Corporatised government might be efficient, but we lose when we're just part of a machine

Wellbeing: NSW Greens treasury spokesperson Justin Field says we're citizens, not just customers of the state.

Wellbeing: NSW Greens treasury spokesperson Justin Field says we're citizens, not just customers of the state.

OVER the past two decades there has been a clear shift in the language of government. Where we used to be citizens, we are now increasingly described as customers.

It is easy to pass off this change as inconsequential management speak. But that language comes with a deliberate intention and very real consequences for people.

The intention is the corporatisation of government, where interaction with citizens becomes much more transactional. It gives rise to government obsessed with so-called efficiency, the production of customer satisfaction surveys and mission statements, and meeting key performance indicators.

If government is going to be meaningful to people, if it is going to truly listen and consult and empower the citizenry to participate in decision-making that impacts our lives, it cannot be a machine run by process-minded experts.

The relationship with people cannot be transactional. We cannot be treated as customers. We have to be restored as citizens.

Corporatised government promotes the segmenting of government services and a narrowing of delivery that facilitates privatisation. And that is what has happened.

Our electricity networks and generators were sold as part of a $53 billion privatisation program. TAFE was gutted and public funding sent off to dodgy private operators. The dispersal of internal public sector experts occurred through an obsession with contracted consultants. Health and housing services were outsourced, and the programs supporting the most vulnerable in our community were reduced to a contract management problem. The results are plain for all to see.

This corporatisation and privatisation has been a recipe for massive rises in the cost of living, social dislocation and the gutting of social safety networks.

An active and caring government must be at the centre of democracy. We expect more from our government than we do from corporations, and so we should. The motivation of government needs to be about more than just the number of transactions, the gross domestic product, test scores and efficiency dividends.

The government sector is not selling us things or offering advice uncoupled from individual or community context. It should be helping us lead a good life as individuals who can contribute to society.

Soon the Treasurer will hand down the NSW Budget. It is likely to reveal a surplus, to talk up efficiencies and infrastructure spending, and to quote service delivery outcomes. It will be a reflection of the transactional approach that is this government's obsession.

What it will not show is the impact this approach is having on people. It will not measure whether people are happy or healthy; it will not reflect whether people feel empowered as citizens to engage meaningfully in social life in our community; and it will not take stock of ecological assets such as clean air, healthy rivers, soil quality and fish stocks.

I’ve given notice that I will introduce a Bill in Parliament later this year, The Wellbeing Indicators Bill 2018.

It will establish a set of indicators to measure the wellbeing of the people of NSW and to inform government decision-making. The Greens take the view that our economy should serve people rather than the other way around. It is governments that put in place the frameworks that ensure this happens, and measuring what really matters is the first step.

Justin Field is a NSW Greens MP.