Wednesday, August 26, 2009

It Makes You Wonder

how they came up with it.

The State Government has demanded that all State Government Departments institute a cost cutting exercise and lop 3% from their expenditure. There's no question there will inevitably be waste in the public service as there is in any large institution, particularly one which is frequently rearranged into different configurations when a new government or new minister comes along with all the costs that implies. That is certainly undesirable whether it is in the public or private sector but I do not believe that the majority of public servants are any more profligate than anyone else. After all it's partly their own money they are spending. They are taxpayers after all.

The Government assures us that this universal cut will not impact on front line operations. I'm sorry but I find that hard to believe.
A couple of examples -
Given that we already have a Health system struggling desperately to keep up with demand - and seriously overcrowded if the AMA claim (as reported in The West Australian in their submission to the Lower House committee investigating future hospital needs is correct)- that there are now only five more hospital beds available in public hospitals than there were in 1990 when in the same period the State's population has increased by approximately a third - there is no fat to be cut from the Health Department. In fact those figures look like a serious need for more spending.
Then there are the recent decisions to cut large numbers of vehicles from both the police and FESA fleets. Will police and fire officers be able actually to do their jobs in these circumstances? If so, how? Will we have to go back to police on bicycles and fires being left to burn themselves out? Just saying front line services will not be affected won't make it so.

I could go on but while there are Departments that may well have fat and need to adjust expenditure, there are also those that need every cent they have been allotted (and perhaps need even more) and may no longer be able to provide vital services when needed. In my opinion the Treasurer would have been better advised to require a review of all Departments so he could actually see where - and if - waste was occurring and have it dealt with it appropriately.

Going in and demanding a 3% cut is like going into a street where there are thirty households. Some houses are occupied by one person, some by two, more by three, another group has four, another five and a handful has six or seven. The costs of running each household will be very different. Some are young families, some are retired, some accommodate extended families. All have different incomes and different outgoings. Some have illnesses and harsh medical expenses, others are young and fit. In one house there is a musically talented child with the cost of lessons to be found - and so it goes along the street. Then they are told every household has to cut their expenditure by 3%. How is that fair? A 3% cut to one family will be nothing. To another it will mean going hungry. This in effect what the government is doing. We have Departments that are chronically underfunded who are expected to make the same cuts as the more affluent ones. The thing is that when that happens we - the taxpayers - are the ones who go 'hungry' so we wait for far too long for medical treatment and minor crimes get pushed to the end of the list because there isn't enough manpower available.

I'm not suggesting we shouldn't keep careful control of how the government spends our money on our behalf. It's not easy and I certainly wouldn't like to have to do it but I do believe universal cuts without some consideration for the circumstances are simply inappropriate.

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