A new edition of the Howard Government directory is out.

It is classified government-in-confidence, so it’s probably an offence to have a copy, but looking at the directory a number of interesting trends stand out:

  • The numbers of personal ministerial staffers is growing.
  • The number of chiefs-of-staff who were previously press secs has grown. Former pressies now rule the roost in the offices of Philip Ruddock, Chris Ellison and Alexander Downer offices.
  • The specialisation of personal staff job titles — senior advisers, senior media advisers, assistant media advisers, special advisers — show an ever-growing hierarchy with new levels of demarcation. The Treasurer’s office has five senior advisers and one special adviser, but, hilariously, appears to have no adviser advisers or assistant advisers. This pattern is even being repeated in some electorate offices.

Most worrying, however, is the apparent increase in the number of public servants in senior roles in ministerial offices. Brendan Nelson and Philip Ruddock have long had form on this. They appear to have been joined by Kevin Andrews, Malcolm Turnbull and even that firebrand of the right, Eric Abetz.

The executive and the bureaucracy appear to have become enmeshed. Why wouldn’t it? It’s perfect for John Howard’s big-taxing, big-spending, big-government conservatism. Only government efficiency, accountability and few minor matters like that suffer under these arrangements.

Here’s just an outline of the number of overtly public service positions — departmental liaison officer jobs and the like — in the ministry:

  • There are three departmental liaison officers in the Prime Minister’s office and one in the office of his Parliamentary Secretary, Tony Smith.
  • There are two departmental liaison officers in the office of the Deputy PM and Minister for Transport and Regional Services, Mark Vaille, and one each in the offices of the Minister for Local Government, Territories and Roads, Jim Lloyd, and the Parliamentary Secretary, De-Anne Kelly.
  • The Treasurer has two DLOs, as does the Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer Peter Dutton, while his Parliamentary Secretary, Chris Pearce, has one.
  • Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer has three DLOs, his Parliamentary Secretary Greg Hunt has one, and Trade Minister Warren Truss has two.
  • The Minister for Finance and Administration, Nick Minchin, has two DLOs, while Special Minister of State Gary Nairn and the Parliamentary Secretary, Richard Colbeck, have one each.
  • The Health Minister, Tony Abbott, has two DLOs and the Minister for Ageing, Chris Pyne, and Parliamentary Secretary Brett Mason have one each.
  •  Attorney-General Philip Ruddock has two DLOs while the Minister for Justice and Customs, David Johnston, has three.
  • Communications Minister Helen Coonan has two DLOs and Minister for the Arts and Sports George Brandis has one.
  • Defence Minister Brendan Nelson’s portfolio is richly endowed. The minister has three departmental officers (including the ADC), as does the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Bruce Billson, while Parliamentary Secretary Peter Lindsay has one.
  • Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane has two DLOs, while Minister for Small Business Fran Bailey and Parliamentary Secretary Bob Baldwin have one each.
  • Immigration and Citizenship Minister Kevin Andrews has two DLOs and the Assistant Minister, Teresa Gambaro, has one.
  • Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran has two DLOs, while Fisheries Minister Eric Abetz and Parliamentary Secretary Sussan Ley have one each.
  • The Minister for Families, Community Service and Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough, has three DLOs, while the Minister for Community Services, Nigel Scullion, has one.
  • The Education portfolio takes the cake. Education Minister Julie Bishop has three departmental officers, Minister for Vocational and Further Education Andrew Robb has one, while Parliamentary Secretary Pat Farmer has four. Four of these are “Schools Liaison Officers”, who cram into the already tightly packed offices up in the House on the Hill.
  • The Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Joe Hockey, has three DLOs, while Minister for Workplace Participation Sharman Stone has one.
  • Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull has two DLOs and his Assistant Minister, John Cobb, has one.
  • The Minister for Human Services, Chris Ellison, has three DLOs.

A startling number of other staff across the ministry also have permanent public service posts to return to if their minister’s career crashes and burns or if the Howard Government is defeated.

Even within the Government there are critics of this cosy closeness between the executive and the public service. A clutch of brave backbenchers wonder where the representatives of business, large and small, the professions and outside experts in the different fields different portfolios cover — let alone the Liberal Party itself — are.

There are fears ministers are too reliant on the public service for advice. There are also concerns about the nature of that advice and whom it actually serves.

Some bolder Liberals ask who is running the policy agendas — ministers or bureaucrats. They worry about the number of permanent public servants in ministerial offices and where their loyalties lie, as their departmental secretaries are likely to be in their jobs much longer than the ministers they supposedly serve.

These people fear public service heads are seeking to claw back some of their power by placing public servants in advisers’ positions as they have observed how departmental officers have successfully colonised roles as personal members of ministers’ staffs.