Threatened by shadows at night, and exposed in the light… Making the most of axing public servants

Tim Flannery
Tim Flannery (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Part of the narrative stemming from the change of government has been occupied with criticising (and, perhaps, not critiquing) the Abbott Government’s decision to scrap a number of public service institutions.  The criticism has been interesting if for no other reason than its reverence for the status quo.

The case of the Climate Commission is the most notable.  As part of the ALP’s failure to lead the public debate on climate change, the ALP established the Climate Commission in February 2011 to provide expert advice and information on climate change to the Australian community.  Since then, it’s done surprisingly little.  It barely manages to update its webpage.

During 2012, the Commission looks forward to meeting with many more, and will be producing new information on the science and impacts of climate change as well as the opportunities – in Australia and worldwide – that acting on climate change will bring. [Source: ‘About the Commission’, (accessed 24 Sep 2013)]

Recent past events include two community fora in June, then nothing since December 2012.  It doesn’t seem to have published anything since November 2012 (although this could be wrong — the website is difficult to navigate to find its latest publications).

In other words, this was an expensive white elephant.

Continue reading “Threatened by shadows at night, and exposed in the light… Making the most of axing public servants”

But can you put your hands on your head? … Role of Government in Society

Over on Henry Sherrell’s blog, he posted the survey from the Centre for Policy Development about the role of government in society.  Read his post.  Trust me.  Read that and then come back here for my comments.

What do you think about the role of government and public services in the 21st century?

The State ought to be the locus of the public’s cultural and moral aspirations.  The State should exist for the purpose of facilitating the polity to express its cultural and moral aspirations and to realise them.

At the very least, the State ought to prevent market failures.

Has the relationship been shaky? What are some ideas to bring the love back?

The State has been unable to defend itself against toxic political and economic theories.  The Public Service continues to play the role of the abused dog: desperately loyal and seeking the affection of government and the public, despite the routine abuse it gets in exchange.  It has not helped that there have been some exceptional ratbags in the public service who have gone beyond their remit.  The Australian public service has suffered the reputation of the US’ public servants.

Australian universities continue to suffer poor global rankings for political theory and public policy.  An Australian narrative of the public service would help to construct a better dialogue between society and the service.

What is the APS doing well?

…  SBS and the ABC.  The APS doesn’t do anything superrogatory because it is generally risk averse.  It satisfies all of its obligations but doesn’t go any further.

What is your favourite agency / why?

I find it difficult to play favourites.

Australian National Audit Office.  They’re one of the most underrated agencies and yet they prove time and time again why we can and ought to trust the State more than the market.  While private sector proves time and time again that it is unable to self regulate, the ANAO shines as proof that the guards can guard the guards themselves.

Australian Bureau of Statistics.  Where other agencies try to flaunt themselves as world leaders, the ABS really is.  Few agencies have been as keen to embrace innovations as the ABS.  Take, for example, ABS’ use of Creative Commons to facilitate even greater amounts of data into the public debate.

How can the APS better help our environment, society and economy face our biggest challenges?

The APS is in desperate need of a restructure.  The problem was caused by governments playing merry hell with the remit of portfolios to the extent that the work of agencies is counter-intuitive.  This is particularly true for ‘service’ agencies.  There are too many agencies which try to straddle policy and service.

Most of all, the Public Service Commissioner should be appointed in a fashion similar to the Auditor-General, with all public servants (or, at the very least, all department heads) being appointed by her alone.  The APS should not be so dependent on the government if it is to serve the government.