Citizens Opposed to Bureaucratic Bullying and Excessive Regulation

Thinking About Bureaucracy

Who are these People?

A small group of mothers help each other out with child minding but are stopped by officials who rule that they don’t have enough toilets.  Who are these people? What are their motives?

A couple build their own home and are not allowed to live in it because their three front steps are each 20 cm high instead of 19cm. Why do the officials put them through all this? Who are these people? Why do they not use common sense?

An old man has had a chook shed for many years, no one who is possibly affected has objected to it, and he is told by officials it has to be destroyed. Who are these people? Why are they not humane?

An officer waits at a straight stretch of country road and fines drivers who exceed the speed limit, instead of waiting at a dangerous corner where that speed would in fact show irresponsible driving. Who are these people? Why do they not care what citizens think of them?

A council gives a landowner permission to make major and expensive changes.

Then after much work has been done and much money spent, further work is barred because a time limit has been reached or a technical rule has been breached but not in a way that hurts anybody.  The officers squash the project  –  and the citizen.

Who are these people? Who or what are they working for?

Now when you ask Who are these people? this many times, there is only one answer. And the answer is us .  People.  Human beings. In other words bureaucracy itself is the problem. If you put some people in positions of unearned power over others, you will tend to get mindless, destructive and arbitrary bullying, and a tendency for the power to go to their heads.

This problem looms larger daily as we watch the grip of regulation tighten over Australian lives. Just in the last year, we have heard bureaucratic proposals to demand (a) that a licence be bought from a bureau by any human who wants to fish in the ocean off Melbourne, (b) that a permit be bought from a bureau by any community group engaging in a sausage sizzle, (c) that all bathers should be breath-tested in case one should drown from drunkenness, (d) that children no longer be permitted to climb trees, and (e) that anyone running a cake stall should have to obtain a refrigerated display cabinet. Some of these may get through and become law.

There are countries where the bureaucracy has become such a law unto itself, that they have made life hell for citizens.  Australian officials are perfectly capable of the very same behaviour. In fact our country is going down this path right now. We must resist. The only solution is for all of us

  • to recognise the inherent danger of all bureaucracy
  • to avoid creating bureaucratic rules and jobs as much as possible,
  • to train bureaucrats that the duty of a public servant is to care for and respect citizens,
  • to resist, for everybody’s sake, when bureaucrats execute their duties in a clumsy, bullying way.

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  1. SIMPLICITY.  Regulations should be as few as possible. 
  2. THE PUBLIC GOOD.  Regulations should cure problems more than they create them.
  3. RESPECT for the CITIZEN.  Regulations should impact negatively on citizens’ lives as little as possible.
  4. QUALITY OF LIFE.  Regulations, old and new, should have to pass the democracy test  –  the question being  Is the further loss of citizens’ freedoms, caused by this regulation, justified?
  5. TRANSPARENCY.  Regulations should be well known or easily known.
  6. RATIONALITY.  Regulations should come with clear and concise reasons attached.
  7. PRACTICALITY.  Regulations should only be enforced in cases where the reasons for them genuinely come into play.
  8. INSTANT APPEAL.  The enforcement of a regulation should be subject to ready appeal on the grounds of missing the point, that is, of ignoring the reason the regulation was made in the first place.
  9. JUDGEMENT.  The enforcement of a regulation should be subject to further ready appeal on the grounds of weighing the consequences, that is dropped if in the particular application under question, the enforcement would do more harm to citizens than good. 
  10. CITIZEN-ORIENTED SERVICE.  If a citizen is caught between two or more bureaus, with contradictory, untranslatable, or burdensome requirements, the bureaus should not leave the citizen to suffer, but should iron out the difficulty between themselves, using their superior resources, leaving the citizen a clear and reasonable way through, in line with their duty of service.

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The Home Front

Bureaucracy :  the Necessary Evil

Why is bureaucracy necessary? Because, when conducted properly, it presumably enables millions of people to co-exist happily. Example? We set up a system of road rules, we educate the public in those rules, we all drive on the same side of the road, and we usually get where we are going. Just imagine if driving were a free-for-all!

COBBERs is not against regulation. It is against over-regulation.  And it is against the use of regulation to hurt the very people it is supposed to serve.

Why is bureaucracy an evil? Because it inevitably limits personal freedoms. With more rules comes more enforcement, and the interference in people’s lives becomes more total, more mechanical and less fair.

Democracy tries to uphold personal freedom. Bureaucracy must curtail it. So there is an inevitable tension. Human beings will always have to watch this balance.

The craving of the few to control the many is a chronic human problem.  It has at times caused wars and revolutions. It has very often caused prolonged suffering on a large scale.

COBBERs does not seek revolution because too much suffering has to occur to get to that stage, too much suffering has to occur during it, and then there is no guarantee that the victors will be any better than the original oppressors!

Constant vigilance is needed to ensure that officials, appointed to solve the people’s problems, do not themselves become the problem! Since Plato’s time, the question has stayed with us, Who will guard the guardians?

to make

Tyranny is always waiting in the wings,  because of the human craving for power. Many countries are miserable places to live because their so-called public servants have become self-serving, greedy, tyrannical, sadistic overlords who have no place in a democratic society.

Australian bureaucrats too are perfectly capable of dragging Australia down to this level. And they will do so if the people do not stand up for themselves. Alas, we have already started down this track.

The degree of tyranny of officialdom is precisely equal to what the people will tolerate. Australians are slow to object to anything, but when they realise the time has come, they have the courage and the self-respect to defend themselves.

There is no solution for this problem except a cultural one, the people’s attitude. There is no law that will solve it. There is no bureau. There is no one individual. Only the beliefs and values in the minds and hearts of the people will uphold the standard of public service in any country.

We are all responsible for the standard of democracy in our country.  When you stand up for yourself against unreasonable bureaucratic treatment, you are also defending the less able people who are at the mercy of the same officials, and you are protecting for the next generation the way of life that we so love.

Insist on decent treatment for the sake of the old folk who don’t have the energy to fight, the poor who cannot afford to defend themselves, those less articulate, those from tyrant countries who are afraid of all officials, those of persecuted minorities, those who cannot speak English well, and the young who know no better after 12 years in the school system.

Our ancestors made great sacrifices to protect our standard of democracy from outside threat.  But sometimes the war is on the home front.

How do we win this war? By everyone bravely and respectfully demanding a fair go in every encounter with bureaucracy.

(from Newsletter #2)

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The New Corruption

The old corruption is to break the rules for personal gain:
the new corruption is to make the rules for collective gain.


There have always been people who will violate ethical standards for personal gain  –  thieves, deceivers, cheats, hired thugs, blackmailers, extortionists, bribe-takers, swindlers, embezzlers ...

These are people who are antisocial enough, desperate enough, greedy enough or stupid enough to risk disgrace and prosecution by society  –  which, naturally, has always defended itself against these crimes.

Inevitably, some of these people are bureaucrats.  When they take advantage of their official position and pervert the procedures of decent government for personal gain, we say they are corrupt. This is the old corruption.

There are many temptations for bureaucrats. Regulations often frustrate citizens’ hopes or damage their interests  –  often unjustifiably. Citizens often plead with bureaucrats for exemption, or mercy, or just a fair go. Some are willing to pay “protection” money.

Some bureaucrats accept cash or other favours in exchange for reasonable treatment  –  sometimes even to give exemption where the regulation should have been applied.

Some bureaucratic decisions can greatly benefit particular citizens, such as hard-to-get licences, profitable contracts, high-paying consultancies, discretionary permissions, expensive one-off projects, land zonings, etc.

Some bureaucrats accept cash or other favours in exchange for benefiting particular citizens through official decisions that should have been reached by principles of justice, or the common good, or by blind ballot  –  or not at all.

There are countries where such official corruption is endemic: their economy is crippled by it, and the relationship between officials and citizens is one of mutual contempt.  People who take Australia down this path are enemies of our society indeed.

COBBERs is not particularly involved in this, the old corruption. It has always been with us: it will always be with us. It is an issue of crime and punishment: there are laws to deal with it. We hope and pray that our whistleblowers are brave, that our prosecutors are untouchable, that our offenders are stopped, and that this disease is not allowed to spread and spoil our Australian quality of life.

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COBBERs exists to sound the alarm about another kind of corruption that is sweeping our society today  –  the new corruption, the corruption of purpose of the public service. Bureaucracy is transforming into a self-serving exploiter of the population.

The new corruption is not in breaking the rules, but in perversely making the rules to serve the bureaucracy rather than the people. Think of the fining and charging rackets, the unnecessary licensing and “permitting” of citizens activities, the multiplication of regulations to shore up bureaucratic empires, and the indiscriminate enforcement of such regulations. (see the article RECLAIM OUR HOMES p13).

This is the tail wagging the dog, this is putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank, this is perversion of the very reason bureaucracy exists, this is forgetting who we are working for. It is an even graver threat to our freedom and rights than the old corruption.

Whereas a few bureaucrats have always been willing to break the rules and jeopardise their own careers and the common good in legally-recognised corruption, there are far more bureaucrats today who unquestioningly go along with this corporate hijacking of the public service for non-public ends, this moral corruption   –  because they don’t have to personally break any “rules”.

When bureaucracy is allowed to gorge itself, the diseases of bureaucracy run rampant. These diseases lie dormant in every society, but they are fast becoming an epidemic in Australia, spoiling a standard of democracy that has long been an example to the world. (see the article THE EVILS OF BUREAUCRACY pp4-5)

As to why this has happened in our time, who can be sure? Perhaps it is an unfortunate by-product of our large-scale immigration of recent decades. (see IMMIGRATION p12)

Perhaps it is an unfortunate by-product of the certification mania that has swept our country in recent decades. (see THE CERTIFIED BUREAUCRATS p6)

Perhaps it is the result of a backfired principle of making bureaus “pay their way”.  (see ENTERPRISE BUREAUCRACY p6)

But even if we cannot agree on what might have caused these evils of bureaucracy to flare up at this time, we must not let that inhibit us from saving ourselves, restoring our precious culture of the fair go.

Let us not be like the foolish warrior of old, who before allowing an arrow to be withdrawn by the medics, first asked, “Who fired this?  Of what tribe was he, what height, what colour hair ...?”  It may take the academics decades to agree on these questions  –  time we don’t have if we are to save our democracy for our children.

Only the popular voice is strong enough to arrest this decay. We must act now, as the opportunity arises, to speak out, to resist in our personal dealings with bureaucracy, and to support our families and friends when they are victimised. (see WHAT CAN I DO?   pp8-9)

(from Newsletter #3)

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Spelling the word BUREAUCRACY

My wife and I have for many years published a range of literacy materials (The Fitzroy Readers and the Fitzroy Word Skills). We have worked hard over many years to enable children to read and spell English. Our materials are used in over 3000 schools throughout Australia. We have always taught the spelling of English as it is.

But I knew that many people would struggle with the spelling of the word bureaucracy. I had to look it up several times before I got used to it. I was afraid that many people would refrain from writing Letters to the Editor and other statements   —  because they felt out of their depth with the word.

Therefore I boldly invented a simpler spelling burocracy  –  from the German buro rather than the French bureau. This makes it as easy to spell as democracy. I used the new spelling in parts of COBBERs Newsletters #1 and #2 and on some stationery.

But alas, too many people have reacted badly.  While one philosophical supporter praised my initiative, some have said they were disinclined to read material from someone who could not spell.  Others said they were too embarrassed to have misspelt material in their waiting rooms, etc.  People, it seems, are very conservative about spelling.

I regretfully retreat on this matter. I will revert to the conventional spelling of bureaucracy I do think burocracy would be a much better spelling, because then more people could manage the word. (Why waste human energy training millions to remember such an awkward spelling as bureaucracy

I will use the e-a-u. Perhaps it will help people to remember the sequence of the vowels in bureaucracy if they think of the word unspectacular.“The standard of public service today is often unspectacular  —    u-e-a-u-a”.


(from Newsletter #2)

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The Evils of Bureaucracy

Some diseases lurk continuously at a low level, but become epidemic at particular moments in history. Often we don’t know why.

Societal ills can flare up too  –  for example, an epidemic of bureaucracy. What are the symptoms, the virulent tendencies of bureaucracy, which can suddenly increase out of proportion and oppress the people?


In most human pursuits, growth is good. But bureaucracies are ever duty-bound to resist the urge to magnify themselves for their own good, to suck ever more out of the economy, to insinuate themselves ever more into our lives, to make themselves indispensable, or to increase their staff and facilities for growth’s sake.

Higher bureaucrats technically don’t make profits, but the greater their empire, the greater their salary, their job security, their perks & super, their power in the world.  There’s plenty of opportunity for self-aggrandisement here.


Everybody knows money can become an obsession, a false god.  But how many realise that some people are hooked on power.  Bureaucrats are sometimes power freaks, obsessed with control of what they see as THEIR domain, THEIR territory, THEIR realm of authority.

Some become little dictators who lose awareness of how citizens may be suffering at their hands, as they compulsively PROVE WHO’S BOSS. They lose respect for the people they serve.  They develop a gang mentality and forget who they are working for. They target citizens who exercise their right to question THEIR bureau’s actions.


Imposed bureaucratic process is a great deterrent to human activity, a life-sucker. Filling in boring and difficult forms (which often require the finding of other documents), paying unreasonable fees for unwanted interference, waiting for responses, queuing at bureaus, having to beg or hope not to be obstructed  –  the prospect of these miserable experiences causes people often to abandon their plans, or to go ahead without permission and risk punishment, or save more money and pay a third party to deal with it.

The increasing risk of falling foul of one regulation or another is pushing the public increasingly into the hands of “consultants”, who make a living out of others’ dread of red tape.

This creates another whole industry, spawned by bureaucracy, extracting yet more blood, making life even more inaccessible to the poor and the young. This growing consultancy industry is a living indictment of today’s bureaucracy.


Bureaucracy is under pressure to treat citizens even-handedly. This is a difficult concept, since the same treatment can impact on different citizens differently. How fair is it that everyone in the class must play football if some hate it and others love it?


Bureaucratic decision-makers are torn between two important principles of government: same treatment and same impact. Too far one way, and you are a robotic juggernaut, trampling blindly on the people you serve. Too far the other way, and you spend your life trying to explain why you treated different people differently.

This inescapable Regulator’s Dilemma is a key reason for minimising bureaucratic controls within a democracy.

Bureaucrats deal with this problem by
(a) disowning personal responsibility for the controls they are imposing on citizens, and
(b) appealing to remote higher authority  –  “Head Office”  –  to explain why they are failing to exercise reasonable judgement in a case.

The buck can be also passed to another level of government, or to an elaborate set of rules drafted by a committee of inaccessible persons, or simply by the mystical incantation “regulations are regulations”.  In each case, the authority invoked is unseen, unresponsive, invisible, not human.

But the more remotely bureaucracy controls an area of a human activity, the less sensitive it is to local needs or particular cases  –  and the more arbitrary and bruising the regime becomes. Many citizens are forced to waste money, time, and effort to conform to rulings which serve no good purpose in their case.

A common experience of citizens goes like this: a field officer comes to inspect your affairs, seems quite reasonable, and takes the data back to the office: then you get a letter from an unseen higher officer flatly rejecting your concerns and imposing an unreasonable ruling.


When a small person wears very oversize boots, a slight error in movement can become a clumsy lurch, causing them to knock things over and go off course.  The centralising tendency of bureaucracy has this big boots effect, a small clique controlling a lot of human energy.  Every mistake is magnified, spreading unfortunate consequences across large numbers of people. Bureaucracy is notoriously clumsy.

In the Education Department for example, a central controlling bureau dictates which persons may be permitted to teach in all schools. Unfortunately, their system processes primary teachers with (on average) low literacy and numeracy skills. Schools are not permitted to employ much brighter people if they are lucky enough to attract them. Thus the entire industry is dumbed down. The bureaucracy is clumsy  –  its error is multiplied a thousand fold. Thousands of children are disadvantaged as a result.

[If school principals were free to employ bright graduates whom they found to be effective teachers (with the usual police check, at the usual pay, and after a term’s probation), the average standard of schooling in this country would rise.]

It is amazing how often bureaucrats can produce an effect >just the opposite of what they were appointed to do. And how often too, they cannot imagine that the experience of the many in the field may in fact produce better outcomes than the theories of the few in a remote central bureau.


Again because a small, central controlling bureau has jurisdiction over so many citizens, it becomes possible  –  and often the case   –  that a narrow interest group can control the population. A bureaucracy can be under the control of an organisation or an ideology or an industry  –  whose interests may be skewed far from those of the people it serves.

This concentration of power, this susceptibility to control by narrow interests, this bottleneck effect which enables an unelected few to control the many, is another key reason why centralised bureaucracy should be minimised.


Now we come down to the dangers of bureaucracy at the street level, the character of the officers who deal directly with the public.

There is in every society a percentage of individuals who gain pleasure from causing suffering to others. These unfortunate individuals have few if any decent friends, for acquaintances soon find out the painful truth about them and avoid them. The only way they can get ongoing gratification, and still feel that they have a place in the world, is if they can be presented with an endless succession of strangers who are at their mercy.  Unfortunately, bureaucracy provides exactly these conditions.

Many local governments, for example, have one or two of these amongst their staff of inspectors. I realise that this is a dangerous thing to print. Hotheads may misquote this and say all inspectors are sadists. That is definitely not so: I repeat, many inspectors are not sadists.

However, I still feel it necessary to make this unhappy statement because there have been too many cases of sadists on council staffs for the phenomenon to be denied. Unfortunately, bureaucracies seem constitutionally incapable of correcting their mistakes as to what sort of people they have employed to deal with the public.


Just to be thorough, I mention here that there is an even more unfortunate personality disorder that has sometimes been employed in an official capacity and treated people very badly. This is the individual devoid of empathy. Sometimes called a psychopath, this person does not get aroused by the suffering of others –  just does not register other humans’ feelings at all.

Bureaucracies certainly do not have a monopoly on personality disorders. But because, in his or her position, a government officer has the power to seriously affect the lives of so many others, bureaucracies must be held especially responsible for their choice of employees. A good officer is one who wants to help citizens.

(from Newsletter #3)

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A Point of Terminology

We have so many offices, departments,  ministries, commissions, … agencies controlling our lives under a bewildering array of different banners, we don’t have a single word to describe all of them. In line with the word bureaucrat, and bureaucracy, we call these many offices bureaus. [A simpler spelling would be buro, burocrat, & burocracy.]

Tactics Used by Bureaucracy

Ways Public Servants actually do a DISSERVICE to the citizens who pay their salaries.

Control  –  If there is a problem, however small, create regulations to govern it and appoint officers to enforce those regulations. If one or two citizens behave badly, make everybody suffer. Persist with this even if the total effect is worse. Historical example: prohibition of alcohol in the US in the 20s.

Tangle in Red Tape  –  have many long and repetitive forms, use cryptic or difficult English, and make people have to engage other bureaus as well, who have different rules and terminology. Make it difficult for  busy citizens to even wrap their brains around the exercise.  The stress of red tape often deters people from even living parts of their life.

Penalise  –  set up a system of fines, use it as recurrent income to maintain the penalising bureau, thus create the necessity for citizens to be constantly in trouble with officials, thus systematically alienate people from authority.

This is an incredibly short-sighted tactic, and threatens an essential foundation of order, namely popular respect for the law.  If a bureau serves a legitimate societal purpose, and is not just funding its own interference in people’s lives, let it be financed in an honourable way, through the front door of normal taxes, clearly identified.

Apply The Screws  –  enforce regulations without purpose, even if it hurts innocent people  –  even if it makes people waste time, money and effort.

The Ambush  –  catch a citizen innocently living their lives and hurting no one, but showing some initiative, doing something without getting One Of The Thousand Permits. This shows a lack of submission and must be stopped. (It could be contagious). Get a screw to talk to the citizen, assure them verbally that what they are doing is quite okay, but they should have a permit.  Get them to apply for a permit.  Then when the screw is safely out of sight, the bureau refuses the permit, slaps on a ban, and demands the destruction or the cessation of whatever the citizen is doing.

The Run Around  –  send them from bureau to bureau, as if people exist to serve bureaucracy, not the other way around.

Make Them Feel Like Criminals (1) –  make so many rules that just about everyone feels they’re doing something wrong.

Make Them Feel Like Criminals (2)  –  when they offer an explanation for not complying with some rule, say parking too long (someone was sick, dying, stranded), automatically treat them as liars, and book them anyway.

Reward Dobbers  –  even where a report against a citizen turns out to be hate-motivated, or to have a personal ulterior motive, or to be false or trivial, do not compensate or even apologise to the falsely accused for your distressing investigation,  and do not censure the anti-social dobber in any way, shape or form.  Thus the mischievous dobber has succeeded anyway.  Rewarding, encouraging and protecting dobbers maintains bureau jobs.

Let Citizens Fall Between Bureaus  –  if two bureaucracies, because of their inconsistent sets of rules, leave a citizen in an impossible position, neither bureaucracy takes responsibility.  Just let the citizen Fall into the Abyss.

Run Them Ragged  –  Place hurdle after hurdle in the way of wholesome individual or community efforts in order to demoralise them, eventually wear them out, and thus extinguish the activity.  (Some bureaus even consciously plan that the citizen will never succeed.)

The old one-two: Deadline, Delay, Destroy  –  This is a particularly malicious routine sometimes used against enterprising individuals.  Someone is starting up a business or a community organisation or is constructing or landscaping, and is given a deadline by the bureau.  Then a legal or bureaucratic spanner is thrown in the works, causing a delay in the enterprise.  The deadline is not shifted, the project is incomplete, then the bureau bans further works.  Thus they not only destroy the project, the citizen is caused to waste all that precious energy, money and time.  This is the stuff of heart attacks and breakdowns.  Bureaucrats involved in this practice have a lot to answer for.

Disown Responsibility At Every Level of the bureaucratic hierarchy  –  “Oh no, we can’t deviate from the regulations, you’ll have to appeal to so and so”, (a higher and more daunting level), who then pull the same stunt.

Change Your Name & Break Your Word  – With dizzying frequency, bureaus love to change their names, their department’s names, and their officers’ titles.  This helps to keep the citizens confused.  Sometimes too, there are changes of councillors, takeovers by commissioners, and amalgamations of bureaus.  An evil that is sometimes perpetrated under the fog of this shifting around, is that the new outfit doesn’t necessarily honour the undertakings of their predecessor  –  causing damage to citizens who have invested time, money and hopes in their plans.

(Let us add to this list  -  please send COBBERs  your experience of other ways in which the bureaucracy is mistreating their citizens)