Tony Windsor doesn’t think we should have a benefit-cost analysis on the NBN. His reason? According to Paul Kelly:
First, he told the ABC the nation had “fiddled round with this long enough” and had lost the best part of a decade. It was time to get cracking. Second, cost-benefit analysis was difficult and if done on the Snowy Mountains Hydro scheme then probably “it wouldn’t be a viable operation”. Third, the NBN offered great benefits for the country and his constituents and, not surprisingly, he had no objection to the cross-subsidisation taking place.
This string of anti-intellectual excuses deserve to be looked at more closely, so let’s go through them one at a time. The first reason to ignore proper policy analysis is that the government needs to act quickly. The amazing thing about this is that Windsor seems indifferent to whether they should quickly do something good or quickly do something bad, so long as it’s quick. Surely even a few moments of reflection would lead people to conclude that the most important thing to ensure is that government policy is *good*… not just that it’s quick. And that requires some analysis.
The second justification is that public policy analysis is hard, and so we shouldn’t do it. That leaves Windsor in a very difficult position, because if you’re not going to analysis public policy to check whether it’s good or bad… on what basis do we judge public policy? Flipping a coin? Divine inspiration? Opinion polls? Just support everything?
It is certainly true that public policy analysis can be difficult, but it is also important. Politicians tend to judge policies on what is immediate and what is clearly visible, and they neglect the consequences that are long-term or subtle. This can sometimes lead to bad policies. The consequences of bad policies aren’t just some wasted money. Lives can be destroyed. As George Washington said, the government is “a dangerous servant and a fearful master”, and so it is the responsibility of all decent politicians to make sure that government policy is doing more good than harm. The question we face now is whether the NBN is good public policy. Amazingly, Windsor’s answer is “I don’t care, thinking is too hard”.
Finally, his third excuse for opposing a proper benefit-cost analysis is because the NBN has benefits. Well, of course. Clearly if you spend $43 billion then you’re going to help somebody… but the important question is whether the benefits are bigger than the costs. That is why it’s called a “benefit-cost analysis” and not a “benefit-benefit analysis”.
So in conclusion, Windsor seems to be proudly saying that thinking is too hard, so he just wants the government to do anything that has any benefit to anybody, irrespective of the costs… and he wants it done quickly. And for this brilliant contribution to society, he is getting $136,640 (+ perks) of taxpayers money every year.
Here’s my alternative suggestion. Instead of avoiding thought, and promising a plethora of pointless and painful policies full or pork… somebody in politics should stand up for evidence-based policy and rigorous analysis. The burden of proof rests on the people who want to spend our money and control our lives… so unless they can show that their policies clearly have a net benefit to Australia, it should be scrapped.