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Public Service Issues and News

Discreet words of warning

Friday 28 November 2008 - The Annual State of the Service Report by the Public Service Commissioner is not a document that sends the Canberra press gallery in to a frenzy of excitement. Apart from The Canberra Times , which has a particular readership to appeal to, and a minor reference on ABC radio, yesterday's words from Commissioner Lynelle Briggs escaped media attention. Which is a pity really because hidden away among the many platitudes and endless statistics is an important, if discreetly written, warning to the Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner about the dangers of indiscriminate budget cutting. more

An interesting explanation to come

Thursday, 14 August 2008 -The Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon will be thankful she was not the minister when the Therapeutic Drugs Administration shut down Pan Pharmaceuticals in April 2003. She will not have to squirm around the question of ministerial responsibility when she explains the circumstances which led to the announcement this morning of an extraordinary payment of $55 million to the major shareholder in Pan, Mr Jim Selim. Any question of responsibility lies with a previous Coalition Minister. Ms Roxon will, however, have the task of restoring confidence in the TGA following the settlement. more

A bit like Lewis Carroll

Friday, 30 May 2008 - He's a bit like Lewis Carroll's queen is our Prime Minister. Not quite " sentence first, verdict afterwards", but certainly decide the guilty then have the federal police investigate. The leaking of details of departmental opposition to the Fuel Watch scheme was not done by a Minister. No sirree. It was a public servant wot did it and plod will hunt the villain down. And when it comes to punishment make it collective. Give all of those Canberra pen pushers a lashing. more

Why the advice?

Thursday, 29 May 2008 - No analysis yet of why the view of the economists in the public service so unanimously provided Cabinet with the view that Fuel Watch was not such a good idea when the Labor politicians in Perth, who soon enough will face the judgment of voters on just such a scheme, would not dream of scrapping it. If it really did lead to higher prices it is a wonder that the people out west have not scared their politicians into putting Fuel Watch on the scrap heap. Perhaps the free market ideology of the government economists is prevalent as well in the Canberra press gallery.

Once upon a time

Tuesday, 29 April 2008 - The upper echelons of the Commonwealth public service used to be the providers of policy advice to governments but rarely any more. The principal job these days of a mandarin is to provide secretarial services for someone else to come up with the bright ideas. more

A measure of creeping centralization

Monday, 10 March 2008 - Data collected by Kirsty Laurie and Jason McDonald, two researchers in the Budget Policy Division of the Australian Treasury, and published on the Treasury website as part of the summer Economic Roundup , gives an interesting insight into what happened to the size of government during the Howard years. more

Talk around the tea trolley (1)

Wednesday, 5 March 2008 - Word is slowly filtering down from the top echelons of the Canberra public service to those lower levels where they actually do the work on government programs about the impact new Labor Ministers are having on departmental programs. The consensus seems to be that the new team has quite unreal expectations as to the time it actually takes to do things with time frames that are impossible to meet being set by inexperienced ministerial advisers. Implementing promised new Labor policies while being expected to cut back on staff numbers will soon take its toll with departmental secretaries soon to be faced with hard decisions about what existing functions must be cut back so priority can be given to the new ones.

Public sector strikes

Monday, 3 March 2008 - The strike this morning by Victorian state school teachers and a planned stoppage on Friday by teachers in the Victorian Catholic school system suggest that the new Labor Government will soon have even more economic problems to deal with as it tries to contain inflation. A wage break out is just what the Reserve Bank fears ... more

Avoiding responsibility (1)

Wednesday, 20 February 2008 - Avoiding responsibility for hard decisions is becoming endemic among politicians with Federal Immigration Minister Senator Chris Evans the latest to want to transfer power from himself as minister to anonymous public servants. more

Avoiding responsibility (2)

Wednesday, 20 February 2008 - The redefinition of ministerial responsibility by politicians continues apace with the New South Wales Health Minister Reba Meagher saying whoever is to blame for the large number of faults at a new Bathurst Hospital will be held accountable. Ms Meagher is pointing the finger for this new $100 million hospital which cannot be used at public servants, project managers, builders and anyone else she can think of without suggesting that past and present Health Ministers might have anything to do with what successive scandals are showing to be a dysfunctional public health system. more

A baptism of fire

Tuesday, February 12, 2008 - One thing that new Prime Minister's Department head Terry Moran has plenty of experience in is dealing with the eccentricities of inexperienced ministers. more

The Climate of Uncertainty

Thursday, February 07, 2008 - The climate of uncertainty unsettling large parts of the federal public service is going to continue well past this May's first Rudd Labor Government budget. more

Fear and Loathing in Canberra

Tuesday, February 05, 2008 - There is nothing more destructive to public service productivity than public servants spending time worrying about whether they will continue to have a job and if they do what it will be. Right now, in department after department in Canberra , output is at a low ebb as fear and loathing of Kevin Rudd's ministerial "razor gang" spreads. more

On a Hiding to Nothing

Thursday, December 13, 2007 - You need a pretty thick skin to be a public servant dealing with Aborigines these days as the rape case of the 10 year old Queensland girl illustrates so terribly. more

Pragmatic Compromise in the Public Service

Wednesday, 27 June 2007 - Creativity, pragmatically based and responsive to compromise, is what the country's chief public servant Dr Peter Shergold believes is central to the attributes sought of in those who prepare policy advice for government and last night on the ABC's 7.30 Report we had a rare view of what that actually means in practice. On the program former Health Department secretary and public service commissioner Andrew Podger, who has served both Labor and Liberal governments in a 37-year career, described to Kerry O'Brien how "a combination of salary bonuses and relatively short-term contracts for senior public servants has served to reduce the independence of the bureaucracy."

It was a fascinating interview that gave new meaning to what Dr Shergold described in his departmental report of 2004-05 as "the trouble with 'frank and fearless' [advice] is that it has become a cliché." more

For the Federal Police Bribery Needed a Formal Complaint

Friday, 24th February, 2006 - The Working Group on Bribery in International Business Transactions from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) was visiting the Australian Federal Police last year when it saw the report on television: several allegations were made about an Australian company's operations in a foreign country, including allegations of the bribery of officials in the foreign country. The Attorney General's Department, which was liasing with the visitors, told them the media report was the work of "a credible investigative journalism program." So what, the working group members asked the Federal Police, were they going to do about it? more

Good Work by Public Servants at DEWR

Monday, 13th February, 2006

Until mid-way through last year the job of deciding whether unemployed people had special needs for assistance because they were disabled, mentally ill or disadvantaged was performed by Centrelink public servants. The task was taken over by the Job Network service providers - some privately owned and some owned by community organisations - with the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations (DEWR) taking on a supervisory role. At the time, reported The Australian this morning, the change was described as "like putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank" because the amount earned by Job Network providers depended on the classification they made; the more disadvantaged they judged a person to be the greater the payment received from the government for helping them. more

Merit Appointments Temporarily Abandoned for Doctors

Monday, 23rd January, 2006 - Appointments based on merit have been the foundation of public service appointments under the Westminster system for more than a century but the principle is being temporarily abandoned in Queensland. The State's Public Service Commissioner George O'Farrell has given the Government an exemption from the requirement to advertise vacancies and "appoint on merit" for staff medical specialist positions in the State's public hospitals from 20 January 2006 until 28 April 2006.


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© Richard Farmer 2008