Dec 8, 2017

When he’s not fighting homophobes, he’s fighting recalcitrant bureaucrats

Sick of hearing the same complaints about the Public Service over and over, one parliamentary committee is going after departments to crack down on bureaucrats who keep making the same mistakes.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

While Western Australian Liberal Dean Smith is currently best known for being the architect of the marriage equality bill that passed through parliament just last night, he has quietly and assiduously worked on another issue all year: Canberra bureaucrats who make the same errors over and over when it comes to the process of delivering billions of dollars in government handouts.

Smith made it a mission for the parliamentary committee he chairs, the innocuously named Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit, to go after departments that are found to have committed the same errors across multiple audits by the Australian National Audit Office, which reports to his committee. Between Smith and the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO), under Auditor-General Grant Hehir, there is a diminishing tolerance for bureaucrats offering pro forma responses accepting ANAO recommendations but never following through. The committee has encouraged the ANAO to conduct follow-up audits, and in a series of inquiries has itself followed up departments to check compliance. 

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4 thoughts on “When he’s not fighting homophobes, he’s fighting recalcitrant bureaucrats

  1. [email protected]

    When senior public servants lost tenure the incoming governments appointed friendlies, not requiring much content or policy expertise. These friendlies understood that if they opposed foolish policies then they would be replaced by more cooperative friendlies. Thus while the departments attempted to capture their new managements, any success tended to be short-lived.

  2. graybul

    One of your most relevant posts for the year Bernard. Dean Smith’s tenacity is a most rare example of what the electorate expects, but seldom if ever receives . . . accountability. The Australian Public Service, no longer functions as an accountable entity due to politicalisation of senior staff. Smith’s efforts to pursue and hold accountable incredibly important, essential, if our country is to resist current decline. What are the odds he will soon be elevated to ‘much more important needs’ elsewhere?

    1. Dave Plumber

      Sadly, the accountability and performance culture of the Australian Commonwealth public sector has been in steep decline for a decade or so. Management culture-setting is dominated by callow and venal self-interested hacks. Moronic thought bubbles from Ministers are waved through with little critique, and much public heraldry. I hope people like this Senator can turn it around.

  3. mary wood

    Wow – an intelligent member of parliament who has integrity. And who does the job he is paid to do. If only there were more like him – even a dozen would make for a different government, and more than twelve might just give voters hope.

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