Retired senior public servant and ALP supporter John McArthur writes:


Having worked at quite close range with at least
100 different cabinet ministers from all Australian jurisdictions (plus NZ)
and of both political persuasions since the first Hawke
government – that is, for nearly 20 years – I feel in a position to comment on the public
service’s increasing
politicisation and demeaning descent into subservience, especially at the most senior levels. At the same time there
has been a corresponding increase in power and unaccountable influence
and arrogance of the so-called “spin doctors”, especially media agents
and ministerial advisers.

Back in the early 1980s the process had begun, and I am afraid to say
the first long-term ALP government post-Menzies, leaving aside the
temporary elation of the Whitlam era, was largely responsible for its
growth and escalation to the point where we now have senior public
servants apparently afraid to advise their ministers of matters of
national significance. Witness the Tampa fiasco through to the current
AWB disgrace, where incompetence verging on criminal neglect has
reduced our “public” or “civil” servants to playing the part of
fools in some Shakespearean play. It is not so much “As You Like It”,
but “Yes Minister, how would you like me to tell it to you?” Or perhaps
“The
Shaming of the True”.

Whistleblowers are demonised as un-Australian. Senior officials in
Immigration are promoted to avoid embarrassment over myriad bungles.
Where are the frank and fearless Federal mandarins of the ilk of Lennox
Hewitt and John Menadue today, when we most need them to protect us?
Over 20 years ago one of the most able and respected departmental CEOs
in a state that I won’t name told me over a drink that he decided to
retire the day he read about a major policy change in his
Department’s operations in the morning newspaper, announced by his
minister.

But having nurtured the politicisation of the bureaucracy, the ALP
really only has itself to blame. Having sown the seeds it must now
reap the discomfort of Federal Opposition. For the time
being Labor is dominant at state level, but that is small comfort as state jurisdictions
are so hamstrung by the factor that economists like to describe as
vertical fiscal imbalance, because they ceded their main taxation
powers to the Commonwealth in the 1940s.

Reduced to relying on Mickey Mouse taxes on roads, cigarettes and
alcohol and bank fees, they have been thrown the sop of GST, but look
like having their constitutional powers even further eroded by the
current IR legislation. Farce turns into tragedy.

Peter Fray

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