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Is the public service about to rebel?

By johnboy - 5 April 2007 10

For those who missed it, the Age has a good roundup of all the excitement surrounding the leaking of the Treasury Secretary’s speech to his troops.

Basically he committed the mortal sin of pointing out that on water policy and climate change the Howard Government was making policy that was economically irrational on the basis of perceived political advantage. (we should note that in a media release Ken Henry spun his speech as being critical of Treasury’s communication with the Government)

More interesting than the speech is that it was leaked at all. This being Canberra one has to wonder if the leak was deliberate or not, especially as the leak went to the Financial Review, and as leaks from Treasury are very rare beasts.

The Howard Government has been widely despised by its public servants since the earliest days. Canberra’s electoral returns give a pretty clear indication as to how they feel about it.

Is there, perhaps, a hope that this time Howard might lose? That with a little rush and a push the public service can topple the teetering Government over the cliff? While at the same time shoring up their credentials for an incoming Rudd Government at the end of the year?

If so we can expect a lot more exciting leaks. Oh to be a fly on the wall at the Commonwealth Club.

What’s Your opinion?


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10 Responses to
Is the public service about to rebel?
West_Kambah_4eva 8:57 am 10 Apr 07

As a public servant in Health… let me say frank and fearless advice is OUT. Way out.

Plus we have been given speeches by high SES officers saying to watch out for coercion coming up to the election, and to notify higher ups if we are asked to produce propaganda-like information or produce data/info that is wildly misrepresentative. Because it is happening more and more often.

Woody Mann-Caruso 9:16 am 06 Apr 07

There’s an interesting article in the latest issue of the Australian Journal of Public Administration by David Kemp, who was on Malcom Fraser’s personal staff in the lead-up to the currency float in the late 70s. Kemp paints a picture of a near-secessionist Treasury, refusing to support the Prime Minister’s currency policy, presenting contrary views in the media, and undermining the government of the day at every step. It came down to a dummy spit in the end, with Treasury claming at the last minute that it couldn’t understand Fraser’s policy and that he’d have to write his own goddamned speech thank you very much sir, you f*ckwit.

If it matters, frank and fearless advice is alive and well in my Department, and the need for it has been hammered home again and again over the last couple of weeks in the lead-up to the development of Incoming Government Briefs.

teddy bear 7:23 am 06 Apr 07

jemmy, I would say the “closer to ten” comment was correct. That’s why I left.

Tempestas 9:29 pm 05 Apr 07

machinations inside Treasury about being the preminent view on all policy matters that involve $ is nothing new.

The views of some inside Departments is not the same thing as the views of the Department either.
It would be like saying RiotACT is a loony left I mean facist forum where only those who aspire to capital punishment for everything that upsets them have a place.

Where this will get really interesting is when the AFP are called in.

jemmy 8:01 pm 05 Apr 07

I have a close relative in the SES. I know for a fact that frank and fearless advice has been out for at least 5 years and closer to 10. We actually had a dinner party blue about it, as families do.

Unfortunately, this person doesn’t see it as an issue, they (non-gender specific thanks) think it is their role in line with new thinking on public service philosophy to give advice that the Government wants to hear, not to canvass all issues and present them all.

They justify this by saying it would be a total waste of resources to spend time on research that they know will be rejected at the first presentation to
Govt. I can see the point, but how do they effect change then?

seepi 5:26 pm 05 Apr 07

Frank and fearless advice is out the window these days – or overboard with the kiddies maybe.

And bonfire – many depts and smaller agencies are quite left leaning – you must have worked in the other ones.

johnboy 4:13 pm 05 Apr 07

The other one’s got bells on!

astrojax 3:53 pm 05 Apr 07

what do mean ‘they’ve been well cowed’, jb?

they’ve always worked under the premise of frank and fealess advice, as it were – that is, they implement the desires of the government that the people elected. it isn’t their job to spout their personal politics.

who is cowing?

johnboy 3:26 pm 05 Apr 07

They’ve been very well cowed for the last decade that’s for sure.

bonfire 3:10 pm 05 Apr 07

i know the media are left leaning, but in my experience the public service is very conservative and id be hard pressed to pick the political leanings of most people ive worked with, especally in my former life.

the iraq wars (both) flushed a few anti-us bashers out.

but generally to state that the public service is about to rebel is abit over the top.

obviously some are positioning for a change in regime. this is normal, as is the paperwork required to brief new ministers etc. you get to conduct a bit of revisionism and blame prev ministers, instead of your own dept for policy failures.

i also recall the massive leaking and backgrounding that went on under hawke keating. it doesnt happen too often these days.

most public servants are professional enough to abide by the code of conduct and not let their partisan desires affect their performance.

the very low level of union membership, and even lower level of union participation in the modern ps workplace speaks volumes.

agency agreements limited the unions power significantly.

i dont see a rebellion. i see a hopeful headline. newspapers love to setup adversarial positions – its really all they are good at. nuanced analysis is beyond most journos.

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