Secretary of the Department of Immigration Mike Pezzullo gave the latest address to the Institute of Public Administration Australia’s Secretary Series yesterday morning, imploring mandarins to get rid of old rules in order to form better policy and administration. The secretary of the notoriously secretive Immigration Department, which has blasted journos for reporting on asylum seekers kept in detention, had a lot to say about communication:

“We should insist on effective communication. In all of our work we should reject jargon, imprecision, hackneyed phrasing, woolly terms, padding, and unclear thinking and language. All of our work requires clear, crisp, meaningful and expressive communication. Written and oral communication should be clear as to the following: how does what is being proposed flow logically from first principles? What are the relevant facts and relevant evidence? What analysis has been done? Which courses of action have been considered? Which is favoured of those courses and why? Clear language should reveal all of this, and it should be insisted upon.”

We couldn’t help but wonder if the media department in his own agency has heeded this advice. Last week an agreed statement between the department and Save the Children used this many words to say that they had wrongly accused Save the Children staff of encouraging asylum seekers to self-harm:

“The Department indicated through public statements that in making the removal direction, the Department relied on allegations that the staff had orchestrated protest activity, coached and encouraged self-harm of detainees, engaged in a campaign to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the Government’s regional processing arrangements and misused and improperly disclosed sensitive and confidential information. …

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“The review encompassed the circumstances in which the direction was given, including the alleged conduct of the SCA employees who were removed.  Consistent with the recommendations made by Mr Moss, the details of the allegations, insofar as they related to employees of SCA at the time, were the subject of another independent review commissioned by the Department in May 2015 (Review of recommendation nine from the Moss Review by Adj. Professor Christopher Doogan).  Professor Doogan concluded that the information available to the Department at the time of the removal direction did not warrant issuing the direction.”

Clear as mud, right? Here’s Pezzullo again:

“Public service writing should be clear and direct, active and accountable. Sentences should be action-orientated, lush with verbs. We should use doing words because we are doers, or we should be. The active voice should be the grammatical standard: ‘I decided’, rather than ‘it was decided’. Insist on your staff writing competently, succinctly and accurately.”

Active and accountable? This from a department that will only ever be quoted as a “spokesperson”, never with a name.

As a Crikey subscriber and someone who began working as a journalist in 1957, I am passionate about the importance of independent media like Crikey. I met a lot of Australians from many walks of life during my career and did my best to share their stories honestly and fairly with their fellow citizens.

And I never forgot how important it is to hold politicians to account. Crikey does that – something that is more important now than ever before in Australia.

North Stradbroke Island, QLD

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