Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Market truimphalism is alive and well in Western Australia

Just prior to Xmas the Barnett Government released the final report of its Economic Audit Committee which was established soon after the Liberal National Government came to power. The Report "Putting the Public First: Partnering with the Community and Business to Deliver Outcomes" is available here and a summary here.

On initial reading (and based on my reading of the Draft Report) the Final reports demonstrates that "market triumphalism" is alive and well in WA. Given the composition of the Committee this is hardly surprising.

The Report seems to be predicated on the belief that markets are the best way and primary mechanism for achieving the public good and addressing social needs. A key assumption underlying the Report is that "the market" can solve any social problem or meet any social need, and that the delivery of public services should be "market driven".

This market dogma is a myth. It was the excesses of the market that shattered the global financial system. What the global financial and economic crises demonstrated is that the certainties about the market- that markets are a civilizing force, that markets are efficient and effective, that markets promote creativity and innovation- are illusions.

The Report proposes a radical process of privatization and outsourcing of public services to the private and not for profit sector, and the introduction of market and business practices to the delivery of public and human services.

The Report cleverly draws the non-profit sector into its vision for a "market society" with its proposal to outsource more public services and human services to the publicly funded non-government sector and its vision of making NGO's more business like and run as social enterprises. On the surface this will be attractive to many NGO's, particularly the larger corporate NGO's, who have long argued that they should provide more services on behalf of government, and see plenty of opportunities in the new landscape.

But for medium sized and smaller community based NGO's, who make up the bulk of human service providers in WA, and for the West Australians they service and represent, this Report, if implemented, would be a disaster. So this will be a significant document for the not for profit, non-government sector in Western Australia and it will be interesting to see the sector's response over coming months. My guess is that the big NGO's and their public spokespersons will support the Report's recommendations, but with some reservations.

There is much to be concerned about in this Report and it should be a cause for great concern, among civil society groups and those who advocate and stand for social and economic justice and the public good. A longer analysis of the Report will appear on this blog in 2010.

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