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Omnibus or Blunderbuss

Keith Stacey

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Politician-“bashing” has become all too common. I do not want to add to the volume of criticism, but provide an objective look at some of the processes we have seen adopted by the government to advance their mandate.

Politics is often described as ‘the art of compromise where both parties agree to meet somewhere in the middle’. This result may seem good in theory, but is often promoted by those who are seeking a change in policy position.  The reality is that – if followed, it results in sub-optimum outcomes.

The standard should be to achieve your objective through a trading process, and that is not the same as compromise. ‘Give them what they want on your terms’ is a far more powerful starting point.

It is almost too easy to be critical of our politicians and there may be good reasons for the process adopted below, but in terms of adopting negotiating process it was far from ideal.

A recent example was the doomed attempt to pass an omnibus bill that provided changes to child care subsidies and family tax benefits, together with a raft of budget savings designed to pay for the initiatives. The predictable response of the crossbench senators (Xenophon, Lambie, Hinch and the Greens) was a resounding “NO”.

The fundamental point is this: Note that these senators had to say “no” only once.  If the government had unbundled the omnibus bill into the individual initiatives, each of which could have been subject to some budget savings, the senators would have had no option but to say “no”, and “no” again and again and again. Their intransigence could then be linked to the loss of the improved childcare arrangements, the reform of family tax benefit and all the other initiatives.

This is a textbook case of how to advance a multi-pointed claim. Treat the claim as seventeen separate individual claims and seek a response to each. A case can be made for each initiative and the relative amount of the claim can be presented as relatively minor. This is the negotiating equivalent of eating an elephant one bite at a time. Of course, the reverse advice applies if you are on the receiving end of a multi-pointed claim, which is to treat the claim as a package and not allow it to be broken into individual claims.  However, neither party behaved appropriately, and the event ended in a “lose-lose”: loss of face, loss of cause, loss of credibility, and loss of community support.

*Note that ‘blunderbuss’ is defined as both ‘a large bore fiream’ and ‘a way of doing things which lacks both subtlety and precision’.

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