Feb 1, 2018

Ex-government furniture yields bureaucratic gold for lucky journalists

Canberra's ex-government furniture market usually only provides pre-loved desks and chairs. For the ABC, it yielded a lot more.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

If you want to get a behind-the-scenes look at the corridors of power, talk to an old ex-government furniture hand. They've been inside most of them over the years, collecting and carting away desks, chairs, sofas, tables, lockers, you name it, bureaucratic flotsam and jetsam. All worn down by a thousand shiny bums and elbows and offloaded when judged no longer up to scratch -- or simply because a department had an end-of-year underspend and decided to blow it on another refit rather than hand the money back to the government.

An industry veteran once explained to me in detail his trip inside one of Australia's security agencies and the bizarre precautions taken while he was there to ensure he didn't see anything he shouldn't. Another showed off his most expensive offering: an ancient House of Representatives desk from days of yore when radio ruled, and politicians -- and the journalists who covered them -- consisted exclusively of old white men in hats.

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32 thoughts on “Ex-government furniture yields bureaucratic gold for lucky journalists

  1. rhwombat

    Interesting and instructive to watch the writhing of Their ABC on this. Very metametanalytic.

  2. Sleuth

    Yes Bernard, I agree with you about over the top secretive nature of governments past and present. Why are we denied the right to know how decision were made and who influenced who?

    30 years is an absurdity. Doesn’t democracy mean “by the people”?

    1. lykurgus

      It actually doesn’t, or wasn’t meant to – the “demos” (who have a vote and everything) were the privileged (and penised) few. Not “hoi polloi” (the masses).

    2. Lesley Graham

      Exactly, I would suggest that the reason there are such long FOI time frames is because they either figure they will be dead or past caring or in their dotage with dementia, or some sort of condition like Alan Bond that prevents them from remembering anything, Yep!!!.

  3. Longfulan

    Bernard, apart from safety issues with the pink batts program, what was botched? The botching in this case was the result of free enterprise greed. And why must ASIO staff be referred to as ‘goons’? Just a bit sloppy don’t you think?

    1. zut alors

      I am also curious to know what was botched? Bernard lapsing into journalese.

      Spare the word ‘goons’ for when Parliament resumes.

    2. Arky

      Agreed on all counts. Botched politically, I suppose… I confess when I (as a Labor supporter) first heard the insulation program announced I thought it a very, very odd thing for government to be doing, and then when there were a couple of deaths the Coalition ghoulishly exploited it and no journalist wanted to do the hard yards and note that the death rate during the installation program was no different (actually better, if I recall correctly) than the death rate for that industry as a whole. It’s a crappy industry, which was another reason the government politically shouldn’t have made itself responsible… any due diligence should have said there was a high probability one or more installers would die on the job during the program.

      As for “ASIO goons”, well, I suppose you can’t expect journalists to be fond of heavies coming into their workplaces and taking things away.

      1. AR

        The words ‘goon’ & ‘thug’ both come from Hindi, the enforcers of the local thacka, like a childe, who is subservient to an overlord.
        Very apposite, I would say.

  4. klewso

    How much would it actually cost to have “security” working as efficiently as we’re told it does?

    As for “the evils of foreign influence”? How does the media see Russia, China and anyone else : but “overlook” the way Murdoch operates his media empire attempting to influence voter perception of “fitness to govern” and, thus, electoral outcomes; meddling in our democratic process, to infuence elections and government they way he does? While Tuppence seems equally as oblivious?
    Is it a case the selectively blind leading the voluntarily obtuse?

    No wonder Tuppence and co want to stretch the definition of “espionage” to include “showing up government for the incompetent, self-serving, hyperbolic clowns they are”?

    1. Lesley Graham

      Love it Klewso. your on the money there. I think that this is the problem with the way that the voting situation is, that anyone can get into government, they don’t have to have any experience around much of what a politician should have this includes protocol, diplomacy & real understanding of what is being said & how to say it in a more intellectual & legalistic manner, (Pauline Hanson’s is a prime example) or even ability to write a speech that has any semblance of truth within it. (again PH lift her ugly head) it always seems in her case “one can’t let the truth get in the way of a good story. So yes I believe there needs to be like any good job selection process not just who has the right amount of $$$’s to buy their votes so as to get a cushy number in parliament & due to their general ignorance or lack of political clout, make errors that have real repercussions.

    2. klewso

      Meanwhile the lycra of “the national interest” seems to have been stretched to protecting them from public exposure of their mediocrity and inadequacies.

  5. klewso

    You never know, they could have been a hoarding of the tea-lady as she picked up “rubbish laying around” on her rounds?
    Or “Lost & Found” – “AFP”?

    1. Lesley Graham

      aha!ha!ha! that’s funny. All I can say is she’s a very selective tea lady at that

  6. AR

    Can anyone think of a leak which was in any way deleterious to this nation as distinct from showing the incompetence of the incompetents?
    In office but not in charge?

    1. Lesley Graham

      If I remember rightly the pink batts insulation debacle was a case if Rudd didn’t jump he was going to be pushed anyway. It was the start of the end for him as he had & was making a lot of errors that would build up to end his priministership as well as his political influence/career. So I think it was six of one half dozen of the other if I my hazy memory serves me correctly

  7. trudyp

    This sounds like a serious breach of records management (RM) protocols. Perhaps part of the problem is that the RM world in recent years has been focussed on management of electronic records, neglecting proper controls of hard copy docs.

    1. AR

      Sigh, ‘hard copy docs’! If only.
      They have such a nice, comforting feel.

  8. Lesley Graham

    Couldn’t agree with you more Bernard. It’s these situations that remind us that our government/polity need to be more open & transparent about what is really happening, including their errors, also who & what they are dealing with (Yes Sam Dastyari we’re looking at you). Especially in the Howard era, too me this was a time of restrained communication to the people & the need to batten down any news outlets that weren’t towing the line (it was like we were living in the 50’s again). The sudden shutting down of The Glass House is s prime example & Wil Anderson’s reactions to it made it crystal clear that they had offended someone at a very high level. Then the knowledge that the CEO of the ABC at that time (Donald Donaldson) was best mates with John Howard made complete sense. This is why the whole mateship thing that goes on in parliament & into external entities is always concerning in regards to conflicts of interest etc, also the embarrassing secrets/faux pas or in Rudd’s case incidents that had real repercussions for those who were at the pointy of these decisions, there were made. It seems taking responsibility for their mistakes is not high on many politicians agendas, I suspect due to the short life expectancy/4 year voting process that determines many of their life direction/choices & benefit’s that they can extract from Canberra.

  9. Barbara Preston

    I am sick and tired of Crikey’s (and the ABC’s) repeated and gratuitous attacks on the 2009-10 ‘Home Insulation Program’ (HIP) – following the lead of the Abbott opposition, then government, and its allies in the media. The program was on many grounds a success, not “botched” in any significant way.
    The HIP insulated the ceilings of around 1.2 million homes, approximately halving the number of uninsulated homes in Australia. Each newly insulated home would have had increased comfort, household energy bills cut by around 40%, and around 1.65 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent saved each year. (Energy Efficient Strategies, 2011, p. 38; Hawke 2010, p. vi).
    Tens of thousands of small businesses and low-skilled workers were supported through the Global Financial Crisis (Hawke 2010, p. vi).
    The rate of house fires associated with the HIP ( 0.014%) was around one third the rate of house fires associated with retrofitted ceiling insulation in the period before the HIP (0.047%) (Steel, 2011).
    The program had problems primarily arising out of the speed of implementation necessitated by its economic stimulus function and its take-up being higher than anticipated (ANAO 2010, pp. 33-37). The substantial reviews (especially Hawke and the Audit Office) have led to significant improvements in standards, regulations and practices, especially for retrofitted home insulation and government program implementation. The Queensland Coroner (responding to the deaths of installers) noted that the Commonwealth ‘considered and actioned’ the recommendations of the reviews and audits, and noted: ‘In those circumstances further comments by me would be unnecessary and duplicative’ (p. 73), but noted that ‘workplace safety is primarily a State Government responsibility’, and recommended a review by Queensland into its lack of response to the safety issues raised by the HIP before and during its implementation, and further strategies to improve safety when doing ceiling insulation and similar work. He also referred business owners for occupational health and safety breaches (p. 74 – 77).
    Happy to provide references …

    1. AR

      Another for my word.doc archives.

        1. Sailor

          And ditto from me. Now, as to the Abbottrocious lies still peddled without check about the carbon price & its effects, I say that Josh Frydenberg’s time to answer to all those malicious falsehoods about this and many other energy-related topics is coming if only journalists can develop brains…..]

    2. MJM

      Well said. Great response. There is far too much misleading and careless journalism around. Echoing the words of Abbott is just lazy.

    3. Woopwoop

      Thanks for this. As I commented on Crikey very recently, someone is killed in a workplace accident virtually every working day. This was not out of the ordinary.

    4. klewso

      I could never follow the Abbott/Limited News Party/media “nexus of logic” that insisted “responsibilty for everything from policy to the physical implementation of installations rested solely with the Rudd government”? That they were supposed to usurp responsibility for the whole gambit from the already existing state OH&S to contractors/employers training (of employees) as those employers rushed to make a buck off the back of that initiative?
      ….. But then, I’m not Abbott, a “hack/journo” and/or a Limited News Party politician?

      1. klewso

        That’s “…. the whole ambit ….” of course.

        1. AR

          Oh, I dunno, I think “gambit” is an accurate description.

    5. Saugoof

      Thank you for that!
      The Pink Batts “scandal” is a prime example of how to create a scandal out of nothing, but repeating it over and over and using compliant media, it eventually becomes so ingrained into everyone’s psyche that it becomes “real”.
      Four deaths is deeply tragic, but unfortunately this is nothing out of the ordinary for work place accidents. That should be the real scandal.

      1. zut alors

        Speaking of workplace deaths why do we not refer to it as Howard’s botched Iraq war?

  10. Itsarort

    Unfortunately the “Finders, keepers, losers, weepers…” rule does not stand up in law. However, as someone has noted already, the public should now realise that many of these documents should have been in the public domain anyway (or accessible by the Freedom of Information Act). And the over classification of these documents towards the “National Security” sector of the pendulum swing, is potentially an horendous breach of trust by our servants.

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