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Rot in the Civil Service: Farewelling Mike Pezzullo

There was no better example of Australia’s politicised public service than its Home Affairs Secretary, Mike Pezzullo. In most other countries, he would have been the ideal conspirator in a coup, a tittletattler in the ranks and bound to brief against those he did not like. Give him a dagger, and he was bound to use it.

His rise to power paralleled that of the emergence of that super amalgam of a ministry that arose during the Turnbull government. Falling for the fatal error that centralising power assures the consolidation of efficiency, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was swayed by arguments that a broader ministry of home affairs was just the sort of thing Australia needed. What the Commonwealth got in 2017, instead, was a monster run by the twin-headed beast of Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, and Secretary Pezzullo.

The extent of Pezzullo’s involvement in the machinations of government, and, it followed, party policy, was revealed by texts sent to Liberal Party lobbyist and former vice president of the NSW Liberals, Scott Briggs. These became the subject of a joint investigation mounted by The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and 60 Minutes.

In August 2018, when the nation’s capital was privy to yet another potential palace coup against a sitting Prime Minister, Pezzullo was opening up to Briggs with indiscreet relish. In one message he longed to be part of history. “I don’t want to interfere but you won’t be surprised to hear that in the event of Scomo [Scott Morrison] getting up I would like to see [Peter] Dutton come back to HA [Home Affairs]. No reason for him to stay on the backbench that I can see.” Briggs does not demur.

Pezzullo’s targets in the government varied. Defence Minister Marise Payne was deemed “completely ineffectual” and a poor fit for office. Former Liberal Attorney-General George Brandis was excoriated for befuddling public servants, though Pezzullo’s reasons for doing so are clear: it was Brandis, as Australia’s top legal officer, who expressed concerns that Canberra did not need a ministry of such size.

While the Coalition was in power, Pezzullo was coarsely candid about his feelings on war and conflict. Fancying himself as something of a historian, he told gathered staff in his 2021 ANZAC Day address that Australians best prepare for war. “Today, as free nations again hear the beating drums and watch worryingly the militarisation of issues that we had, until recent years, thought unlikely to be catalysts for war, let us continue to search unceasingly for the chance for peace while bracing again, yet again, for the curse of war.” The speech is marked by a blatant misuse and misunderstanding of the legacies left by two US generals: Douglas MacArthur and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Fittingly, Pezzullo ignores one vital aspect of MacArthur: his sacking for being a bit too defiant of the commander-in-chief of the time, President Harry S. Truman.

Australia’s much more modest version of that commander, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, has now received the findings of an independent inquiry into Pezzullo’s conduct conducted by Lynnelle Briggs. In a short statement untroubled by any fuss, Albanese revealed that Pezzullo’s position as department secretary had been terminated.

We have little to go on regarding the substance of the findings. But press reports note that the now former secretary used his duty, power, status or authority to gain benefits and advantages for himself; engaged in gossip and disrespectful critique of ministers and public servants; failed to keep sensitive government information confidential; failed to remain apolitical in his office and failed to disclose any relevant conflicts of interest.

Unfortunately, the report itself will not be made public, an unsatisfactory state of affairs that does little to restore confidence in the civil service. The argument advanced in this case is that publication will lead to the disclosure of personal information. But what of it? The insinuation here is hard to avoid: keeping such an investigation buried suggests a closed shop, with officials keen to keep matters out of the public glare. Given that Pezzullo was the most notable panjandrum in Canberra’s bureaucratic tangle, the rot is hardly likely to have remained at the head. Who else, the question must be asked, breached protocol? The list is likely to be ugly and long.

As former Senator Rex Patrick stated, Albanese “has done the right and necessary thing in terminating Mike Pezzullo’s appointment as Home Affairs Secretary. But in the interests of transparency and accountability he must also table Lynelle Briggs’s report in Parliament today.”

Having left the Australian Public Service Code in tatters, Pezzullo will undoubtedly find himself on the board of a defence or security company and take his place in the military-industrial complex. He might finally get a chance to join a thinktank. His sacking, however, was the culmination of a culture long in the making. Over the decades, the major parties have made political appointments a matter of course, subordinating expertise and fearless advice to party loyalties. Perversely enough, Pezzullo was a perfect exponent of that tendency: a political civil servant. The result: Canberra is awash and sinking with officialdom terrified to take a different stance to the political agenda of the day. Agree with those in government, or risk languishing, demotion or worse.

 

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16 comments

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  1. Clakka

    Yay! Good riddance to bad rubbish. In his wake, lots to do cleaning up his fetid mess. Next stop would surely have to be DHS. Let’s hope similar positive cleansing actions are taken before it gets drawn into the maelstrom of the NACC.

  2. GL

    How sad to to see Pete’s pustular pestiferous petrifyingly putrid pet get the chop.

  3. Michael Taylor

    If this dickwit had passed on classified information he could be in serious trouble.

    In the Public Service we sign a confidentiality statement, and if we breach such commitment we face, at the least, dismissal. At worst, jail time (with a maximum of 20 years).

    Leaving the Public Service doesn’t exempt us. We are to stay silent for life.

  4. Phil Pryor

    GL, stop it!

  5. Harry Lime

    I’d like to think that the sins of the alpha baboon are closing in on him.Like that other serial fuckwit Morrison,Dutton has a form sheet longer than any crook he imagined he was better than.And, like Morrison, he has poisoned everything he has ever touched.

  6. JulianP

    “Disgraced public servant Michael Pezzullo has stood down from his role as Home Affairs Secretary and will work as a partner at accounting firm PwC while an investigation into his conduct takes place…

    …PwC said Pezzullo, who is accused of misusing his role to influence Government decision-making, will fit right in at the firm. “Michael has a proven track record in misunderstanding the words ‘confidential’, ‘impartiality’ and ‘honesty’. We’re looking forward to sharing his classified Government information with our clients,” a spokesperson said…

    The spokesperson said Pezzullo shared a love of spinning absolute bullshit. “Pezzullo once said ‘An apolitical public service is one of the key institutions of the Westminster system’. And we have ‘Act With Integrity’ listed as one of the ‘core values’ on our website. So I think it’ll be a lot of fun working together”.”
    [ https://theshovel.com.au/2023/09/26/michael-pezzullo-to-start-new-role-at-pwc-next-week/ ]

  7. GL

    Stop what? He asked innocently (while trying to remove the slowly tightening halo of purity around his neck).

  8. Andrew Smith

    One wonders why so long…? Suppose we should be grateful that a commercial MSM outfit actually did LNP’s job for them; better late than never….

  9. New England Cocky

    About bloody time. Now what criminal charges will be made ….. or will Pezzullo. like Morticia, be excused public accountability and escape into the bowels of the Murdoch Media Monopoly.

    @ PP: You have inspired a fresh generation of Australian poets, keen to illiterate their way into Australian literary history>

    @ GL: Did you miss the seventh ”p” ….. ”push” rather than ”chop” perhaps?

  10. GL

    NEC, No, I don’t expect any charges will be made, most likely the poisonous Pezzulo will just be allowed to absquatulate with his ill-gotten gains and pension intact. Then sometime in the future he will be snapped up as a lobbyist by a corporation that has ties with the Libs.

  11. Phil Pryor

    There’s nothing like a dissipated intensity, a dispersed concentration, a lighthearted grimness here, for we comment into the fierce winds of indifference, of conformity, of a careless she’llberight emptiness. But taking up the cause of some reason, of progressive policy, of decency and fairness in life, especially by the political class of self centred me first to last types, is essential. Things seem doomed to poverty of commitment and our world future might be doomed already. But, all comment here adds to another round or two…Of course, the departure of the repellant, repulsive, remorseless, regrettable, reptilian rotter Pezzullo is quite delightful over coffee.

  12. Terence Mills

    One of the findings reported is that ‘Pezzullo used his duty, power, status or authority to seek to gain a benefit or advantage for himself.

    Whilst we can accept that he was a partisan player what we really need to know more about are the ‘benefits and advantages’ he sought for himself : that could be unlawful – i.e. playing politics is a sacking offence but personal gain implies criminality.

  13. Max Gross

    The fact that the LABOR government refuses to make the enquiry findings public tells me all I need to know: the rot tuns deeps and is endemic, regardless of who is in government.

  14. GL

    Terence,

    And like J. Edgar Hoover, the pollies of the two major parties will be scared shitless about what dirt files Pezzulo has stashed away over the years. Best to let him fade away.

  15. New England Cocky

    @ Max Gross: Agreed. Pezzullo has prostituted Australian politics and possibly exposed government secrets to unknown entities. He and other COALition self-servers should correctly suffer the full weight of public humiliation ….. if such scum bags can feel humiliation.

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