26 May 2022

Labor needs to wield a new broom to sweep the APS clean

| Ian Bushnell
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Home Affairs Secretary Michael Pezzullo

Home Affairs Secretary Michael Pezzullo should be the next to go. Photo: Screenshot.

The former head of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Phil Gaetjens, went quickly, but he shouldn’t be the last secretary to go after almost a decade of Coalition government bent the public service to its will beyond the normal realms of administration.

The highlights reel includes the sports and car park rorts, Robodebt, political propaganda parading as government advertising, the subversion of national security protocols and the strategic media leaks on issues from foreign influence to asylum seeker boats.

In all these things, the various Coalition governments were aided and abetted by senior public servants.

The rorting of grants to sandbag electorates and help the winning of others was so much on the nose that the Auditor-General Grant Hehir was moved to remind public servants of their responsibilities to act ethically.

READ ALSO PM&C head first to go as APS braces for Albanese Government changes

Labor has already announced that those grants schemes will be scrapped, but the fallout within the APS remains.

How did the egregious spending of taxpayer dollars on advertising for the Australian Government’s Economic Plan, a main plank of which was the contested notion of keeping taxes low, ever occur?

The Robodebt scandal, in which an automated system generated debts for welfare recipients, persisted because legal advice insisted it did not break the law, a position eventually discredited in the courts.

That cost a lot of vulnerable people their health and well-being, and the taxpayer millions of dollars as the government doggedly defended its actions through the courts, eventually agreeing to a $112 million settlement to about 400,000 individuals, as well as legal costs.

Labor is promising a Royal Commission to get to the bottom of the illegal program. That should provide an interesting insight into the inner workings of government and the public service.

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If there is one mandarin who should be given his marching orders, it would have to be Home Affairs boss Michael Pezzullo, who has presided over the militarisation of border protection in line with the Coalition government’s strident policy of keeping asylum seekers from our shores.

Mr Pezullo was often seen frustrating Senate committee members and his dark Anzac Day message on national security posted on the department website raised plenty of eyebrows.

The department’s election day media release about a Sri Lankan boat being intercepted near Christmas Island should be the final nail in his coffin.

Labor will need to redefine the government relationship with Defence, the security agencies and Home Affairs after the Coalition’s willingness to co-opt them in its political strategising.

It will have to assert its authority and redraw their lines of engagement.

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Labor has already put the APS on notice that it has higher expectations but cleaning up the rorts, short cuts, waste and politicisation will be a challenge.

But that is one lesson that should be taken out of the election result. Many voters have just had enough and are demanding that our politicians and public servants act ethically, legally and responsibly.

That’s why an anti-corruption body with teeth will be legislated, and far from being the kangaroo court the former PM foamed about, it should be a strong incentive for better public administration and for Labor not to fall into the dubious practices of the previous government.

Labor should also limit the number of reviews it embarks on, recalling how they paralysed the Rudd Government.

If it doesn’t know by now what needs to be done then the new government is already in strife.

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I don’t really care who stays or goes but please get rid of the black-shirt border force outfits. Short sleeves and a poorly knotted tie would better suit the Australia I know.

I agree with the uniform issue, when I first saw them being worn, it reminded me of the Brown Shirts of the Hitler’s Nazi regime or the Black shirts of the Italian Fascists of mussolini. Maybe that’s what Dutton and Pezzullo wanted to portray in their image of Border Force.

“IF there is one mandarin who should be given his marching orders, it would have to be Home Affairs boss Michael Pezzullo, who has presided over the militarisation of border protection in line with the Coalition government’s strident policy of keeping asylum seekers from our shores.”
Now that is an interesting suggestion, since right now Mr Pezzullo is dutifully undertaking an enquiry as required by his new master, PM Albanese, to establish the facts of the 21 May “on water” SIEV turnaround announcement, promptly followed by Liberal Party sms Alert messages around 1pm AEST to Voters who might not by then have voted before the Polls closed at 6pm.
I imagine that PM Albanese will be very keen to read this Pezzullo report, both for its facts, as well as its impartiality.
That he “presided over the militarisation of border protection” is what he was obliged to do as an executive public servant, where both Morrison and Dutton were arguably the eager directors of the “stop the boats” policy.
Personally, I’d like to see the ‘black shirts’ of the Border Force rendered more neutrally.
Perhaps a pastel shade of teal would be too much to hope for.
This BF uniform transition presumably could be expensive, but folk with (good Italian) memories should recall which way Il Duce finally swung. The BFs could keep their black skirts and trousers, perhaps. Just replace the blouses and shirts, and their wind breakers; And the military black headware.
Pezzullo is fortunate indeed that Senator KK has not just left the red chamber, but herself got the local flick in Fowler.
Those two didn’t get on particularly well together at Senate Estimates.

Good to see Labor cleaning up the APS! Time for a change and get rid of some of these awful senior public servants. In particular, many of these long-term Secretaries of departments have been there for too long and think they are gods. They seem to be untouchable and it would be really good to see Labor get rid of them, as they have been terrible and need to go.

We are now blessed to have labor

The electorate of Fowler is blessed they didn’t get Labor

Get rid of the CDF and Chief or Army. We can send sons and daughters into war zones, but if they wear Punisher T-shirts, watch out

“In all these things, the various Coalition governments were aided and abetted by senior public servants.”

Does the author have any proof of this assertion?

Better still downsize the public service altogether. I work in it and half of them sit around chatting over coffee for half there day

Name the Department then, the place I work for is so busy, hardly have time for break.

Really, clarkea … as a contractor (yeah I know, boo hiss) I worked in several APS and ACTPS departments – for the most part I found public servants to be hard working and often under pressure. Could you be exaggerating just a tad? … or ten-fold?

Noticed that you posted your comment at 2.30pm on a Friday. Hope you weren’t doing it when you were supposed to be working…..

liberalsocialist1:03 pm 28 May 22

I call absolute BS. The APS (which my partner works for, not me) is well and truely under the pump with regards to work. As others have said – care to name the department? I thought not – you’re nothing but a troll trying to reduce the APS. Yet, I have no doubt you are also the person trying to figure out why health is so shoddy in the ACT, why Centerlink can’t respond as it should be able to, why specialist contractors are paid so much…. Here’s the answer – the APS has been cut so much that the services expected rely on a skeleton staff (or less) to meet the expectations of the Australian community. Which do you want? Your expected level of response? Or perhaps the greater need for contractors at greater cost? Or neither? If it’s the latter, then great. The APS won’t meet your expectations, wait times will blow out (health, construction, education, roads) BUT – you should be happy about this no?

Caroline Reid1:09 pm 27 May 22

His unjust persecution must stop.

Caroline Reid1:09 pm 27 May 22

There are so many gas and coal industry executives in the energy agencies, that it is essential these be removed, or we will get more of the same and NOT reduce our emissions, modernise the grid, or open up policy to green hydrogen, EVs and the large increase in renewable;Le energy generation we need to entirely replace coal and gas generation.

Haha, imagine actually believing that the ALP changing senior public servants to their own political appointees is going to result in a more balanced and less politicised public service.

The pendulum has swung, just like it always days, the time of an apolitical public service is long gone.

ChrisinTurner5:08 pm 27 May 22

Ian doesn’t seem to understand that public servants can only advise the Minister. If the Minister then directs them to do otherwise then they must obey. I did hear that the IT Test Analysts told management that the Robodebt system was based on incorrect assumptions. This should come out in the Royal Commission.

ChrisinTurner5:09 pm 27 May 22

Just remember that most public servants vote Labor. Look at the ACT.

Lets just say I think a few champagne corks will be popping in Canberra when the political appointees (are replaced with other political appointees). The public service has been treated with complete disdain, and sabotaged at every turn by their employers for the last 9 years.

Stephen Saunders7:23 am 27 May 22

And, if there is one other, it would have to be “Major General” Kathryn Campbell.

It is not even that she urged robo-debt above and beyond the call of duty. It is that she publicly dissed vulnerable Australians for their “failure to engage” with confusing and illegal demands.

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