Some bemused smiles. There was much shaking of heads in wonderment throughout federal government departments this morning as public servants got around to reading the new Ministerial Staff Code of Conduct tabled in the Senate by the Special Minister of State John Faulkner. One aspect of the code in particular had the bureaucrats confused:

Acknowledge that ministerial staff do not have the power to direct APS employees in their own right and that APS employees are not subject to their direction.

The general attitude in many ministerial offices is to issue orders to departments at an extremely rapid rate demanding that they be attended to immediately as if the ministerial adviser was more important than the departmental head. And there is confusion too about what is meant by “treat with respect and courtesy all those with whom they have contact in the course of their employment” if midnight and 6am phone calls to a public servant’s home are considered to be acceptable behaviour by ministerial staff members.

Eventually, perhaps, Ministers will learn that letting their staff treat the code as nothing more than a formality is not conducive to the efficient operation of their portfolios.

Limiting the conversation. With the list of clients of the lobbying firm Government Relations Australia Advisory Pty Ltd (GRA) now on the Australian Government Lobbyists Register, it is clear that David Epstein, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s chief of staff, and his wife Sandra Eccles, who is GRA’s Canberra manager, will not be able to talk much about politics at all if conflicts of interest are to be avoided.

This client list covers a very diverse range of subject matter between them:

ABB Grain Ltd / Joe White Maltings, Actelion Pharmaceuticals Aust Pty Ltd, Advocates for Survivors of Child Abuse, Alba Capital Partners, ALDI Stores, Allergan Australia Pty Ltd, Amgen Australia Pty Ltd, APN Outdoor, Australian Diabetes Council, Australian Recording Industry Association, Australian Wine Research Institute, Betfair Australia, BG Group, Bilfinger Berger Project Investments Pty Ltd, ASX Limited, Australian Business Arts Foundation, Bilfinger Berger Services (Aust) Pty Ltd, Bluescope Steel Limited, Booz Allen Hamilton, Broadcast Australia, Capital Airport Group, Chandler Macleod / CMY People, Citic Pacific Mining Management, Clemenger BBDO, Cobham Flight Operations & Services (Aust) / National Jet Systems, Crisis Support Services, Habitat for Humanity Australia, HBOS, ICANN, I-Med Network, ING Direct, iSelect, Loy Yang Power, Mackay Sugar, Maunsell Australia Pty Ltd, Merck Serono Australia Pty Ltd, Mercy Health & Aged Care Inc, MGM Wireless Holdings Ltd, Microsoft Corporation, Mirabel Foundation, Mitsubishi Motors Australia, Monash Energy, Navantia SA, Diabetes Australia (NSW), eBay Australia & New Zealand / Pay Pal, Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, Financial Planning Association, Fulton Hogan, Genetics Technology Group, Geodynamics Ltd, Goldman Sachs JBWere, Music Industry Piracy Investigations, National Ceramic Industries Australia, National Generators Forum, Newcastle Coal Infrastructure Group, Onesteel, Palmary Enterprises, Peter MacCallum Cancer Foundation, Phonographic Performance Company of Australia, PMI Mortgage Insurance, Screen Producers Association of Australia, Thiess Pty Ltd, Ultra Electronics Sonar & Communications System, United Utilities, Vegetable Industry Continuous Improvement Project, Watpac NSW, Elekta Pty Ltd, Cristal Global, Carnegie Mellon University, H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management Australia.

Deciding who does what in troubled times. The Federal Treasury and the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority are finally getting around to deciding who does what in the event that Australia runs in to some really serious problems with its financial institutions.

The two organisations have just agreed on a Memorandum of Understanding as to who is in charge of what which says that an early priority “is the development of a co-ordinated policy in relation to the licensing of financial institutions and the regulation of ownership and control of financial institutions.”

It is amazing really that there is not one already but, says the MOU, “since the administrative responsibility for these is split between the Treasurer and APRA, and the Treasurer may delegate some of his powers in relation to shareholdings to APRA, these policies should be fully harmonised as soon as possible.”

Treasury is promising to keep APRA informed of issues and developments emerging from the Financial Sector Advisory Council, FSAC task forces or other financial sector fora. APRA promises to keep Treasury informed of developments in the financial system, and in domestic or international regulatory fora, that may have policy significance for Treasury or which may result in representations to the Treasurer.

In the event of financial distress in a regulated entity or financial instability generally, APRA and other regulatory agencies have responsibilities to keep the Treasurer informed. APRA will also advise the Treasury in these circumstances and keep it informed of other important developments in this area. 

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