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David Gonski. Glen Boreham. Ray Finkelstein. Ken Henry. They have each headed up one of the Gillard Government's recent big inquiries. Gonski on education funding, Boreham on media regulation, Finkelstein on press censorship, and Henry on foreign policy.
The Gonski Inquiry recommended $5 billion more spending on education. The Finkelstein inquiry wants more controls over the press. The Boreham and Henry inquiries are due in the next few months. We don't know what they contain but we have clues.
Boreham's initial discussion paper flagged more government regulation of media companies. And Henry has form. He famously gave us the Mining Tax out of his Henry Tax Review, and he helped Kevin Rudd lose his job.
When you look at these four people as a group, a few things stand out. They're all male. They're all about 50 years of age or older. They all come from Sydney, Melbourne, or Canberra. And they're all bureaucrats of one sort or another. The government says it's big on diversity. These four people are about as diverse as Julia Gillard's cabinet.
Without doubt all of them are experienced and knowledgeable. The problem is they've all had pretty much the same sort of experiences and they all know the same sort of things.
Boreham worked at IBM for 25 years. Henry worked at the Treasury Department for 25 years. Gonski was a lawyer before becoming a company director. Finkelstein was a lawyer before becoming a judge.
Gonski is a business bureaucrat, Boreham was a business bureaucrat, Finkelstein was a legal bureaucrat, and Henry was a real bureaucrat.
Given the rich and varied backgrounds of the people who advise the Federal Government, it's no surprise that no new thinking comes out of Canberra. The only thinking that comes out of Canberra is about what bureaucrats know best: new regulations and new ways of spending taxpayers' money. It's difficult to remember when a Labor or Liberal government had an inquiry run by someone who actually created some economic value.
There are plenty of government reports written by people who know how to tax and how to spend that economic value. There are far fewer reports from people who've created that value in the first place.
People who create economic value are called entrepreneurs. Somehow, we've got to the stage where it's almost insulting to be called an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs risk their own money. Bureaucrats risk other people's money. At the moment, one group is in favour and the other is not.
Not only do entrepreneurs not get a look in to the policy process, when they do give an opinion on a policy they get singled out by name and are vilified. The Federal Government's handling of the Mining Tax, which was passed by Parliament this week, is a classic demonstration of this.
Treasurer Wayne Swan negotiated in private, and made a secret deal on the Mining Tax with the business bureaucrats of BHP, Rio Tinto and Xstrata. Under the tax, these big multi-national mining companies are hugely advantaged over smaller, local owner-operated resources companies. When this is pointed out to the Gillard Government, the owner-operators are told they are being selfish and shouldn't complain.
Meanwhile, most of the business media spends its time covering a private family dispute that has no impact whatsoever on the wider community, rather than investigating the secret deal between the Treasurer and the big three mining companies that potentially has consequences worth billions of dollars to taxpayers.
Rupert Murdoch is one of the few Australians in the past 100 years who has had anything remotely approaching a global impact. His vision for the media was no less revolutionary than Bill Gates's for personal computers or Mark Zuckerberg's for social networking.
Murdoch has more knowledge of the media and more insight into its future in the fingernail of his little finger on his left hand than has the entire staff of 692 people who work at the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy. But what are the chances of the Gillard Government listening to anything Murdoch says about the media? Zero.
Compare how the Federal Government treats people like Gonski, Boreham, Finkelstein, and Henry to how it treats Gina Rinehart, Andrew Forrest, Clive Palmer, and Murdoch. It speaks volumes about this government's attitude to wealth creation.
Originally published in the Australian Financial Review, 23 March, 2012,
John Roskam is the Executive Director of the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA).