We keep on hearing from folk with friends at the upper levels of the bureaucracy, saying their mates have been told to prepare to go into caretaker mode – a sure sign, they swear, an election is looming.

But, as Alan Ramsey always likes to remind us, fings ain’t what they used to be. Including the “caretaker provisions”, a period when significant decision making is supposed to cease.

The caretaker period only captured the public imagination in 1975. Sir John Kerr sacked the Whitlam government, put in Big Mal – and told him not to scare the horses, or not to take major Cabinet decisions.

A recent tip in Crikey suggesting that during the caretaker period public servants will be sending bucket loads of “stuff” off to the Opposition or alerting them to its existence is risible, let alone any idea that this will be done under some formal structured process.

The farce of the Charter of Budget Responsibility process which sees Treasury officers analysing and tearing apart Labor policy costings and the government then using that information and adjusting their policies and costings – and attacks – accordingly gives lie to any claim of opposition access during the caretaker period.

More likely, given the desperation of the government and its parlous state in the polls, it will actively ignore the caretaker convention. There are no legal consequences from this. Only political.

The various portfolio ad campaigns might continue right up to election day. The government tell us they are not political, but explanatory and educational.

It would take a brave public servant to order their cessation, unless the money runs out.

The Government has already made major policy changes close to the poll – the Mersey Hospital and nurse training announcements.

When such power as they have is under threat then expect every tradition and convention to be broken. Not the law. There are consequences for that. Otherwise, it’s Janis all the way. Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose…

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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