Australian politicians are failing the nation by ignoring the advice of experts, former Treasury secretary Ken Henry has claimed, warning large numbers of people could miss out on a job because of their deliberate ignorance.
In excoriating comments to a small gathering of MPs and social scientists in Canberra on Tuesday, Dr Henry said governments were claiming success for policies that had not fixed the problem they were developed to confront.
Dr Henry, speaking in front of a group that included Australia's chief scientist Alan Finkel and adjunct professor Sue Richardson, said there were a string of "catastrophic" policy failings facing the country that could deprive a large proportion of people the opportunity to work.
He listed a string of policy failures including Australia's "truly terrible" broadband service, the deterioration in housing affordability and "extraordinary" low rates of productivity growth that had underpinned "stagnant real wages for several years".
Dr Henry also cited poor quality infrastructure that had led to congested major cities unable to deal with the fastest population growth in the developed world and wide-scale cases of environmental degradation including the "unsustainable and environmentally damaging water usage in the Murray-Darling basin".
He said governments over the past decade had claimed to have fixed many of these problems when the truth was the opposite.
"In fact every one of them provides a case study in government failure," he said.
"All of these case studies reveals a refusal to heed the advice of experts. In some cases things are worse than that.
"In some of those cases ... the advice of experts has been ridiculed by politicians interested only in their own personal advancement."
Dr Henry said when governments failed to deliver for their citizens, the general population lost faith in institutions such as government agencies, businesses, scientists and the media.
He said Australia and policy experts had been listened to in the past but now they were being ignored because of the way they had been undermined by politicians.
"We used to be at the cutting edge," he said.
"We used to be capable of identifying emerging policy issues and dealing with them before becoming traumatic. We are no longer capable of doing that."
Dr Henry, who headed a tax and welfare review and then headed a paper into Australia's role in Asia, said many of the policies and proposals of those reports had been ignored.
"A lot of work has been used for political argument, not for policy development," he said.