7th Global Forum on Reinventing Government
Building Trust in Government

June 26-29, 2007

Patrick Bishop, Head of Department Administration, Department of Politics and Public Policy, Griffith University, Australia

Joan Veon: In your presentation here can you help me understand if what we’re seeing in a globalized world where all the barriers are down when you take a look at the U.S. model of government and you take a look at the parliamentarian model of government if we’re seeing some kind of harmonization between the two.

Patrick Bishop: I think there are very specific commonalities between the way new public management is being adopted across the globe. And I think in both instances that you have seen this development of these conversations between citizens and government. And I think it’s a feature you would have. How successful it’s done in different regimes is always open to question. And it doesn’t always work effectively. But I think you notice it most when the behavior of Executive, Prime Ministers, Presidents, Premiers suddenly adopt the more authoritarian approach. Which constitutionally they have that right. They are elected to be decision makers. I think there is a commonality. I think where globalization comes in. A lot of people see in globalization a decline in the power that resides within the state. I think that in many instances that is over done, Very overdone indeed because I think in the end states have the power of life and death and quality of life and death at least over their citizens still and will have for in the foreseeable future.

Joan: What do you mean by state? In the United States we have the state level and then we have federal level.

Patrick Bishop: I was meaning the state as in the government itself. I think you will find differences in a federation between the kind of activities that are being done at the state and the federal level. Although in Australia we are finding in our Federation that those sorts of barriers are being broken down in some instances to the benefit of communities where levels of government are working together in community interests. But at other times those Federal arrangements and I know in the United States Federal arrangements can sometimes be a huge hurdle. I didn’t know for example that electoral politics in the United states was run at the local level in terms of designing ballot papers and so on and so forth until the 2000 election. And that seemed to me to be quite a dangerous decentralizatiion. In Australia our elections are run by a central authority and that allows it to be done I think in a more transparent manner than these kind of locally designed ballot papers and different machinery and those sorts of things.

Joan: Do you not see the United States moving away from traditional government as we have known it to something else as sort of mandated by Agenda 21

Patrick Bishop: I’m not familiar with Agenda 21, I’m sorry about that, but I think that the moving away from traditional structures I would be surprised to see that going particularly rapidly. Because I think my impression of the United States is that a lot of the governmental structures and certainly the bureaucratic structures are quite resistant to change. You know from an Australian perspective we always look at the United States as a sort of Capitalist Free Enterprise society. And yet I’ve always been surprised at the level at which there is a lot of bureaucracy. If you compare the Australian Post Office for example to the United States Post Office. The Australian Post Office is a kind of a franchise business now whereas in America it’s a very bureaucratic practice still which always surprises me.

Joan: Well for the time being but there is a lot of change. So do you not see, America is top down and they’re talking bottom up here. Do you not see a complete shift in the policy and the theorizing of what a governments needs to be in a global world where there are no barriers.

Patrick Bishop: I think those barriers are still there. So I think you are pushing the global world too far in your analysis. I think my understanding in the United States is yes there is the top down stuff happening but there is also an incredible amount of the bottom up local democracy. I lived in Blacksburg in Virginia for awhile and there is a lot of electronic consultation and there’s a lot of civic interest about local participatory planning and there is active engagement in elections for city officials in a way that you don’t see in other parts of the world. I guess in a way it has always seemed to ma a paradox that the President of the United States is the most powerful person in the world but in an odd way the least powerful person in terms of real policy development within his or her – maybe there will be a female president soon – that it has always struck me that the amount of power they have locally is not as strong one would think.