This morning Business Spectator launches a first for Australian political reporting: a guide to the government’s ministerial staff — the faceless people behind those who run the country.

It was surprisingly hard to get this information. The men and women who work behind the scenes advising ministers and devising their policies, dealing with journalists, lobbyists, business people and bureaucrats, writing their speeches and generally picking them up and dusting them off when they fall down, definitely prefer to remain behind the scenes. Their bosses prefer that too.

As a result, all governments’ ministerial staff generally remain unknown to those outside Parliament House, even though they are, in many ways, the heart of the government, responsible for the policies and politics of the ministers who front them.

Most of the ministerial offices refused to co-operate with us, so we had to work behind the scenes ourselves. It took a few months, but we have now come up with a full list of ministerial staff and advisers.

Apart from anything else, these advisers and staffers deserve recognition: they work long hours and make an important contribution to the nation.

In his book, Lazarus Rising, former Prime Minister John Howard — which my colleague Robert Gottliebsen comments on today — devotes a long author’s note to a tribute to his key advisers: chief-of-staff Arthur Sinodinos, principal private secretary Tony Nutt, later chief-of-staff, Barbara Williams, his long-time personal assistant, Peter Crone, his economic adviser, John Perrin, social policy adviser and Michael Thawley, international adviser.

Of Sinodinos, Howard says: “Arthur was a trusted sounding board on the multitude of complex issues that come the way of a PM’s office. He also enjoyed the respect and confidence of the public service, which added greatly to the harmony between the political and administrative arms of the government. Likewise he was a point of easy access and reference for many in the business sector.

“The partnership between Arthur and … Tony Nutt was a key ingredient in the unity and smooth functioning of my office.”

When the term of Howard’s successor, Kevin Rudd, was cut short after he lost the confidence of the Parliamentary Labor Party, attention focused on the inexperience of his own ministerial staff.

Nine days before Rudd stepped down, Peter van Onselen wrote in The Australian: “The upper echelons of the Labor Party are coming to the view that the triumvirate of young bucks with whom Kevin Rudd has surrounded himself are a big factor in his waning popularity, largely because they don’t have the experience or the means to steer him in the right direction when under pressure.”

Those “young bucks” were Alistair Jordan, 30, his chief-of-staff, Lachlan Harris, 30, press secretary, and Andrew Charlton, 31, economics adviser. In the commentary that followed the convulsive events of late June, it was widely agreed that Rudd suffered badly from the lack of the sort of experience and wise counsel that Sinodinos and Nutt provided Howard for so long, and might have survived had he had it.

Indeed Rudd’s successor and new Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, later joined in the attacks on the staff in Rudd’s office, complaining in a speech in September that their style was dominated by media spin, with an eye constantly on the 6pm news.

Gillard’s own chief-of-staff, and therefore the top of what we might call Canberra’s “faceless totem pole”, is Amanda Lampe, former media adviser to NSW Premier Bob Carr.

We start today with a list of the staff in 21 ministers’ offices – a who’s who of the men and women behind the men and women who run the country. In the weeks ahead we’ll add more information about them, as well as a complete guide to the nation’s key bureaucrats.

*This first appeared on Business Spectator.

Peter Fray

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