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Tag Archives: Australian Public Service

The puppet masters

Before the time of Gough Whitlam, the public service were largely responsible for the formulation and co-ordination of policy and senior public servants made the important decisions. The Prime Minister had a single press secretary and ministers of the Crown relied on a very small staff to perform administrative and secretarial duties.

Whitlam created an office employing political staff to help strengthen an executive administration to formulate and implement policies. This continued under successive Prime Ministers with Howard overseeing an expansion of political staff in the Australian government to about 450 and the establishment of a government staff committee to take a tight reign over staff appointments.

As Nicholas Reece points out in the SMH

“TV programs such as The West Wing, In the Loop and The Hollowmen reflect the shift that has occurred in the balance of power in government from public servants to political staffers compared with the days of Yes Minister.”

And amongst these staffers, Abbott’s Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin, has arguably achieved more power than any of her predecessors. She and her husband Brian Loughnane run the Star Chamber with an iron fist, deciding who gets what job, who may speak to the media and when, and dictating what people will be told, much to the chagrine of Coalition backbenchers like Senator MacDonald.

Reece goes on to say:

“Credlin holds the ultimate backroom role in Australian politics. Despite her extraordinary power, she does not hold an elected position. She is not appointed by the cabinet, nor is she directly subject to the scrutiny of Parliament. And she does not do press conferences that would allow open questioning by journalists.”

Unless of course, it’s to make the bizarre disclosure that Abbott “allowed” her to keep her IVF drugs in his office fridge. For a very private woman, that was a very private thing to share publicly.

Not only do we have unelected, unaccountable, often inexperienced, staffers dictating policy, we also are paying a fortune to media spin doctors for them to sell their wares.

In August 2012, the Australian reported that

“TAXPAYERS are spending about $150 million a year on an army of spin doctors to sell the Gillard government’s policies to voters.

Figures obtained by The Australian reveal there are about 1600 staff employed by federal government departments and agencies in media, communications, marketing and public affairs roles.

Opposition Senate leader Eric Abetz seized on the figures to accuse Labor of focusing on spin over substance and vowed to cut the numbers if in government.

Senator Abetz said he believed it would cost taxpayers an average of about $100,000 a year to keep each staff member in their job, once salary, entitlements and equipment were factored in. He said a Coalition government would cut the numbers.

“This is literally a battalion, if not an army, of spin doctors. What this highlights yet again is the government’s concentration on spin. They do get the initial message out very well, but the policy underpinning it and the administrative follow-up is always a shambles. Most Australians would agree that spin doctors are not necessarily a core business of a lot of these departments,” he said.”

Unfortunately, those heartening words from Senator Abetz as he decried the waste, turned out to be…spin.

In March 2014, the Canberra Times reported that:

“The federal government’s ”army” of spin doctors and communications staff has grown to more than 1900, based on data supplied by departments and agencies.

An analysis of answers to questions on notice supplied to a Senate committee shows staffers in government media, communications and marketing operations have increased by several hundred in two years and could be costing taxpayers as much as $190 million a year.

Public Service Minister Eric Abetz said the government was conscious of the growth of its spin machine and hinted action was being considered. Responding to the latest figures, the minister said they showed ”the approximate level of communications staffing that the Coalition inherited from the former government after the election”.

Of course – it is an example of Labor’s waste that the Coalition have had to employ more spin doctors.

And chief amongst these spin doctors is Mark Textor.

For the 2004 federal election campaign for John Howard, Textor was credited for the “who do you trust” campaign strategy refocusing key trust questions back on the then Opposition Leader’s economic competence – a line Tony Abbott recycled. In 2012 he was strategist and pollster for Campbell Newman’s Liberal National Party election campaign.

We also have “Tex” to thank for the catch cry quote: “We will stop the boats, stop the big new taxes, end the waste, and pay back the debt.”

So confident is Textor of his position, in November last year he felt it appropriate to tweet about Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister Marty Natalegawa, whom he likened to a 1970s Pilipino [sic] porn star, also questioning his ethics.

Textor’s company profile says:

“Mark’s direct clients have included governments, premiers and opposition leaders in six countries and the CEOs and Boards of major Australian and multi-national companies in a broad range of industries, including; mining, fast moving consumer goods (FMCG), pharmaceutical, retail, financial services, banking (“Big Four”), tobacco, renewable energies, oil, gas and farming sectors.”

It’s a bit rich for a man who will say anything for money to be lecturing on ethics.

Australia’s Power Index acknowledged his skill with the focus group.

“He’s a genius at transforming raw research into compelling communication – someone who presses people’s emotional buttons, identifies points of division, and boils complex issues down to their core.”

This is the man who has sold the message of fear and division, and is praised for so doing.

As reported in the Guardian

“In Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia, Crosby Textor declares it is paid to lobby on behalf of the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association.

APPEA is the peak industry group for the oil and gas industry and among other things, speaks on behalf of Australia’s booming coal seam gas industry.

Crosby Textor also carries out research for industry groups such as the Queensland Resources Council – the peak body for mining in the state.

Crosby Textor also lists on the lobby registers other clients including Research In Motion (the makers of BlackBerry), property developers, a plastics company, a recycling firm, a business making biofuels and a charity that aims to better protect cyclists.”

How can we expect honesty and integrity from a government which is run by a woman who craves personal power without accountability and a man who has a vested interest in manipulating opinion and policy in favour of his clients?


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Abbott’s tyrannical silencing of 1,892,100 possibly critical political opinions

Image from pinterest.com

Image from pinterest.com

The recent directive from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet on the lack of freedom of speech public servants have as private citizens, includes the expectation that government employees will dob in colleagues they believe are criticising the government.

This report in the Guardian, linked above, begins with a declaration by Tony Abbott before he became PM:

There is no case, none, to limit debate about the performance of national leaders. The more powerful people are, the more important the presumption must be that less powerful people should be able to say exactly what they think of them.

I’m baffled as to why this noble sentiment isn’t applied to public servants. Engaging anonymously on social media is no protection for them, as is evidenced by the sacking of Immigration Department employee Michaela Banerji who tweeted critically of the department using a pseudonym, and lost her job.

In subsequent action, Ms Banerji argued that there is an constitutionally implied freedom of political communication for public servants, however, the prospective costs of prolonged legal action caused her to withdraw and settle out of court, leaving the claim untested.

There are some 1,892,100 public servants in Australia, accounting for 16.4 per cent of the workforce. None of them are permitted to offer personal political opinions critical of the government on social media. It is unlikely that this restriction will be challenge by an individual. The government has deep pockets and access to the best advice, when it comes to defending legal action against it. Yet it would seem a matter of urgency that a challenge to such tyranny is launched.

It is tyrannical to forcibly silence critical political opinion with the threat of loss of livelihood. While no one can reasonably endorse public servants using knowledge obtained in the course of their work to criticise the government of the day, general personal opinion, of the kind expressed by Ms Banerji in her tweets ought to be permitted, unless the government is so insecure it cannot bear scrutiny.

A robust and confident government should not fear robust critique. Politicians need to be reminded that they have their jobs only because the electorate allows them that privilege. Stifling dissent will never endear governments to the citizenry. Part of a politician’s job is to weather the inevitable storms of criticism, and if they are too weak to do this, they are too weak to govern a country.

Human Rights Commissioner for Freedom, Tim Wilson, has this interesting take on the responsibility of public servants to the governments that employ them, noting that respect and civilising behaviour are the admirable goals of speech conduct codes.

As Mr Wilson once tweeted that protesters should have a water cannon turned on them, his notions of civilised behaviour are likely unreliable:

@timwilsoncomau Walked past Occupy Melbourne protest, all people who think freedom of speech = freedom 2 b heard, time wasters … send in the water cannons

Wilson also draws a comparison between criticism and respect, which to my mind is totally false. Respect does not, and never has implied inevitable agreement or lack of criticism. It is a very dangerous conflation Mr Wilson makes, and it is especially concerning that the Commissioner for Freedom (I still don’t know what that means) seems unable or unwilling to consider the complexities of competing rights.

My sympathies are with the many people I know who work for the government. To live in the knowledge that one must be constantly aware of one’s speech for fear of losing one’s job is not how one expects to dwell in a liberal democracy. It is absolutely unacceptable that so many Australians must live this way, with the additional fear that a colleague may at any time dob them in. I am at a loss as to understand just what kind of society the Abbott government envisions for our country. The tyrannical silencing of so many people because it is too weak to withstand critical commentary, does not augur well.

If any public servant wants to be an un-named source, he or she is very welcome on this blog.

This article was first posted on Jennifer’s blog “No Place For Sheep” and reproduced with permission.


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The modern day Aussie woman is a phenomena, not a relic

When will all those attention-seeking, headline craving sexist males accept that the modern day woman is not a relic? Nor an object. She is a phenomena.

Let’s face it; the treatment of Australian women from the good ‘old Aussie blokes’ is appalling. No woman is immune. It matters not if they hold the highest office in the land or one far less prestigious. Equally as appalling is the alleged calibre of the perpetrators: those that espouse to be pillars of society. Those who seek respect from others but themselves offer none. It is the public display of sexism from political figureheads or aspirants that disgusts me the most. Do these people realise that their behaviour towards the Prime Minister – clearly a person they dislike – is degrading to most women – not just the Prime Minister – as well as being considered grossly offensive by an equal number of men?

Menugate is the latest in a long line of sexist degradation aimed at the lady at the top. Just being a woman with a job makes her vulnerable. She should be at home ironing.

It seems that some hold old values that not only demean Australia women but pretend to know what their place should be in our society; both economic and cultural.

Tony Abbott, for example, is one of those.

He had his audience in raptures a year or so back with his comment that women should stay home and iron, or something to that effect. Although the laughter has died down, the image has not. It is an image that was all too familiar in this country: the barefoot and pregnant housewife. There’s nothing like a good old fashioned stereotype to remind women of their subordinate roles.

He never retracted that comment, which suggests he still carries that ideology. His ideology is stupid and out of touch with reality. He is not alone, however, as we have seen recently.

Mr Abbott is a fool if he thinks the modern day woman wants to stay home and iron, and a bigger fool for saying it. His party faithful and media friends have displayed equally breathtaking foolishness over the last week. Women should not be stereotyped, especially into the role model they expect of them. Instead of barking at everybody how the carbon price is going to destroy the universe or the refugee boats destroy our country, try grasping something in the real world. Here’s a start: woman don’t want to stay home and iron. They want to work. They want jobs and careers. They want what their mothers fought for. It’s been that way for 40 years. Try recognising them in today’s world.

A number of reasons could be proposed that explain the prejudice. The obvious is that women are seen as less capable as white Australian males, or perhaps it is a power struggle that excludes women because of the historical social construct of male dominance.

This is where I will discuss why they are a phenomena, not a relic. To do so allow me the liberty of putting on the teacher’s hat and give a history lesson on how they have fought for their rights to work and belong in an environment and society that has always wanted to exclude them. Society wanted them to stay home and iron. But here’s something some people need to wake up to: the modern day woman doesn’t. She wants to be treated as an equal.

And so begins the history lesson.

Not many women had jobs until World War 2. During the war female participation in the workforce was buoyed by the necessities of the time, however, at the conclusion of the war in 1945 the workforce returned to male domination.

Feminists groups could easily considerthat capitalists, unions and governments had conspired to discourage employment opportunities for women, and indeed, the unevenness of the gender balance in employment was not seriously addressed until the 1970s. Two significant events that opened up opportunities for women were equal pay and the efforts to remove sexual discrimination.

The gender distribution has also been evened by two other agencies. Firstly, the life expectancy of women has increased as has their availability to work. Secondly, and more significantly, many traditional male jobs have become redundant due to automation, especially computers. Women are now the skilled workers in this new work culture.

The employment nature in 1945 was influenced by the demands of World War 2, creating in Australia one of those moments in history where women were brought into the workforce because their labour was needed and not because of their own desires in the matter.

I could put my head on the chopping block here by claiming his indicates that women were used as only a reserve of labour – and discarded at will – that governments and capitalists have historically maintained the subordination of women in the workforce for capital’s interest.

Whatever the argument, immediately after 1945 the gender composition of the workforce was extremely male dominant. Over the next fifty years this dominance was addressed and moderated.

Without transgressing too far from the issue of gender composition, it is worth considering what my female friends argue is behind the traditional male dominance. Some claim that work conditions had been regulated to exclude women from areas of male dominance, adding that governments pursued policies that have either re-enforced women’s dependant position in the home or locked them into dependency on welfare. The Australian labour force was highly segmented against women. There was a huge gap in inequality of employment (that would delight Mr Abbott and his ilk), being:

  • differences in access opportunities;
  • differences in job tenure and security;
  • segregation within jobs and industries; and
  • differences in earnings and benefits.

From 1947 a steady growth in the percentage of women in the workforce has been recorded. Possible causes of this growth in women’s labour force participation can be attributed to the following events:

1949: Female pay rate fixed at 75% of male rate

1949: Women admitted to the Australian Public Service

1966: Abolition of Marriage Bar in the Australian Public Service (married women now able to be permanently employed)

1972: Equal pay for work of equal value

1984: Sex Discrimination Act

1986 also is significant as the federal government introduced the Affirmative Action Agency to administer the Equal Opportunity for Women Act due to continuing concern in the workforce participation and income disparities between men and women.

If women had been deliberately kept from the workforce, then this period represents a push for employment opportunities. Up to the 1960s in particular, women were considered mentally, physically and intellectually inferior to men and thus unable to perform men’s traditional tasks. Since the 1970s, feminist’s movements have won new freedoms for women. The right to work has been one as has equal pay for equal work.

Given the steady increase in female participation in the workforce it indicates that the gradual introduction of equal pay/opportunities and the removal of discriminatory practices have affected gender distribution.

But there is another dimension: the social factor, that is, the opportunity to be able to seek employment. Contrasting a woman born in 1945 with the scenario of that of the particular woman’s grandmother, on average, the grandmother married when she was aged twenty-five, had her last baby when she was forty, and died aged not quite sixty. By contrast, her granddaughter married when she was aged twenty-two, had her last child when she was thirty and expected to live on to seventy. In other words, the granddaughter would have at least twice as many years to work after her last child went to school as did her grandmother.

The social factor is also considered important. Steadily over the past fifty years the working woman, and in particular the working mother is a more familiar role than prior to World War 2, as are the socialisation processes that working encourages. Without work it is difficult to participate in community life, and this is reflected in women’s increasing participation in work as an explicit response to their marginalisation in society.

Gender differences in the workforce are now also influenced by economics rather than political or social factors.

There has also been a massive change in the nature of the Australian labour force. Whereas most people had been employed in the primary sector (farming and mining), secondary industries (manufacturing), and in tertiary (service), the last fifteen years has witnessed growth in the quaternary (information processing) services.

Male job displacement had a very humble start. The introduction of the typewriter brought women into the workforce at the expense of men writing by hand. It was only natural from there that women progressed to computing and other clerical or office positions.

Workplace discrimination against has decreased significantly since 1972. That year saw the introduction of ‘equal pay for equal work,’ and the Sex Discrimination Act (1985) further provided women with greater employment opportunities. Minority groups have also benefited from various State and Federal anti-discrimination initiatives. However, evidence suggests that discrimination exists beyond equal pay and equal employment opportunities. This is an issue for concern as over seventy percent of all complaints lodged with the Commissioner for Equal Opportunity are about discrimination in employment.

Despite the changes in the social context of society, there still exists a degree of negativity towards working women. I’ve heard mention of a ‘glass ceiling, or wall of subtle discrimination’ as a barrier to jobs or career advancement, while a more feminist’s view would suggest that women’s experiences are associated with oppression in the power structure. Both these have merit, whilst others would argue that work conditions have traditionally been regulated to exclude women from areas of male dominance.

Other views are less ‘radical’, suggesting that males assume they are less interested in the job and more tied to their family, such as staying home and doing the ironing. These ‘familial ideologies’ that place women into a ‘narrow band of expectations’ which oppresses them, has not disappeared into history, but lives on in the likes of Tony Abbott and his pack of loyalists.

Well, there’s my take, a simple view from a male. We have evolved into a society where women are now major players on the employment, economic, political and social landscapes. We need them there. We would collapse without them.

Don’t be surprised if the modern day woman doesn’t want to stay home and iron. They might prefer to keep what they’ve fought for.

So please, show them some respect. It’s not man’s world … anymore. Women own it too. They don’t deserve to be treated like they were in our grandparent’s day, a relic to put on a menu or to stay at home doing the ironing.

The modern day Aussie woman is a phenomenon of the times. Our times.


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