Thursday, August 21, 2008

Efficiency Dividends Aren’t and Economic Rationalism Isn’t

Although we could all probably learn to live without television, we have come to expect that we can be entertained or informed by the box whenever we want. For some Australians in regional areas there seems to be the risk that this might not be the case when analog TV is turned off in 2013. Digital television offers many advantages over analog, but only if you can actually pick up the signal.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority was given the job to conduct field testing to identify blackspots around the country. That testing has been cut short over technical concerns, and now looks unlikely to be completed. Why? Budget cuts. The Authority has been required to achieve what is known as an “efficiency dividend”, but in plain English that translates to a cut of $4.6 million.

The problem with efficiency dividends, aside from the fact that the phrase itself is a fine example of Orwellian doublespeak, is that they are targets set according only to financial outcomes, not service outcomes. In other words, it’s as if Mum and Dad decided to set the grocery budget at $50 instead of $100, and then were shocked to discover that they had no meat to eat, their children became sick, and one of them dies of malnutrition.

Of course it is important to be financially prudent. But the blight of “economic rationalism”, another brilliant piece of Orwellian language which refers to bottom line thinking and which is neither economic nor rational, has undermined our ability to deliver services that actually meet community expectations, especially in regional areas. This applies to both government and private sector activity.

Of course, it’s only television. We can all live without it if we have to. Isn’t just as well this cost cutting business doesn’t affect really important services…

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