What’s going on with the head of Prime Minister and Cabinet’s International Division? According to media reports, experienced foreign affairs hands have refused to take the job because of Kevin Rudd’s tendency to micro-management.
PM&C told Estimates on Monday that the job had been filled in an acting capacity since the departure on long-service leave of Hugh Borrowman, whose appointment to Bonn was vetoed by the Prime Minister on the grounds of his lack of proficiency in German.
According to PM&C, the international division is being restructured to work more closely with the new position of National Security Adviser (Duncan Lewis) and bring all international activities within the one area. A process to replace Borrowman on a permanent basis had commenced but was halted while the restructuring was completed.
While no one is under the impression Kevin Rudd isn’t the micro-manager from Central Casting, some of the reporting in relation to Borrowman and his replacement is a bit unrealistic. For a start, it’s hardly unusual for public servants to act in even senior positions for extended periods — frequently up to a year, even at that level. And the idea that no one could be found who wanted to do the job is absurd. The position concerned is a Band 2 position, and there’d be plenty of experienced Band 1 officers (the lowest SES level) in Foreign Affairs, PM&C and elsewhere who would see the job as an opportunity to enter into the most senior ranks of the Public Service — because, not in spite, of the need to work closely with the Prime Minister and his office. Ambition runs deep within many bureaucrats and Rudd has demonstrated that if he likes people, they will prosper.
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There’s also a peculiar assumption behind the reporting of Borrowman’s non-appointment to the post of ambassador to Germany. Given Rudd is Prime Minister, quite why he should not pick who he damn well likes, and for whatever reason, for senior foreign policy positions is a mystery. If he thought Borrowman was more suitable for another position — which he evidently did — then in fact Rudd would have been remiss not to have acted. Politicians are elected, and officials aren’t. That’s why they get to make decisions, and Prime Ministers most of all.
When it comes to senior public service appointments, there is no public interest, only the Government’s interest, regardless of the politicians involved. Ultimately the politicians are the ones who will answer for any misjudgements.