Crikey’s public service insider, Des Deskperson, knows Kids Overboard
whistleblower Mike Scrafton well. He was his public service boss.
I supervised Mike Scrafton (“Scrafton” as
in “Iraq”, not Srafton as in “raft”) back in the eighties in the old
Defence International Policy Division.

Now that he’s decided
to bring down the Prime Minister, it’s a good time to analyse Scrafton
the public servant – and disentangle the myths from the truth.

impressions I had and retained of Scrafton were: a bit of a rough
diamond (he’d bummed around the outback before going to uni and was at
least ten years older than the average graduate recruit) but highly
capable, a bit arrogant, highly ambitious, a power worshipper and a
company man.

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In short, all the attributes that make for a
successful APS career – and it showed in his subsequent progress. From
graduate recruit to First Assistant Secretary in 17 years isn’t quite
in the Jane Halton league, but it’s not at all bad.

it’s not at all the profile of your typical whistleblower, and Scrafton
is one of the last people I would have expected to do as he did. I have
no idea of his motives, which may be of the noblest, but there are a
couple of myths going around about Scrafton that ought to be

Scrafton the victim:

The impression
given by Scrafton in some interviews is that his career languished
after he returned from his stint in the Minister’s office – fuelling
the notion that he was being punished because he knew too much.

Scrafton was promoted to First Assistant Secretary after he returned to
the Department, and the general view was that it was a reward for his
work on the Hill. Sure, he didn’t go back to the Division he wanted –
mainly because that job was already filled and anyway, Defence has a
policy of rotating SES through different types of work. But by all
indicators, Scrafton was a success and well on his way to a Dep Sec job.

Why he suddenly broke this career by retiring and moving to Victoria remains a mystery.

Scrafton as the embittered former porn surfer:

impression given by some commentators is that Scrafton left Defence and
subsequently blew the whistle because his career was finished after his
reported reprimand for porn surfing on Defence’s computers. I can’t buy
this. It was after the porn incident that Scrafton got the job in the
Minister’s office – arguably the best career boost a high flyer can
have – and later he got the FAS job.

Porn surfing is a
sackable offence in many APS agencies. In Centrelink, it’s one strike
and you’re out, and if Scrafton had been an APS4 in Centrelink, he’d
now be queuing up where he used to work. Yet Scrafton the Defence high
flier was protected and promoted.

For the long term observer of
the APS and its mores, this is one of the more interesting elements of
the affair, and reinforces the view that many people have of the nasty
macho culture in Defence. Porn surfing is a prima facie breach of the
APS Values, and modelling the Values is one of the criteria that are
meant to be factored into the selection and promotion of SES staff. For
Defence it clearly isn’t or wasn’t an issue when it came to supporting
and promoting someone like Scrafton.

Scrafton as the victim of Max Moore-Wilton:

is, of course, a vindictive shit. Anyone who witnessed his arrogant
tirades against Scrafton in the media this past fortnight will know
that. And we were always puzzled about what qualities he actually
brought to the job as head of PM & C, apart from his absolute
loyalties to Howard.

I once saw him threaten a Departmental
Secretary with the sack at a public function over a minor affront to
his dignity. Imagine what he would have done to Scrafton if the latter
had told the truth (and I’m sure it is the truth) to the internal

There are ways in the APS to create hell for people even if you don’t take formal action against them.

Scrafton: The wash-up

don’t know enough about Scrafton’s motivation to asses whether he would
have told the truth if the environment had been less threatening or if
he had been financially more secure – as a late starter in the APS from
a humble background, Scrafton is, I suspect, much less well off than
his contemporaries.

On the other hand, he was always a company
man and, as I recall, the sort of bloke who was always happy to kick
heads of those lower down the pole, on behalf of senior management.
He is learning very publicly that those who dish it out must also learn
to cop it. Whether it is a fair cop is another thing entirely.


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Crikey is an independent Australian-owned and run outfit. It doesn’t enjoy the vast resources of the country’s main media organisations. We take seriously our responsibility to bear witness.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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