Could a successful Climate Council be a bad thing?

Could the success of a privately funded Climate Council be the slippery slope that leads to the axing of more government services?

The new Coalition Governments approach of taking a baseball bat to the various climate related portfolios, departments and commissions is atrocious. I can’t even begin to follow the reasoning they give, or what they hope will happen as a result.

The biggest headline at the moment is the axing of the Climate Commission (as well as other agencies), to save a measly couple of million dollars is pathetic. Then today comes the news that Tim Flannery and the former commissioners are setting up a new privately funded Climate Council organisation to continue the work.

This is a great thing, but I also started to wonder if it could also be a bad thing.

The LNP government has been big on talking about cutting costs, outsourcing services, and have a belief that private enterprise can “always do better” than governments at delivering services. They will state that if there is demand for something, then private enterprise will recognise that market and fill the need. This may be true in some situations, but there are many cases where this is proven to be a false position.

A private enterprise has profit as its primary goal. To achieve this it will look for the easiest and most profitable opportunities (cherry-picking) to focus on, and will tend to ignore the more difficult and potentially loss-making areas. Australia’s telecommunications is a prime example. The only reason services exist outside the cities and denser population areas is because Telstra (then Telecom) provided it when it was a government organisation, and was required to continue to do so once privatised. Look to the HFC (Cable TV/Internet) rollout to see how this plays out when there is nothing requiring universal access, it just stops when no longer deemed profitable. The point here is that the Coalition will happily ignore the failings of the lack of universal access in favour of the apparent success for the areas that do receive the services.

The Coalition axed the Climate Commission as part of their ongoing efforts to play down the discussion on Climate Change. They have their own token policy on this, but it is well-known that many in the party are clearly in the denial camp on this issue. So it’s not about the money, it’s about the message.

Which leads me to the new Climate Council.

It has been setup as a private organisation, it can do its own thing independent of any kind of government directive. Probably for the best. It isn’t looking to turn a profit, and only needs to exist in an “information” sense, so that gives it the ability to broadcast its services to all those who wish to consume them.

However, if it is successful in this endeavour, will that not “prove” the Coalitions position on private organisations filling a need? In this case, I imagine the Climate Council will not require a HUGE amount of funding, so it is quite likely that crowd-funding and donations will be enough to sustain it, at least in the short-term. If that turns out to be the case, then the government may look to many other departments and decide to axe them also. After all, if they are something the people want, then the people would be happy to pay for it directly!

One one level this seems like a perfectly fine way to do things, however it leads to potential for fragmentation where many small organisations are formed to fill “the need”, none get sufficient funding and all suffer. Alternatively, none become an authority and the message they all try to put out there is just lost in the noise. Having a government department that “owns” the message and can be a central contact point resolves that issue and provides an authority that can be used as the reference point.

There is also a scale of economy that only a large government organisation is able to deliver for large-scale projects. The NBN in FTTP form is one such example where the investment cost is far greater than any Australian company could afford to take on, even Telstra. There are requirements to cross-subsidise so the service can be provided across all people. A private company just wouldn’t do this. The same would apply to roads, hospitals, education, arts. If people want them they’d pay for them, why should the government fund something the people don’t want?

So could a successfully self-funded Climate Council actually result in justification to axe even more government departments or services? I’d say it’s quite possible.

If that self-funding model falls down in the future? Well it would then be argued that “the people” just aren’t interested and don’t support the work it was doing.

So where do you draw the line?

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