An apolitical observation

I generally don’t believe anything that comes out of the mouths of members of the Coalition so I haven’t given much credence to whatever they say. But this latest babble of bullshit has stirred me:

The federal opposition has accused Labor of ordering public servants to create political material to attack the Coalition.

Amid business calls for public servants to be allowed to do their jobs, opposition treasury secretary Joe Hockey has lodged an official complaint alleging “potential political interference” in the public service by Treasurer Wayne Swan’s office.

Tony Abbott said it was not the number of advisers that was the problem, but the way in which they were used by the government.

The Opposition Leader said the Coalition would review the entire bureaucracy but “I think it’s the misuse to which political staffers have been put, with dirt units and so on, rather than the fact that there are political staffers as such”.

As a former Federal Public Servant may I protest that this is a load of absolute and utter rubbish? It’s clearly just another fabricated  “look over there” moment to deflect media and public attention away from a very damaged Tony Abbott.

But if they want to pick on the Public Service with bizarre claims then I take the liberty to throw back a few observations of my own.

I worked as a Public Servant under the Howard, Rudd and Gillard Governments. As a Public Servant I was apolitical, working for the government of the day while casting aside my own political preferences and I performed diligently and loyally to all three. Of those three governments it could be considered that the behaviour of several Howard Ministers only was questionable. I am not at liberty to expand on this.

However, I am at liberty to provide my observations, whether they be correct or not. Neither might they agree with the observations of other Public Servants. But here they are:

  • I didn’t consider that John Howard or Joe Hockey were honest politicians
  • Tony Abbott was very unpopular with a former department due to his alleged nastiness
  • Kevin Rudd drove people fairly hard
  • The Liberals when in government appeared to politicise the Public Service
  • There were rumours that members of the Howard Government attempted to obtain information off public servants for political advantage
  • The Rudd Government acted far more professionally than the Howard Government
  • Julia Gillard was very popular and respected by her departments
  • Many of Howard’s policies in the employment area did not appear to be working
  • The Labor Governments were more concerned with helping society’s needy
  • The Labor Governments had more of a focus on education and job training than Howard’s
  • I did not consider Joe Hockey a competent Minister
  • Labor made more cuts to the Public Service than Howard
  • There appeared to be a greater emphasis from the Howard Government on misleading the electorate
  • The Howard Government did not appear genuinely concerned with the plight of minority groups, in particular Indigenous Australians

What have you good people observed from the boundary line?

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38 comments on “An apolitical observation

  1. I’m currently reading “Speechless” by James Button. It’s been billed as an attack on Rudd but I’d argue it’s more of a collection of observations on the public service and the modern ALP (so far). Button notes a number of times how public servants take very seriously their independence but also the need to be apolitical. I’ve never worked in the public service or politics, but I’m already doubtful of the Coalition’s claims.
    Button notes some of the reforms of the public service in the past thirty years: performance assessments and the removal of tenure for Secretaries (Hawke-Keating), fixed-term contracts and outsiders to run Departments (Howard). After the Children Overboard incident a Senate Select Committee found the public service was perhaps too responsive to the political needs of ministers.
    A case of the pot calling the (alleged) kettle black.

  2. One observation that concerns me of late is the political ideology of Liberals punishing public servants that disagree with them.across the board. This idea of privatising the public service and having it filled with casuals rather than career public servants who devote their career to public service is a fools folly. I am particularly interested in your observation of incompetence and honesty. John Howard was deceitful and personified the us and them mindset of ruling class liberals born to rule. This week we had an interesting insight into hypocrisy, questionable character, dishonesty and the shear audacity of the Liberal machine. Liberals treat everyone like idiots under the banner of “mandate”; religiously marching to the tune of god save the queen in ideology jack boots.

  3. …Don’t let Godwin Grech fade away
    The privileges committee’s report into the Utegate and Godwin Grech saga must stay on the radar. An undemocratic/corrupt Senate has no business trying to have a separate relationship with public servants.

  4. Yes, funny how the political party that gave us “Ute-gate” can accuse Labor of misusing the Public Service. Oh, & who can forget the way Howard increasingly politicised the public service on his watch-with mass sackings & the introduction of short-term contracts to ensure loyalty? I suspect Abbott & Hockey are engaged in PROJECTION again-a common Right Wing trait!

  5. I’ve worked as an adviser (but in opposition, not government), a lobbyist and for 13 months in the APS. I’ve witnessed ministerial advisers in both ALP and Coalition governments interfere with policy and project implementation for political ends, and when necessary they have exerted considerable pressure on APS officials to do so. No-one’s hands are clean.

  6. I think this kind of attack is indicative or people doing the wrong thing themselves, from personal/professional experience, the Sales Rep who says ‘I know what you guys are up too”, invariably is the one doing the wrong thing, this to me crys the same message. Pot Calling kettle black sounds about right to me.

  7. The only way the PS have attacked the libs is by putting out numbers and figures that are not in agreement with theirs. Of course, the claim of political bias (and here I am referring specifically to Treasury) would hold more weight if only the libs could find someone, anyone, to agree with them. Unfortunately, in hockeys analysis, the PS must also be attacking S&P, cos their numbers didn’t match S&P, until of course the later came out and acknowledged that they had fucked up.

    Maybe that is simply what hockey should do.

    As to the document in question, is it wrong for a department to try and find out if claims made by the opposition are correct or not? I would have thought this was a function of the public service. Perhaps it is more what the analysis uncovered than how they went about it that is the problem.

  8. Tom, and didn’t the Libs scream loudly when the facts and figures were not to their liking/didn’t fit in with the (false) impressions that they were trying to create.

  9. As a very much former elected representative, I always felt considerable sympathy for the people whose job it was to attempt to implement the brain farts policy ideas of some councillors…no Mr Kerfoops you cannot do X..wah, wah, but I want it done anyway…

  10. Didn’t Howard gut & virtually abolish a federal department that had become an embarassment to him during the first tranche of forced ministerial resignations?
    As for the rest of this it’s simply that the public service isn’t sufficiently apolitical enough to shout out loud that the liberals are the best thing since sliced bread.
    It’s not personal, anyone who doesn’t spruik their cause is treated the same way. All grist to the mill.

  11. And the proof of the statements above is currently occurring in Queensland. One DG being appointed before the Minister was, mid 20’s children of ministers being appointed as AO8’s (salary over $100k pa), the LNP Treasurer inspecting the books of Government Commercial Operations and of course the “Costello Claytons Audit” – the audit you claim is not *really* an audit after the methodology and findings is criticised by economics professors.

  12. Bob I believe Howard moved PS performance bonuses from being based on performance to being at the discretion of the minister. It meant that the senior public servants had to follow their minister’s line, honest or not, or lose the bonus.

    Howard also got the release of what was once general information available to the public tied down to the discretion of a minister to call as not in the public interest. Not surprisingly all of a sudden a lot of stuff that used be freely available to the media became not in the public interest, and the media weren’t happy.

    Newman is completely screwing down information and control in Queensland and Abbott will follow and worse, which is why I’m having trouble understanding why a large chunk of the media are trying to get Abbott elected. An Abbott government will become a desert of factual information and full of massaged media releases, thus denying the media what they are currently crying foul on, freedom of information.

    By the way have come across some Tweets asking why opposition ministers have gone so very quiet in the Sunday media, where they could always be counted on to make appearances. It’s suggested it’s because the debate has moved to policy and they’re lost.

  13. As always. Great Post Miglo CW…and Drag0nista: . I always enjoy real world observations based in fact that inform opinion. Drag0nista…. I am loving you blog…Respect

  14. An Abbott government will become a desert of factual information and full of massaged media releases, thus denying the media what they are currently crying foul on, freedom of information.

    I think you give the media far too much credit there ME. I would guess that they would prefer the “massaged media releases” over FOI any day. Articles that are basically written for them. As we have seen with the information we are served up by them these days, facts not in line with their story don’t really rate high on their radar, informing their readership comes a distant second to that.

  15. Tom, I am inclined to agree..easy option as we’ve noted here on numerous occasions – take a Liberal Party press release, dress it up as factual information and the next moment we have statements such as pink batts kill people taken as just that, fact. How easy is it to keep up with the pace of the 24hr news cycle when you don’t have to bother with things such as research.

  16. The Facts About Our Economy

    Those are facts, you know the things the opposition and a lot of the media are devoid of or avoid as if they were a disease.

    As they come from Treasury and written by the Treasurer then I guess the opposition will say they are lies. Now if they get Costello to write their facts for them as they are promising to do then they will claim the facts are true, though Costello’s findings in one audit have been shown to be deceptive and the Queensland government has apologised for the fact billions were in error and every review has found problems with Costello’s facts.

    They won’t get another accounting firm to do their facts for them as the last lot were found out cooking the books on the orders of the opposition, so I doubt any sensible accounting firm wanting to keep their licence will touch them.

    So there will be a choice of facts produced by Treasury and thus public servants, facts that are laid out and available to anyone and then there is Costello, a fact warping worm hole where billions that never existed disappear as deficits for Labor governments and come out the other side as surpluses for Liberal ones.

  17. Lets be real here Migs everyone has their own political beliefs and that goes for public servants as well so I find the whole concept of an “apolitical” public service rather unbelievable. That said I am sure that there are lots of dedicated people in the PS who see it as a vocation rather than just a job.
    Now not so long ago I was talking to a Public servant about the constant change in her department and she lamented the fact that they were changing their “system” to one not unlike the way things were done five years ago. Surely its the constant reform agendas from both sides of the house that is making the public service so dispirited in and dare I say it inefficient.

  18. Iain, you weakened what was a fairly balanced comment in your last line. Is the public service inefficient? And how would you know it is? I certainly don’t know whether it is, or not. But then, I have no dealing with them (at the moment). Anecdotal evidence, hardly an argument makes.

  19. How do you define a public servant? Are they teachers, police workers, firemen, Medicare staff, hospital staff, doctors in public hospitals, nurses…or is the inefficiency solely directed to those who provide support for the above (and government, of course.)

  20. I was in the public service on and off for more than 35 years. For most of that time, i was a ‘good’ public servant (you know one of those frontline staff that handyrab refers to above). But for the last decade or more, I was an SES officer in head office and therefore ‘bad’, ‘lazy’ and ‘inefficient’. LOL

    I worked directly with six Ministers (Private Secretary to one) and indirectly with four Premiers from both sides of the political divide. Did I provide advice that was used politically. Absolutely. It was inescapable and will continue to so be.

    As always Hockey is talking through his …

  21. Being a Commonwealth Public Servant must be really hard work After all a lot have to live in Canberra…. 😀

  22. Welcome to the Cafe Duracell…you’ve provided both a positive and a negative to the discussion, (Don’t worry I’m known here for my sick puns.)

    “As always Hockey is talking though his”… could I add ARSE?

  23. The proof in the pudding of public services not being more or less inefficient as equivalent sized private entities is in comparing them pre-privatisation and post-privatisation.

    There has been a lot privatised by both sides of the fence so there’s plenty of examples out there.

    In no case I know of did the privatisation of a government entity lower the costs to the public of that entity nor produce better services from it. In many cases the privatised instruments and services within a relatively short timeframe after being commercialised or privatised needed to be propped up from the public purse and/or subsidised to keep them viable. In some cases like public transport they were bought back into the public purse.

    In modern times, as is being practised by Newman, the commercialisation or privatisation of public entities has nothing to do with money saving as more often than not private contractors and consultants at a greater cost replace the public servants sacked. The whole idea of getting rid of the public servants is to abrogate responsibilities by the government involved. Any stuff ups, malpractices or malfeasances can be blamed on a private company that isn’t accountable to the voters.

    The private agencies are also beholden to the government that allowed them the public entities, so will not do anything to upset their golden goose, and in fact are usually of the same ideology and often friends with those high up in the government who allowed them the public good or service.

    It’s a win win for a government, a win win for the private enterprise who know the public purse will bail them out or subsidise them but it’s lose all the way for the public.

  24. If one has not worked in the PS, I suggest they have little idea of what they are talking about.

    Most, in my opinion allow their own political beliefs to interfere. Mainly because there is no reason most ot the time, that they should.

    What one does learn, there are many stupid MP on both sides.

    The clever Minister need not and does not get involved in the day to day running of the departmant. Most find very annoying having to Answer those minististials, that are mainly about getting your minister out of trouble, while protecting oneself. Can be time consuming.

    Rudd’s first big mistakes, was not goping throung the depArtment heads, removing all of Howard’s men. (Well do not remember many women) The present PM, has also not gone down this path.

    That is what makes the Oppostion’s allegations so stupid.

    Please excuse any spelling mistakes. Computer or I should say, that faulty hard drive which I have been ignoring over twelve months, let me know it had enough. Have not found spell check yet. Yes, visitor, the computer nearly beat me today. Took all day to get it to boot, so I could find out what was wrong.

    It is as laughable as trying to portray Swan as bully, after spending two or more years as portraying him as a weak and clourless man.

    Listening to Insiders this morning, I believe that Piers might want same gender sex criminalise again. Boswell made the statement, that if you legitimise it, one cannot discriminate agains it.

    Notice that the portrayal of the PM in cartoons has softened. They present her as a more gentls person, not a witch.

    I noticed we have had all day. “mummy they are picking on our Tony” Hopw dare they.

  25. :I am sure that there are lots of dedicated people in the PS who see it as a vocation rather than just a job.’

    I am not. why would it be a vocation. No job security today. Just like any other job. Nothing vocational being asked time and time again, how to more for less. This even after they took a wide ranging survey to assess morale in the department. Results, nearly zero. Still came back with the numerous conference they made us attend. We want to improve things. Here is the butcher paper. Only there is no more money.

    Got the same answer, it cannot be done. About three years down the track, we did get the money. Funny how stories day after day of chil.d abuse and lack of response changed things. We told them that as well.

    I suspect not many respect ministers on either side of the fence.

    One quickly learns to become mum around them, you know are close to the politicains. They are easy to pick I am sure that most would have had Grech in there sights, long before he appeared before that senate enquiry.

  26. This latest fertiliser gushing from Abbotts orifice re Public Servants, is yet another sign of his unhinging. Desperation has now grasped the hairy loins of this once so determined liar. Knowing his disgraceful attack on the carbon price has failed, he now clutches at any straw floating by.
    We are watching the death throes of a politician destroyed by his own bullshit.

  27. dafid1. If you remember when they lost the election the first time and then again the Coalition would throw out scattergun attacks in the hope something would get traction. If the media could get enough angst or outrage on a matter the Coalition would hammer it for all it was worth, going back to scattergun when their attack turned out to have no substance.

    Having hung nearly everything on the carbon price attack meme and now having it fail has them back at the scattergun attacks again.

    There is a real desperation this time round though and their attacks are wilder and more ludicrous than ever.

  28. Good post, Migs. I was a CPS, serving under McMahon, Whitlam and Fraser. As you say your politics had no influence on how you perform your duties, any more than if you worked in private enterprise. And I don’t remember any government trying to politicise the public service

    I do think Howard politicised certain departments during his tenure-Immigration, Social Security and Industrial Relations, all particular hobby-horses of his. Other departments would have been relatively free of the Howard poison, I imagine, although I guess in the light of the Grech affair, it could be argued that the Howard poison was starting to infect Treasury.

    But he really had it in for the unemployed and unionised workplaces and that was reflected in his draconianb legislation.

    Although you’ll never convince me that he wasn’t a committed racist I don’t think he really cared either way about asylum seekers, they were just a convenient blunt instrument to beat any opposition over the head.

    Of course, 9/11 was manna from heaven for him and he flogged that particular moribund nag for all he was worth to fulfill his only real ambition-to stay in power ant any cost.

    To address Sloppy’s statement, there is always the potential for governments to politicise the public service, but for him to claim that the current government is directing the public service to “create political material to attack the Coalition” is patently ridiculous even for Sloppy.

    The government doesn’t need any public servants beavering away to “create” damaging material with which to attack the Noalition; the Noalition writes the script every time they open their gobs or behave like spoiled children in the chamber.

    FFS, even Salvador Dali couldn’t have envisaged anything more surreal than Liealot trying to sprint out of the House to avoid Craig Thomson’s vote! And then to hide in Aunty Peta’s kennel. Were they emulating a Carry On film?

  29. Möbius what was even more amazing on Thursday, I took advantage of a quiet morning in the office to watch the Senate, the Tories still used the carbon price as their main weapon of attack whenever the debates 7 question time allowed. Nothing new in their argument, same old same old. For me if I was the Opposition stratagist, after the polls showed the electorate now regards the carbon price as a non problem by a majority I would have instructed the team to find another supposed ‘weakness’ in the Govts programme to highlight. No didn’t happen so the Govt Senators played a straight bat, hit hit the attack for boundaries and result for the Tories, egg on face.
    I am getting vibes the Abbott/Credlin partnership is not all sweetness and light. Plus the rumours of her pregnancy, not denied by the press gallery or anyone seems to be gathering momentum.
    I am not saying anything about fatherhood.
    The unhinging seems to be heading towards the ultimate conclusion as many of us have predicted. Trolls swallow it.

  30. I wonder if it could be true, if the Opposition puts out information, especially about the economy or false information about legislation enacted, the government has a duty to correct any, that is correct.

    Is that being politically, I believe not.

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