Smith, but still not released?

And tuning up behind them are the review of everyone’s favourite, the Reserve Bank, the increasingly costly but much loved National Disability Insurance Scheme and today’s surprise, a consultation to legislate the purpose of superannuation.

Over in the corner are concurrent reviews of the Australian higher education sector, its research capacity and a Productivity Commission review of national schools reforms which has been published but little noticed.

And then there’s the Voice referendum question which, depending on how it’s framed, will either be the biggest power grab since the Commonwealth monopolised income tax in 1942 or a valuable but token acknowledgement that the continent was occupied before British colonisation.

The beat will be set, if the Treasurer has his way, by the Intergenerational Report due mid-year and designed to scare us every five years or so into focussing on the need for policy reform that guides our longterm prosperity. And it has its work cut out this year, accompanied by the framing of a budget which includes wellbeing as a measure for the first time and a “White Paper” (no less) on employment.

All this implies those running the country have been asleep for recent years, ignoring the need to tune up the functioning of systems that account for a large chunk of government spending and influence the lives of millions, if not all, Australians.

Maybe they have but the review playlist, the standard operating procedure for every new government is now installed, if not in sync. And ready to wake us all up.

Let me run an alphabetical but, I suspect, far from complete selection, assembled through an afternoon trawling the internet. This year will also see reviews or reform of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, bi-lateral investment treaties, consumer data rights, casual employment legislation, childcare, national cultural policy, digital capability (and that doesn’t include robodebt), disaster funding, the food and grocery code of conduct, financial advice, the gender pay gap, health technology, Infrastructure Australia, Jobs and Skills Australia, MyGov.au, migration, the operation of ministerial councils, public sector board appointments, Pacific/Australia labor mobility, the Privacy Act, religious education and regional mobile communications.

We also have the ongoing inquiries into aged care and disability and, surely, to come a substantial inquiry into housing affordability.

Then there’s the 80 or inquiries by House of Reps and Senate committees – ranging from the profound Senate inquiry into the extent and nature of poverty in Australia to the questionable joint standing committee inquiry into the taxation conventions between Australia and Iceland.

And there will surely be inquiries, reviews or task forces to tackle problems still unknown or needing to be shoved away from immediate attention. Plus whatever the integrity commission comes up with.

In the meantime, the federal government will remind us of its focus on the cost of living and, in case you missed it, the cost of living.

Reviewing performance, whether of government programs, workplaces, sports teams or even our own lives, is a valuable path to improvement.

But, so often, reviews are run, their findings delivered, even accepted and then left untouched while the next problem captures the public’s attention.

So at the risk of adding to the cacophony, how about another review – one that looks at what has worked and what hasn’t from past reviews, prioritises the work that’s been left undone and sets out some ground rules for how we can do this efficiently and effectively in the future. That would be a song worth singing.

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