The problem with this government is that they can't cope with alternative sources of information. They can't cope with the CSIRO, finding out stuff without checking with the PM's office first. They can't cope with the Bureau of Meteorology, whose every forecast resounds like a chime of climate doom. Alternative sources of information are alternative sources of power.
They can't cope with the census. Ancient civilisations like the Egyptians and Romans used a census to keep tabs on those they governed, and to plan for capital works. Matt Wade and Liam Hogan are right to point out how important the census can be for government decision-making - assuming government doesn't just [$] ignore the data and impose its own dopey assumptions.
"Who could object to such knowledge?", splutters Hogan:
Think tanks like the CIS and Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) have this conservative government's ear, and have been whispering into it so long that the Liberal party has taken on their attitude to government and governance; so dry as to be desiccated, with the fundamental premise that anything the government does is likely to be wasteful and illegitimate.It's more conservative than libertarian. When you give money to the Liberal Party, disclosure means you can't be too blatant about the quid-pro-quo. When you donate to the Central Institute for Public Affairs Studies (offices in both cities) you can twist them as you will, they have no other intrinsic purpose. The hapless William Shrubb will succeed at nothing but being quoted fifty years from now for dismissing some far-reaching and profound shift as a fad, grumbling into his dotage that he was taken out of context.
This government takes the attitude that you'll get a social service as and when we're good and ready to give it to you. The idea that a primary school simply pops up in an area with lots of young families as some sort of civic right goes against everything this government stands for.
There are two sets of number-crunching experts this government never quibbles with. One are economists. They need census data and the sort of data that feeds into the budget in order to advise on when to hold 'em, when to fold 'em etc. The advice economists give in private is different to that they offer for free public consumption. Journalists don't realise this, and play a role in misinforming the public by simply transcribing what they say. The economist suffers no penalty for being wrong, but the journalist loses credibility.
The others are pollsters, who use data on a much more superficial level but, similarly, offer different advice to paying clients in private to what they excrete for public consumption. Economists can make gullible journos feel smart; pollsters make them feel all savvy and insider-y. Next time you read a press gallery piece on the latest findings from HawkerTextor, remember: just because the journalist wants to believe, it doesn't mean you have to get sucked in too.
This government is like those two number-crunching groups. What it does behind closed doors is significant. What it says is often very different, and more often not significant at all. A journalist who simply quotes a politician and thinks they've done their job is a mug who has done nothing of any worth.
This government can't cope with skittish backbenchers getting feedback from randoms in the streets. They barely tolerate the same feedback filtered back to them through focus groups. This government is beset on all sides by alternative sources of information, each of which is a challenge to its authority. Keating tried to orchestrate different sources of noise into a national symphony, but Howard beat him by offering a quiet night at home with the radiogram. Nobody is offering complicated and outlandish these days, but nobody is remotely convincing in offering And All Manner Of Things Will Be Well Amen, either.
The Coalition just wanted to run things. All they wanted was for everyone else to shut up and let them do whatever. Though no government has ever operated in such a critical vacuum, this lot seriously thought scaling such a high clear place would offer only soft gentle breezes and the valley below. Australians are better educated than ever, and just when Murdoch homogenised the press as far as anyone could, social media came along and devalued the whole media-mogul thing. If they can't work without a bit of shoosh, it's their problem and nobody else's.
By arranging the Pyramids at Giza to match the pattern of the constellation of Orion, the governing class of ancient Egypt thought they were building the instrumentation to govern the universe. They thought that, with a bit of tweaking, they were close to ordering the seasons and the rainfall at will. The modern political class is a bit like that, ever so close to controlling all the information and silencing all the dissent so that the incumbent government might govern forever. When journalists come over all savvy and accept their assumptions, they are part of the farce. They confuse its fundamental failures with short-term blips that can be overcome.
We live in an Information Age because to have information these days is to have power - just as in the Bronze Age the rulers bedecked themselves in bronze, and in the Space Age the most powerful nations went into space. Information is diffuse and the powerful are only learning what it means not to have a monopoly over it. The current government cannot bear the fact that information, like other trappings of authority, doesn't simply accrue to them by right.
This government (particularly one with no real policy agenda to speak of) could have reached out and said we're all in this together so let's find a way through - but no. It could have cultivated a party full of Steph Crofts, worthy of a governing elite - but no. They chose command-and-control and sought to stifle other, more knowledgeable and diverse sources of information and the authority that comes with it.
They've chosen to spy on us rather than engage with us, unable even to trust us with a definition of the information they would use against us. They can't accept that the information we share with them must be used for our benefit, and the information they must share with us must also be used for our benefit, too. The government are public servants or they are nothing - and that idea looms as a bigger shirtfront to this Prime Minister than even the President of Russia could muster. It's on, all right. You bet you are. You bet I am.