20 July 2023

Probing the polls: plastic bags and public service integrity

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Has the public service lost its integrity? Photo: File.

It won’t be long until the ACT is free of single-use plastic bags, and according to last week’s poll, most of you are happy about that.

Major supermarket chains have led the way on paper: Coles and Woolworths have both introduced heavy paper bags and businesses that continuously ignore the ban have been warned by the ACT Government they’ll face significant fines.

For the moment, single-use plastic takeaway containers and single-use barrier bags for fruit and vegetables in supermarkets will still be allowed until suitable alternatives can be found, but it’s a phased removal that means the end of most single-use plastic in our shops by the start of next year.

We asked Do you support the ongoing plastic bag ban? 779 readers responded.

Your options were to vote No, it’s confusing and a burden for everyone. This received 37 per cent of the total, or 289 votes. Alternatively, you could vote Yes, it’s common sense, we’ll all get used to it. This received 63 per cent of the total, or 490 votes.

This week, we’re wondering whether you think public service credibility is in crisis.

This comes in the wake of the Robodebt Royal Commission and the news that former Department of Human Services secretary Kathryn Campbell has been stood down involuntarily from her role with Defence. She’d been sidelined to an AUKUS role – at a mere $900,000 per annum, on the same terms as her original engagement as a departmental secretary.

READ ALSO Robodebt bureaucrat Kathryn Campbell stood down ‘involuntarily’ from $900k role

But is this the straw that broke the camel’s back for the public service’s reputation for integrity and frank and fearless advice?

On the Robodebt scandal and similar disasters, Ross Solly wrote: “Career public servants had pride in the work they had done, and were doing. Most had worked for governments of different colours, providing frank and fearless advice on all manners of public policy, safe in the knowledge the government of the day would take the advice for what it was – recommendations on how to shape policy in the best interests of everyone involved.

“Those days are long gone. Canberra is no longer a public service city. And many public servants no longer have the pride that goes with such an important job. Frank and fearless both left the building, arm-in-arm, several years ago”.

Robert Knight suggested the political classes should “Take a rake to the ranks of ministerial advisers to begin with. Often it’s these (sometimes really young) characters who try to speak as the minister, and bring with them the kind of blind political tribalism that walks the public service into a place it shouldn’t be. Advisers should be experienced, connected and balanced in their approach to public policy”.

And Jason Gendle drew an even harsher parallel, writing “The show on ABC Utopia is so relevant to how departments are managed. It really has become a joke”.

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Jenny Graves5:56 pm 21 Jul 23

The public service lost the will to provide frank and fearless advice when ministers were able to terminate the secretaries at will if they didn’t tell them what they wanted to hear. They should never have taken contracts that allowed that. It was pretty obvious what would happen, surely. They just sold out.

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