No critical infrastructure to protect critical infrastructure
Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-01-22
The real message in the Victorian Auditor-General’s "Preparedness to Respond to Terrorism Incidents: Essential Services and Critical Infrastructure", is not as reported by The Age ("Victoria Ill-Prepared For Terror Attacks Says Auditor" 2009-01-22) that our critical infrastructure is vulnerable.
The between-the-lines but inescapable conclusion is that a swag of ministers, including the premier, have demonstrably failed to understand their responsibilities, let alone perform them adequately. They should step down, or resign immediately.
The real message is that the infrastructure critical to managing anything, including risks to critical infrastructure, doesn’t exist in Victoria. It probably doesn’t exist in other states. It certainly didn’t exist under the Howard government federally. It’s yet to be proven that the efforts of some new federal ministers will make a difference.
The critical infrastructure I’m talking about involves simple governance capabilities of the executive and the agencies, including:
- Unambiguous communications;
- Well directed communications;
- Well-defined performance indicators; and
- Accurate and timely assessment against those indicators.
Getting all of these right will get you a bare pass in process maturity audits. The executive demonstrably cannot achieve this.
What the auditor pointed out, is that despite 2003 legislation, and hundreds of millions of dollars, three departments are still are not even aware that they had any responsibilities because of that legislation.
So, on a hot-button issue, with bucketloads of money splashed around, important enough to require legislation not merely updated regulations, three ministers haven’t been able to communicate the existence of responsibilities to their departments.
Perhaps the ministers themselves didn’t know of their responsibilities, despite voting on the legislation, despite the money being significant enough that the issue must have been given significant discussion time in cabinet.
Mind you, given that the auditor points out that there is no set of well-defined performance indicators, how can any of the agencies know whether they are performing their duties (if they actually know what they are) to a satisfactory level.
All ministers for those three agencies since the passage of that legislation should resign from the ministry, or be sacked… immediately. There can be no excuse.
The current premier, Joh Brumby, cannot claim even ignorance… as Treasurer, he must have asked what a couple of hundred million dollars would be used for, and sought assurance we were getting value from that investment.
The other questions are… if the Auditor-General is saying that the basic management skills of a swag of senior ministers are not up to organizing a chook raffle, a pissup in a pub, or a bang in a brothel…:
- Did the other cabinet members, and indeed the whole parliamentary party, not realize this?
- If they did realize this complete abscence of administrative skills, why didn’t they try do something about it?
- If they did try, what is it about the system that prevented the necessary changes?
- If the system did prevent the necessary changes, how can we have any confidence in the administration of anything in the state, except for the rare instances where a particular agency head is particularly competent, and spends time doing things the minister isn’t interested in?
None of this is rocket-science. Confucius was on about such essentials of public administration thousands of years ago.
Perhaps this is why the Singapore Government can make a profit out of owning more of Australia’s infrastructure than anyone else… capable of at least putting the management rules of Confucius into practice, even if following the hard-ball Legalist Chinese Philosophy in other matters.
This whole affair demonstrates a typical strategy of politicians in response to a high-profile issue:
- Recognize that people consider X a push-button issue.
- Announce and even spend squillions to be seen by voters as having done something.
- Don’t both even checking to see if that spending has achieved anything.
Only in things that are in everyone’s face every day, such as gross incompetence in public transport management, can the public actually tell the difference between reality and the propaganda from ministers we pay to receive.
And this isn’t pure theory, there are ongoing personal tragedies because of this widespread ministerial incompetence, even though a terrorist attack hasn’t hit anything.
In each of these agencies, just below the top rungs of senior yes-men and yes-women, will be one or two well-informed and ethical professionals, trying to make senior management aware of responsibilities and insufficiences, trying to fix the system from within.
Such professionals are punished for their competence and integrity by those they are trying to help. There is significant impact on the health of these professionals, and on to the well-being of their families. It is probable that deaths through suicide or stress-related illnesses have occurred or narrowly avoided.
Ministers and senior departmental staff will wangle away from such responsibilities, and if disaster strikes from terrorism or an unavoidable accident happens, despite the misery caused to many citizens for which they are responsible, the photo-opportunities from crocodile tears when pretending to console survivors will make those politicians appear statesmanlike, and boost their popularity.
The way things are, for ministers and senior departmental managers, incompetence is not punished, integrity is not rewarded.
This must change if we want to avoid disaster. This must change in tightened economic conditions if we want value for money. This must change if we want even minimal service standards from government. This must change if we want to claim truthfully that we live in a functioning democracy.
It probably won’t.
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scandalreview about the Victorian Government investigated by the Auditor General here and see a list of audits in progress here.