Ineptitude of self-serving know-all bureaucrats caused many deaths in the Victorian bushfires
The bureaucratic ineptitude being revealed at the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission is at once extraordinary and infuriating. The lessons have implications for every aspect of government in Australia and demand a radical rethink about the dominance of politicised bureaucracies within our lives. The emerging picture eerily imitates Franz Kafka's The Trial.
Government fire services furtively developed their doctrinaire rules, then enforced them with mindless zeal. Fire and emergency supremos were provided with limitless authority to bend citizens and communities to their rigid controls without effective scrutiny or supervision. What emerges is a layer of self-styled bureaucratic intelligentsia devising policies that became sacrosanct in themselves regardless of their original purpose. Ideological processes left no room for common sense, pragmatism or compassion, and opportunities to help vulnerable people were wasted. Policies bore testimony to the assumption that the population was so imbecilic as to need greater protection from itself than from raging wildfire.
Sound familiar? This mindset is magnified by its ubiquity in modern Australian government and alarm bells should be ringing. Failures equally significant but less conspicuous are probably simmering away beneath the whole gamut of populist government decision-making. The danger is fanned by the speed and dimension of decisions that are made under of a veil of urgency associated with recession, security and other confected emergencies.
Day after day, emergency service tsars present themselves to the royal commission as though they are the stars atop the tree of knowledge. The Country Fire Authority seems genuinely bamboozled that a handful of head office executives did not prove to be wiser than its thousands of volunteers who have intimate knowledge of local roads, properties and personalities. Directions, strategies and resources were issued and controlled by executives far removed from the horrific reality that their edicts and regulations created. Volunteers and citizens were left to fend for themselves after bureaucratic strategies descended into chaos.
Rigid and enforced controls were relaxed only when they were mocked into submission by a recalcitrant inferno. The winding trail of blunders growing from stubbornly centralised remote control defies the imagination. Emergency call centres were overwhelmed while extensive volunteer networks lay idle. NSW firefighters were called up with media fanfare and weren't provided with so much as a map. One homeowner was relieved to see a NSW bushfire tanker arrive at his front gate, only to learn it was lost.
ABC radio had been anointed the official emergency broadcaster with little regard for the millions who listen to commercial radio. Descriptions of the official information feed provided to the broadcaster conjure visions of a garbage chute funnelling ad hoc faxes, phone calls, emails and web bulletins. Producers and announcers consumed valuable time piecing together the scraps of intelligence.
To his credit the CFA chief officer continues to roll up to the royal commission to take his medicine. It will be interesting to see if his past and present ministers will also be required to testify and give an account of their stewardship. Neither justice nor recovery will be served if the bureaucrats are hung out to dry by themselves.
The vast body of evidence suggests a great deal of loss and destruction could have been avoided if local knowledge, experience and commitment had been respected and used. Instead, the politicians and their bureaucrats shared a motivation to exert close and uncompromised control. An aggressive resistance to contestable advice allowed policy-makers to deny the existence of culpable knowledge. The mandarins eventually succumbed to their own intoxicating publicity and stared down the risk of their knowledge deficit. Dysfunctionality bred like a virus in a hotbed of intellectual conceit.
The implications are sobering for every aspect of government policy. School principals especially must be crying tears of blood as they witness the obscene waste of money occurring under the ridiculously rigid policies of the so-called Building the Education Revolution.
Of course the critical role of bureaucracy must be respected and communities are happy to oblige. However, such respect does not establish government entities as the sole repository of wisdom. People don't expect governments to be omniscient but they are entitled to hold them to a lie as much as a truth. Including communities in practical policy formulation must go far deeper than the cosmetic consultation most Australian governments practise.
It must also go deeper than community cabinet meetings and a prime ministerial revival of an imagined Australian lexicon. It also goes beyond the federal government's notion of "umpire politics" where decisions are designed to mute the lobbyists rather than genuinely serve the nation.
Real change requires courage and creativity that is shared and accepted with a parity of worth. The view that these qualities are vested exclusively in parliamentary and bureaucratic empires is a dangerous and culpable vanity that Australia simply cannot afford.
Posted by John Ray. For a daily critique of Leftist activities, see DISSECTING LEFTISM. To keep up with attacks on free speech see TONGUE-TIED. Also, don't forget your daily roundup of pro-environment but anti-Greenie news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH . Email me (John Ray) here