By Staff Writer: Harvey Fewings.
Nota Bene *** These comments are not directed at the thousands of decent men and women who make up Australia’s Public Service at all levels of Government. These comments are the opinion of the writer formed from observations made and experienced with senior levels of public service and Ministerial responsibility.
Senior public servants, certainly those at Department Head/Secretary level used to pride themselves on their calm and objective advice to Government Ministers of the Crown.
When comparing their taxpayer salaries to those of similar responsibilities in the private sector; senior public servants were paid less but had one very attractive privilege going for them – they had tenure – permanent employment. Which meant that come rain, hail or snow, as long as they kept providing their calm, objective advice, their salaries kept flowing.
And that was a privilege worth having. The general public trusted public servants. They were held in high regard as personal referees; they were men and women of substance, and they knew their stuff. They were professional and competent: fearing no one in the provision of advice they provided to elected Governments.
Perhaps the first indication we had, of an evolving trend, was the election of the Whitlam Labor Government. Labor had been out of Commonwealth Government for many years; and with the arrival of the Whitlam Government, it was evident that they wanted to change a stable, steady collection of Departmental Heads. Mainly senior men who were probably loyal to the outgoing conservative Government, simply because of its longevity in Government.
And, there is nothing wrong with that. Whitlam wanted to make sweeping changes, and he was looking for a different approach to Government and its application through the public service.
But, in my opinion, this was the beginning of the politicisation of senior levels of the Public Service. It did not happen overnight. The idea had legs in the minds of many elected politicians; they wanted “ Yes “ men and women who would comply with Ministerial directions and find ways to make these directions happen.
The next significant development along the way was the introduction of employment contracts for senior public servants. The contract system ended the idea of permanent tenure and opened the door for the arrival of the ‘ Mandarin ‘ class of senior public servant.
If you had the right political connections, the ambition to be involved in matters of governance and some management skills, then you were a fair chance for a high-level contract. The critical factor here was the right political connections. If you were not known and trusted with the proper track record, your chances of success were not good.
Both conservative and socialist governments in Australia now do this with senior public servants.
Socialist governments are more likely to follow this principle because they have a paranoid demand for loyalty – a suspicion of ‘ others’ who are not from either the union, sympathetic university mates or established ‘ mates ‘ from the industrial relations legal jungle.
Spread across our Nation, at all senior government levels of the public service we now have the ‘ mandarins ‘ on contract. We also have the latest evolution from that process – ‘ the ministerial advisor ‘ – who is taking more authority away from the contracted public servants and assuming responsibilities well outside the expected norm.
So what does all this mean?
Well, it means that decisions are made outside of Cabinet; authority is devolved from the Cabinet to employed and contracted staff.
Ministerial Westminster Responsibility is flicked aside because the principle of governing for all has been scrapped for the focus of ‘ remaining in power ‘.
How do we know this?
Examples are many. State Premiers in Australia now have ministerial staff advisors, press advisors, specialist advisors, economic advisors, strategic advisors numbering in the hundreds. These are not public servants!
This trend is following the doctrine of a modern economist, who has been adopted by the left-wing ‘ luvvies ‘ as one of the new disciples of the economic creed of the ‘ modern monetary theory. ‘
Her name is Dr Marianna Mazzucato, a Professor of Economics at the London School of Economics. She also holds a number of other prestigious posts.
In the last three years, she has visited Victoria and left the Victorian Government with her ‘ mission ‘ theory ’ - which is an idea that supplants conventional government departments and establishes a ‘ mission’ based group of stakeholders to manage and deliver large scale projects.
The Victorian socialists hugged the mission theory to their chests, sprinkled it liberally across all their Government departments and let it loose in recent Victorian Government ‘ achievements; ‘ bushfire management and quarantine management’ being the notable examples of how well this theory works.
But it is perfect for Government Ministers. They are no longer responsible for anything!
When, matters go wrong and get out of hand, as it usually does with these new economic theories, Ministers can plead ‘ I know nothing ‘ when asked to accept responsibility for the mess – because they had no part in it. Well, not that they can remember anyway!
Other examples are the Chief Medical Officers exercising extraordinary powers under the Public Health Acts, and, according to the Queensland Premier, removing her from the decision-making process of who comes to Queensland.
Once again, a repeat of the ‘ mission ‘ principle – “don’t blame me; I don’t make the decisions.”
As a general rule, socialist governments quickly adopt the idea of the ‘ mandarin. ‘ although conservative governments are following strongly.
For the citizens of this Nation, it means that we vote for political parties which best reflect our view of the world and the way in which we want to live. Whichever political party wins enough seats in the Parliament will form the Government.
In a democracy, this Parliament expresses the will of the citizens and is ultimately responsible to them at the ballot box.
As the Mandarins ripen on the political vine their numbers and influence increase out of all proportion to political reality.
We don’t vote for Mandarins: we vote for members of Parliament, and we expect them to deliver good Government.
If they don’t, we can vote them out. Mandarins, do not and can not deliver good Government.
They think they can, but they can’t.
To put it bluntly, they don’t have any skin in the game. They say they do, but they are not held responsible at the ballot box – all they have to lose is their job.
Politicians lose Government, and that is a much more significant burden.
I ask you to think about this when you next cast your vote.
Do you want to assist in the ‘ Ripening of the Mandarins ‘?
Or do you want to have a Parliament which is responsible to you?
The answer should be obvious.