Apr 17, 2018

Does anyone in the Australian public service get held to account?

Bungles are becoming increasingly commonplace in the public service but no one ever seems to be held to account for them, reflecting how poorly bureaucrats manage underperformance.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

Peter Dutton (left) and disgraced public servant Roman Quaedvlieg (right).

To the extent that it wasn't clear before, it should be now: the once-respected public service has a major problem around competence.

We've been tracking the growing problem of public service bungling for a couple of years now, and the evidence is that things are getting worse, not better. The highest profile public service casualty of recent times has been Border Force's Roman Quaedvlieg, but his dismissal wasn't the result of underperformance. The comprehensive failure of the agriculture department to effectively regulate live export companies for animal welfare, revealed by the decade-long non-compliance of sheep exporter Emanuel Exports, led to the relevant minister publicly savaging his own bureaucrats for their failure to do their jobs properly. No one at agriculture will, as far as we know, be held to account for the failure, though. Bureaucrats there will just endure the humiliation of having Attorney-General's staff come in and give them lessons on how to regulate properly.

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