Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Contestability

Our political leaders, or at least those in government, are fond of telling us that we’ve never had it so good – you know the quote – “Australia’s working families” …..etc.

In many senses, this can’t be disputed, especially as it refers to material possessions.

The same isn’t true when it’s applied to many basic services. Amongst these, I’d count dental and basic medical services. When I was a kid, most of these basic services that my family received were provided by government services and were local.

That’s not true any more. The publicly-funded services are in theory still available, but in practice, even in regional cities like the one I live in, they are sub-standard, with waiting lists and staff shortages.

So what has changed?

Perhaps I’m naïve, but I believe that notion that any service that can make a profit should be privatized has a lot to do with it. There is a belief (which has been embraced completely by corporate managers), that unless competition forms a part of any organised activity, the outcomes will be sub-standard. This principle (called, I believe “contestability”), has crossed the Pacific, and colonized the thought processes of corporate managers, both public and private, in much the same way as the cane toad colonized Northern Australia.

Unschooled as I am in corporate managerialism, I can’t for the life of me see how competition makes any difference to efficiency and effectiveness, unless perhaps your business is producing toilet rolls, and your employees respond like Pavlov’s dogs.

It is out of place in human services, yet has been so completely embraced that anyone foolish enough to be critical is destined for the corporate doghouse.

As I said, I’m obviously naïve, because I believe that the majority of people working in human services do so because they enjoy it and believe they can make a difference.

Perhaps more to the point, the notion is most appropriately applied to the market, and not every form of human endeavour can be designed or described as a market, despite the best efforts of those exercising financial power and influence.

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