Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Generic consultation framework needed

Posted by Dave Bath on 2008-01-24

Too often governments avoid awkward decisions by endless consultations, and avoid awkward questions on other issues by having almost no consultation.  This is arrogance and incompetence at best.  At worst, it fosters corruption.

Any attacks, however justifiable, by public or oppositions, are too easily dismissed as post-hoc.

So, here’s my advice to opposition parties, for governments won’t listen.

Develop and publish a generic framework that could be used to determine the type and period of consultations based on the impact of whatever the issue might be, tweak it with community feedback, promise to use it in government, then beat the government over the head if they depart radically from your framework if it received public support.

This framework would let you plug in dollar values, significance of risk, cost of correcting bad decisions, urgency, difficulty of assembling supporting data, etc, then, following the bouncing flowchart, out would pop the parameters for public consultation.

I’m desperate for something like this in Victoria, where Brumby is rapidly becoming as much of a despot as Howard was federally.  Rudd hasn’t come down with the same disease… yet.

The furore over rushing through Port Phillip Bay dredging, threatening the integrity of the bay for dubious financial benefits (Westernport and Portland would give better value) is a good example.

Mind you, the Howard government’s 24-hour consultation for legislation that used as pretext the "Little Children Are Sacred" report was worse.

It’s not just whether the consultation should be a 24-hour poll of 1000 voters, or 12 months of public hearings, but also how much effort a government should do to collate and publish relevant data to assist those developing submissions.

Even I’m not arrogant enough to make a list of input parameters for such a framework, nor how these parameters are fudged together to determine what types of consultations are required, but I do know that any political party should be able to put a model together.  It’s the bread and butter of politics, without any risk of offending sectional interests.

I wonder, however, whether any political party would create such a meta-policy, whether the thought of being held to it would be too threatening.

Still… the idea seemed well received by a Liberal Party apparatchik over coffee.  Let’s hope that with the current self-flagellation in the Victorian Liberal Party that the idea makes it to Ted Ballieu, and he decides to demonstrate the Liberals stand for something: good governance.


2 Responses to “Generic consultation framework needed”

  1. Zombinol said

    Hang on a minute, this sounds a lot like what the federal Parliament used to try and do with consultative and estimates committees, before the axe wielding anti democratic Howard got to the process and hacked it from a battering ram into a toothpick.

    Restore the Parliamentary process as it was and should be, then any such framework would not seem so totally alien to the Political parties.

  2. Dave Bath said

    Nope – not at all like the normal inquiry process, there are no GENERIC guidelines as to what sort of processes should be followed.

    A trivial cost, trivial impact issue where an answer is wanted quickly could pop out the bottom of the flowchart as “phone survey – 500 random people”

    My initial thoughts is that a “how much/deep/long a consultation” generic framework could be analogous to the AS4360 idiot’s guide charts (which Zombinol knows VERY well) which understand impact, although with a few add-ons that probably aren’t in AS4360 land that point to actions required.

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