National Commission of Audit chairman Tony Shepherd (centre). Photo: Andrew Meares
Who will really be running Australia in 2014?
No, there's no surprise election; as far as I know the Abbott government will continue to hold office. But what we have come to understand is that their approach to governing is not policy based. They are not embracing leadership with robust community engagement. There is no discussion of how they plan to improve lives and protect jobs. Instead, the opportunity to lead has been outsourced to big business in the form of a large number of reviews, more than 40 in fact.
This year we will see the result of many of these reviews and they will be a major influence on the Abbott government's decisions in 2014.
Anyone who calls Australia home and plans to live, work and retire here; anyone who wants to use the hospitals, send kids to the schools and cares about the direction our nation goes, can't afford to ignore the reality that our government is only seeking advice from and hearing the views of one very narrow section of society.
For example, Tony Shepherd from the Business Council of Australia (BCA) will oversee one of the biggest reviews, the Commission of Audit (COA). This task will have far-reaching consequences and require the business leaders on the Council to assess the role and scope of government, to recommend changes and advise on how taxpayer money should be spent. Ideas already floated include the $6 co-payment for doctor visits. Considering Mr Shepherd's vested interests it is likely, if not a surety, that COA will recommend policies that promote privatisation and small government. By shifting services away from government (under the banner of ''cost savings'') we will see big changes in the way Australia is run. Privatisation of government services would be as detrimental an outcome in Australia as it was recently in the UK when the conservative government implemented this same policy. The emphasis on cost over need, and on small government over big, will see rising unemployment, fewer services and much regret.
Mr Shepherd will be unlikely to ask: ''What do Australians need their taxes spent on? How can we make lives better? What can we do to promote jobs and equality?'' He is a bottom-line, profit-driven man.
Another Coalition favourite is the Productivity Commission, which will advise the government on more than half a dozen reviews. These include the car industry, childcare, and very importantly, the review of the Fair Work Act. The government, as per its modus operandi, did not take a firm grip of the leadership wheel and respond with the required urgency to save Holden. The decision-making job was handed over to the Productivity Commission and it's hard to know what they can do for the car industry at this late stage. However, what will they recommend for low-paid childcare workers and families struggling with costs or the Fair Work Act which is charged with protecting workers' rights and ensuring a fair system: I'm not optimistic.
Workers are likely to bear the brunt. Putting the Productivity Commission in charge is a transparent shift of power to an organisation unlikely to spend much time talking about improving lives and much more focusing on cutting costs to business … at all costs.
And the stupefying aspect of all this is that a review sounds so prudent. The public could be forgiven for thinking that a meeting of minds is a safe way to ensure the government receives advice to make the best decisions for Australia's future. But if the minds who are meeting are exclusively unconcerned with the wellbeing of workers and families then the review might as well not occur at all. In fact, why doesn't it take ownership of its own agenda - made obvious by the choice of reviewers - instead of a facade of fairness through analysis?
I won't go through every review but cannot finish without mentioning the selection of Andrew Forrest to oversee the review of indigenous training and employment.
Mr Forrest is one of the richest men in Australia. His appointment to lead the review for indigenous workers should raise some serious eyebrows. There are indigenous leaders, experts and unions who have been working with these communities for years. There are some very successful programs out there that could be used as examples on how to best serve these communities. But true to the nature of the government's approach, they have chosen a big business leader to make decisions for people who live in a very different world to him - while dismissing the opinions of the rest of society.
Ged Kearney is the president of the ACTU.