Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Plenty Of Style, Where’s The Substance?

There is an increasing perception that the new Federal Government is big on talk, and not so big on results. It could be said that the big ticket items which have so far been addressed by the Government are the largely symbolic ones. You know, the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, the formal apology to the stolen generation, and the 2020 Summit. Other more concrete matters have been less spectacular.

The Government has been criticized for dealing with issues by setting up committees and inquiries. The suggestion is that rather than making decisions, the Government is sidestepping issues. Of course the one big item which could not be avoided was the Federal Budget for the simple reason that it must be delivered according to a deadline. But even that has been received as a rather tame document, with its only contentious provisions now under doubt because of a lack of numbers in the Senate.

Fuelwatch hasn’t even got off the ground, and already it appears to have been killed off. Grocery Choice has been labeled useless in the fight against rising grocery prices. And now Treasurer Wayne Swan’s plan to help disgruntled customers switch banks has come under fire as being inadequate in providing any real benefit. All these programs at least gave the impression that the Government was DOING SOMETHING. Unfortunately, that impression has been replaced to some extent by the impression that the Government is doing nothing which is EFFECTIVE.

Now, that’s not entirely fair since there have been significant steps forward in relation to Federal - State cooperation in a range of areas. One of them is in consumer protection law, where the Government now has an opportunity to ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING about the unfair contracts which are imposed not only by banks, but by a whole host of service providers.

Whether this Government will fall into the same trap as some of their State counterparts and allow themselves to become more reliant on spin than substance remains to be seen. But many already suspect that this is the case. At the moment, while the opposition is still in disarray, the Government continues to score free runs. But that won’t last forever.

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