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By dtc 23 February 2010 39

So I know linking to stories in other papers is not very imaginative, but this story by Myles Peterson from the Age about working in the APS struck me as pretty spot on for many (and the comments wavered between people who clearly had no idea how the PS actually worked and people who had been there and done that).

Sample:

Around the same time a section meeting was called. Our boss arrived late, but in the best of moods. ”We’re under budget!” she announced proudly. The old-timers let out whoops of joy.

”What’s going on?” I asked someone quietly.

”We’re under budget,” they replied with a rare smile.

”Oh, so that’s good? You’ve saved money?”

”No, no,” her smile turned to ash as she gave me that pitying look I usually received when I asked a question. ”It means training.”

What’s Your opinion?


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CraigT 10:54 pm 09 Mar 10

My first PS job was in one of the more useless Departments in the 1990s (worse than Health) (I’m sure you can guess who that is), and I kid you not, these are some of the conversations I was involved in:

Me: “Why are you going to all the effort of moving all these boxes into archives and then dumping them all in piles so that nobody will ever find anything they were looking for?”
Servant1: “Because later in the year when they realise nobody can find anything in archives we’ll get to spend 3 weeks out here doing nothing, pretending to put all the boxes in order”

Servant2: “What are you doing?”
Me: “Uni assignment”
Servant2: “You can’t do that, you have to do work”
Me: “I finished all the work, asked for some more, and nobody had any for me”

Servant2: “Here’s some more work. You *must* do it as slowly as possible – this work has to last you until mid-june”
Me: “Judging by the last lot, I should be able to knock this lot off by the end of the week”
Servant2: “No, it has to last you 7 weeks”

Servant’s Boss: “I hear you’re being uncooperative and disruptive?”
Me: “OMFG, by brain just exploded”.

Servant’s Boss: “I’ve received a complaint from Servant3 to the effect that you’ve been harassing her using the email system”
Me: “Er, I’ve sent her a grand total of 1 email, ever, and that was sent two days ago at 4pm after she’d left for the day and it said ‘Servant3, some bloke called Bloke1 called – please call him back, his number is xxx xxxx’.”
Servant’s Boss: “Well, just don’t do it again”
Me: “WTF? I mean, have I just landed in some sort of alternative reality or what?”

jasmine 10:42 am 01 Mar 10

I recently left the public service because I was sick of the politicking, BS, career bureacrats and lack of ethics. There is a real bullying style of management that has crept into the PS (within the department I worked anyway) of late which is disturbing.

Rudd did not invent the PS but his problem is he realised too late you cannot implement programs at speed while ignoring the importance of delivery, and ensuring checks and balances in the oversight process. (God that sounds so public servanty doesn’t it – I’ll have to remember how to speak like a normal human again) 🙂

There is too much fat at the top of the APS and the worker drones are being cut to the point where they cannot do their jobs professionally and without great risk in some cases.

There is so much more but it would take a thesis.

sepi 11:03 am 27 Feb 10

I think it is telling that the work area apparently had the lowest morale of any in the entire public service. That would make it a worse place than most to work for sure.

Also – asking questions and nobody bothering to answer – it sounds like a dysfunctional place.

He would have been on a contract through a recruitment agency, hence the lack of proper interviews and training etc – to get such a contract he should have been already capable.

I think walking out on a job and just not going back is a fairly immature thing to do. I’m also not too sure about publishing tell-all type articles afterwards either. I would have thought there’d be something in the contract preventing that. Definitely burning bridges too = no more well paid APS jobs for this guy.

CanberraMum 6:28 am 27 Feb 10

Wow, both his article and the Department’s reponse are brilliant…. I wonder: Is it the truth that K-Rudd got the Hollowman axed because it was too close to home??? Does anyone know>>> Can some-one start a thread?? Or has it already been done?

Thanks to the rioters for this story,, great reading.

imhotep 10:51 am 26 Feb 10

RAGD said :

… leaving a job one day without telling anyone and just not coming back are the actions of someone that is not reliable ….

Walking out on THAT job sounds to me like the act of someone who couldn’t put up with the bullshit of it all: a mark of integrity rather than a sign of unreliability.

Given the poor quality of the ‘official’ reply, I think they need to re-hire some decent writers like him. At least it would make their spin more credible.

RAGD 8:04 am 26 Feb 10

@ Woody MannCaruso, I wasn’t accusing him of lying about leaving work one day without telling anyone. I was suggesting that leaving a job one day without telling anyone and just not coming back are the actions of someone that is not reliable and that, coupled with as I suspect are lies about getting his 80K job bring his credibility to question.

However, thanks for the lame attempt at insulting me. That made me laugh more than anything else.

gimmeth 2:53 pm 25 Feb 10

Primal said :

Odds are that both sides of the story are 75% bollocks.

actually inside knowledge says that Myles is depressingly spot on! maybe a little artistic licence but this adds flavour rather than making a lie.

The official reply is both embarrasing in its poor syntax, grammar and spelling but also speaks volumes about the (un) likelihood that any of these serious concerns would be properly assessed and remedied, thus giving public servants and tax payers and other interested parties some level of comfort in the reliability and robustness of the PS institution.

sigh – could have been so much more. . .

Woody Mann-Caruso 1:41 pm 25 Feb 10

That to me brings up questions of his credibility, and if he lied about somethings in the article how can we trust everything else he claims happened?

Yes, he totally lied about just leaving one day without any notice. Oh wait – no he didn’t. He said that right in the article, and you repeated it right before accusing him of lying about it, which makes me question your credibility (and shoelace-tying skills).

harvyk1 9:46 am 25 Feb 10

benett said :

The public service, from what I can gather, is made up of pointy-shoe wearing 20 somethings who couldn’t run a Lemonade drive to save their lives. It’s the veterans (30 something +) who are doing the majority of the work to prop-up governments as they are the only ones who know what needs to be done. Plenty of pointy-shoe managers with nice clothes, yet pitiful work abilities. It’s the pointy shoe brigade that have screwed Garret over.

Generalisation much?

I have seen many 20 somethings who are hard working and many 30+’s who should be allowed near anything important.

Don’t assume that one age group carries another…

housebound 8:43 am 25 Feb 10

CT got onto this today as a positive story for the government(no mention of the health website issue).

Lindsay Tanner said wastage happens all the time and only the prospect of public humiliation and shame can put a stop to it. I guess that means Health will run a very tight ship this year!

ahappychappy 8:20 am 25 Feb 10

benett said :

The public service, from what I can gather, is made up of pointy-shoe wearing 20 somethings who couldn’t run a Lemonade drive to save their lives. It’s the veterans (30 something +) who are doing the majority of the work to prop-up governments as they are the only ones who know what needs to be done. Plenty of pointy-shoe managers with nice clothes, yet pitiful work abilities. It’s the pointy shoe brigade that have screwed Garret over.

You are joking right?

Do you work in the APS? Have you not seen the average age of anyone above an APS6? It’s the complete opposite, the young kids are doing all the work as APS3/$s with the ‘veterans’ signing their name at the bottom whilst sopping up the budget.

Go back to bashing on P-platers and Gen Y, you’re better at doing that than making logical arguments.

Primal 11:48 pm 24 Feb 10

Odds are that both sides of the story are 75% bollocks.

bd84 9:58 pm 24 Feb 10

trevar said :

I didn’t think The Age published good articles… I actually read the entire thing, instead of just the first two paragraphs!

But, bd84; I hardly think KRudd invented the PS machine! This political appliance has been in development for several hundred years!

JC said :

The APS doesn’t develop policies, the government does. The APS is there to implement said policy.

I probably could have worded my comment a bit better. I was indicating that the article described the workings inside the public service well, wastage and all.

Separately, I now understand why Krudd’s policies have like nothing short of rubbish that was dreamt up over breakfast, basically because they were as evidenced by the Department finding out about it without any notice, where normally Departments should contribute to or provide advice for a policy as they need to use it in practice. Forcing the Department to implement a poorly conceived policy with nice pretty pictures to make it look good just explains it further. Think GroceryChoice, FuelWatch, MySchool.. fail.

Thumper 9:27 pm 24 Feb 10

What Mr Ferret said. Top of a six, lower El1, perfect for a PR hack.

Ryoma 8:15 pm 24 Feb 10

Benett wrote “The public service, from what I can gather, is made up of pointy-shoe wearing 20 somethings who couldn’t run a Lemonade drive to save their lives. It’s the veterans (30 something +) who are doing the majority of the work to prop-up governments as they are the only ones who know what needs to be done. Plenty of pointy-shoe managers with nice clothes, yet pitiful work abilities. It’s the pointy shoe brigade that have screwed Garret over.”

I would agree with only part of this. I am 30-plus, but many of the graduates who come in as keen as much leave within 18 months as the fossilised processes in so many departments drive them to tears of boredom and distraction. Take a close look at the State of the Service Report if you don’t believe me:
http://www.apsc.gov.au/stateoftheservice/0809/buildingworkforcecapability.html

There are a lof of older workers in various APS agencies who are grimly hanging on until retirement. They are very good at their jobs – if by being good at things you mean being completely anal about irrelevant stuff, and being terrified of new ideas or innovation. In many APS buildings they might (just) be reaching an understanding of the world as it existed in around about 1986….

el 7:30 pm 24 Feb 10

RAGD said :

I don’t know about the credibility of the writer of the article. Did he really get paid 80K for a non ongoing contract, what level was he, EL1? EL2? Would the department “Head Hunt” a young guy whose only credentials is as he put it was, “limited skills…reviewing video games for The Canberra Times”? According to him all he did was interview once, with no mention of a selection criteria or a panel of interviewers. I would assume as most Government Departments there had to have been some bureaucratic hoops to jump through to get a job paying 80k whatever the level was.

Growling Ferret said :

80k p/a is the top of a 6 or base EL1.

About right for a Public affairs hack writing for the Minister’s office

Yup – And if brought in under a ‘non-ongoing contract’ it means absolutely NO requirements to address a selection criteria, no panel interview (no interview at all in some cases) and really no bureaucracy at all beyond signing the contract and waiting for HR to pull their finger out.

youami 7:10 pm 24 Feb 10

Reminds me of The Hollowmen.

Oh and whilst I may be a highly paid contractor, I do know the reason for Canberra to be given the rank of highest mean income, this is because the low-paid get paid well (ie. up to APS6) and the high-paid get paid peanuts (ELs and SESs), so the weighted average is above all over cities. Relevance? An $80k job for what DHA describes as “low-level” is probably reasonable to accept. The high-paid getting paid peanuts generally explain the high attrition rate.

miz 6:23 pm 24 Feb 10

I’ve heard similar, and I am sure it does happen in some pockets. However, my experience is so different (in a different Department though).

The staff turnover thing is pretty accurate though, we are so short of staff it’s ridiculous – they keep getting poached, then we get told there is no money for replacements due to the ‘efficiency dividend’. Not to mention, incompetence at higher levels and underpaid lower levels who do most of the actual work (and, gallingly, have to train and guide the higher ups).

Growling Ferret 6:22 pm 24 Feb 10

80k p/a is the top of a 6 or base EL1.

About right for a Public affairs hack writing for the Minister’s office

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