A range of questions are raised by this morning’s running political story, the secret inquries made within the Department of Defence into the affairs of its Minister, Joel Fitzgibbon.

Bernard Keane runs a comb through the business in today’s Crikey edition. But the assumptions underlying the position taken by the opposition Defence spokesman, George Brandis, also bear comment. As has been reported this morning:

… Opposition frontbencher George Brandis said the relationship between Mr Fitzgibbon and his department had broken down completely.

“The minister … (must) go,” he said on ABC television.

“Defence … is one of the most important departments in the Commonwealth.”

Mr Fitzgibbon needed to be replaced “with somebody who can get a handle on things”, he said.

Sorry if we’re a bit slow here, but our assumption has always been that in this country it is the public service department that works to the instruction of its minister. Not according to Mr Brandis, it seems. For Mr Brandis, a department’s decision to run a furtive campaign amounting to espionage against its minister is a sign that the minister should be stripped of responsibility. Defence should only get the minister it decides it need not surreptitiously investigate and undermine.

There are political cultures, Mr Brandis, where defence departments do get to call the shots like this. Places like, let’s see, Zimbabwe. Fiji perhaps. Libya. Is that what you had in mind?