Australia is a world leader in the privatisation of government assets and services. It is second only to the UK in dollar terms, and second only to New Zealand as a percentage of GDP. Australia has gone further than other countries in financing infrastructure development through off-budget financing deals and is steadily contracting out service delivery in many traditional areas of government activity.
Privatisation: sell off or sell out? Explains that privatisation in its various forms, is leading to an erosion of public accountability and, by default, a radical change in the role of government in Australia. The authors believe that there is merit in privatising certain government activities. But they have severe reservations about how privatisation has proceeded without detailed and critical analysis of:
• Financial implications of selling off government enterprises
• Deals worth billions of dollars without parliamentary scrutiny
• Economic "thinktanks" using flawed assessments of the performance of government enterprises because of unusual accounting methods
• New financing schemes which obscure the financial exposure of governments
• Impact on the quality of services provided to the community
Rather, the debates about privatisation have been based on rhetoric, sloganeering and flawed financial analysis. Misleading descriptions of benefits, like preservation of credit ratings and reduction of debt and interest costs, have been repeated uncritically by consultants, public servants, politicians and the financial press.
This book challenges the bureaucrats to improve public sector financial administration and asks parliaments to establish accountability arrangements that fit contemporary conditions. Above all, it asks politicians to address the major question: what should governments do?