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The unaccountable Ministers’ advisers

The irony of the government’s focus on its union-busting Ensuring Integrity Bill has been highlighted yet again by the devious dealings of another Ministerial adviser – this time in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Senior Adviser to the PM, Nico Louw, thought it would be a great idea to send a pirated version of Malcolm Turnbull’s book to all and sundry before its release.

That is theft.

On Insiders, Foreign Minister Marise Payne admitted she received a copy but said she deleted it. She denied it had come from the PM’s office, which was a stupid lie since the guy had already confessed.

In response to the interview, publisher Hardie Grant chief executive Sandy Grant said:

“When I watch a senior government minister saying they received stolen goods but can’t help us know where they came from, you despair.”

Mr Louw agreed to an out of court settlement in record time. It would be interesting to know who is paying for it.

Ministerial advisers are completely unaccountable.

In a research paper from 2002 titled Accountability of Ministerial Staff?, the author observed:

“The decision to attempt to prevent advisers appearing as witnesses is based on a premise that they are accountable to ministers, and that ministers account for the actions of their advisers. Whether ministers actually do so, however, is increasingly debatable.”

Time and again, rather than being held to account, we see these shadowy people protected.

There was the baffling decision by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecution that there was “no reasonable prospects of a conviction” for the unauthorised leak tipping off the media about raids on the AWU headquarters. This was despite the admission of Michaelia Cash’s chief of staff and media adviser that they did it.

“The court has previously heard Mr Davies passed on information about the raids to Mr De Garis after being alerted to them by Mark Lee, who was on secondment to the newly established ROC at the time and had been offered a job in Senator Cash’s office.”

Likewise, Angus Taylor’s dissemination to the Murdoch media of a forged document attacking Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore will go unpunished because the police didn’t bother asking Taylor, or anyone in his office, any questions.

“Following inquiries undertaken and information provided by NSW Police, the AFP has determined it is unlikely further investigation will result in obtaining sufficient evidence to substantiate a Commonwealth offence,” an AFP spokesperson said in a statement. “The AFP assessment of this matter identified there is no evidence to indicate the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction was involved in falsifying information.”

This was despite the fact that staffer Josh Manuatu was identified as the person who obtained the false figures that were used in a Daily Telegraph article that criticised Moore.

According to Angus Taylor, “The leader of the opposition and shadow attorney general’s pursuit of this matter is a shameful abuse of their office and a waste of our policing agencies’ time.”

Far from being punished, Manuatu was given the job of ACT Liberal Party Director and will be in charge of running the campaign in the territory election later this year.

In 2013, Ted Mack gave the Henry Parkes Oration – well worth the read if you have time.

He made the following observation about political staffers:

Over the last 30 years politicians’ staff has increased dramatically. At federal level there are now some 17 hundred personal staff to ministers and members. The states probably account for over two thousand more. Add to this the direct political infiltration of federal-state public services and quangos with hundreds more jobs for the boys and girls, there is now a well-established political class.

This has provided the political parties with a career path for members. In many cases it often produces skilled, partisan, “whatever it takes” warriors with a richly rewarded life through local state and federal governments to a well-funded retirement. Unfortunately while this career path, as Tony Fitzgerald states, does include principled well-motivated people … it also attracts professional politicians with little or no general life experience and unscrupulous opportunists, unburdened by ethics, who obsessively pursue power, money or both.

Exhibit A: Alex Hawke; Exhibit B: James Patterson; Exhibit C: Tim Wilson, Exhibit D: James McGrath.

In the name of “Ensuring Integrity”, either political staffers should be accountable to parliament and the law, or the Minister who employs them should take responsibility. The Sergeant Shultz defence is not credible.

One erstwhile ministerial staffer was quoted in Spectator describing his younger colleagues in the following manner:

The staffer brat is a twenty-something, arts degree graduate, typically moderate-leaning, Kool-Aid drinking political adviser.

With their Young Liberal membership firmly tucked in their chinos, they stroll the blue carpet of the Ministerial Wing with superficial busyness, often in the direction of free booze and networking. They flash their blue ministerial passes at Aussies to crush the spirits of junior staff who secured a rare trip to Canberra. They’ve seen the inside of the Qantas Chairman’s Lounge and they won’t let you forget it.

They greet senior ministers as close friends. They are the fly-in-fly-outs, over-promoted, under-qualified and full to brim with travel allowance to supplement their already over inflated salaries. They do not serve on the frontline, rarely accountable to voters and lean heavily on their department for support.

Their policy expertise often only extends to PVO Newshour and 140-character commentary. Their Instagram is laden with West Wing-style images of riding VIP jets, post-run selfies with the Foreign Minister and artsy pictures of the parliamentary courtyards

If these are the type of people who are employed to advise our Ministers, what hope have we got?

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  1. Matters Not


    Ministerial advisers are completely unaccountable

    Effectively. But perhaps not in theory. In Estimates and other occasions when the Minister is under the pump, the Opposition often attempt to question the advisors but invariably the Minister brushes aside such efforts by asserting that it is the Minister who is accountable to the Parliament and NOT the advisors. Ministers usually add that the advisor is accountable to the Minister and the Minister alone – at least when it comes to parliamentary matters.

    Terry Moran who headed the Public Service under Rudd and Gillard has been on about it for years and years. Here’s but one of his efforts.


    Terry Moran: I think there is a big problem. Ministerial advisers have become the black hole of accountability within our parliamentary democracy.

    The reason for that is that the old conventions governing their roles no longer hold true. In the past, if a public servant told a ministerial adviser something it would be deemed that they had told the minister, and the adviser would make sure the minister knew. In turn an adviser would speak with authority if they actually knew the minister’s wishes or had good reason to know what they would be.”*

  2. Phil Pryor

    Conventions in parliamentary circles have become fairy floss, as solid as farts, as honest as huns with bloodied knives, as reliable as a clapped out ancient whore or hobbled sportsman. Ministers rely on using staff as excuses, bait, spies, traitors, dummies (and they often are ) and also the staff hide under the ministers skirts (or jockstrap dependinjg on appendages) so who can the public trust, guarantee, rely upon?? Conservatives use the age old entitlement, supremacy, righteous, rowarded, anointed shit. Pox…

  3. Matters Not


    send a pirated version of Malcolm Turnbull’s book to all …

    One wonders re the legal situation (and not the convention). Not unusual for those affected (like the Prime Minister in this case) to receive an advance copy with the understanding (or even the explicit advice) that it is embargoed until a certain time. That this ‘leak’ was legally settled so quickly seems unusual. Were the police notified? Was there a case to be investigated by police? Hardly time to read the brief(s). So what was the quantum? etc

  4. Kaye Lee

    The publisher believes a copy of the ebook was “hacked” either from its own systems or its ebook supplier, and then made available online.

    The publisher claims Louw sent the book to people via a WhatsApp chat along with the message: “I’ve sent this to a million people, go for it, ha ha”. But the publisher says it believes there were multiple people inside the Liberal party distributing pirated digital copies.

    With legal action threatened, and the Australian Federal Police called upon to investigate further, the hunt for more leakers will no doubt continue.

    Leaks upon leaks: how the Libs ‘gleefully’ shared Turnbull’s book

  5. Bruce White

    I think that ministerial staffers should be bound by the rules of the Public Service Acts which public servants are bound by.That would mean that they could be ‘supeonaed’ to answer to parliamentary committees etc. as public servants are.There is an issue about ‘ministerial allowances’ being used to pay the salaries of these staffers. There is also an issue about security clearances for these people and what information they are permitted to classified documents,files,etc.
    Actually Kaye, were examples A,B,C,and D previously staffers before they became MPs?

  6. Kaye Lee

    Hawke briefly worked part-time in the private sector while studying at university in 1998, becoming an assistant-manager for Woolworths in the Hills District. Following graduation, he has exclusively worked as a political advisor, firstly as an electorate officer to Ross Cameron MP, Member for Parramatta. In 2001, he commenced work as an adviser to the Senator Helen Coonan, then Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer, advising on taxation, superannuation and insurance matters during the time of the HIH liquidation. Hawke has also worked as an adviser to David Clarke MLC and Ray Williams MP

    Paterson worked as a special adviser for Senator Mitch Fifield, and for several months as an intern for U.S. congressman Lincoln Díaz-Balart. He then worked as a writer for the Victorian Employers’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VECCI) before joining the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) as editor of the IPA Review publication

    Wilson was employed by the Institute of Public Affairs for seven years,

    McGrath is a former political strategist who worked with Lynton Crosby on Boris Johnson’s 2008 London mayoral campaign. Between 2009 and 2010, McGrath was the deputy federal director of the Liberal Party of Australia. He was campaign director for the Liberal National Party and the Country Liberal Party between 2010 and 2012.

  7. New England Cocky

    @Kaye Lee; re Hawke; the key figure in his political background is David Clarke MLC a faction leader I think generally considered far right. I think Coonan is off in some government quango.

    re Paterson & Wilson; both underwhelming, the IPA link stinks.

    re McGrath; Lynton Crosby of political campaign fame in Oz and UK.

    Obviously who you know in the Liarbral Party is more important than individual meritorious talent or concern for Australian voters.

  8. Kaye Lee

    McGrath is a particularly unsavoury character.

    In 2011 the then 38 year old campaign director was revealed as the architect behind a scheme to pay disgruntled former Labor staffer and candidate Robert Hough for dirt on government MPs.

    The LNP dirt file detailed a minister’s epilepsy and childhood adoption, claims about some politicians’ sexuality, sex lives, drinking habits and health matters, and included details of the schools of the children of government MPs.

    Senior LNP figures including president Bruce McIver and aspiring premier Campbell Newman denied knowing about the dirt files until The Courier-Mail raised the matter.

    They said LNP campaign director James McGrath and state director Michael O’Dwyer had been “strongly reprimanded” for commissioning the $3075 research but would not be sacked.

    Ooh Ah James McGrath

  9. Kronomex

    LNP: The hundreds of rules for you and no rules for us party.

  10. Geoff Andrews

    “They fined that Glug with a cast in his eye
    For looking both ways, which he couldn’t deny
    And for having no visible precedent, which
    Is a crime in the poor but a fault in the rich!”
    “The Glugs of Gosh” C. J Dennis 1917

    They’ve been at it for over 100 years

  11. RomeoCharlie29

    Regarding the electronic dissemination of Turnbull’s book and taking on board the apparently carefree manner in which copyright laws were transgressed, I still feel it difficult to sympathise with a sqillionaire (Annabel Crabbe’s description), serial litigator who keeps his money in a tax haven.

    Not saying it’s right but I wonder how many getting all righteous about copyright breaches can hold up their right hands and swear they have never watched a pirated film or tv series, GoT, anyone?

  12. leefe

    There used to be one unbreakable rule for politicians, advisors and senior public servants: Don’t get caught.
    That has now gone out the window.

  13. Diane

    Isn’t it an absolutely amazing coincidence too that in the random bunch of Australian tourists Morrison happened to bump into in Hawaii and pose with for a selfie, one of them could be the identical twin of Louw from the PM’s Office back home! It truly is a small world.

    I bet Scott and Jen were strolling along the beach front, while their kids were playing back at the hotel, and this bunch of tourists called out “Hey, omg, aren’t you the PM of Australia, hey Scotty come over here for a photo with us – no, not you, Jen, we don’t want you in the photo, here, you can take it…just press this button” and Scott said “Oh my, praise be to Houston, you look exactly like this young lad I have working in my office at home (makes a great coffee) of course I’ll have a photo with you random tourists, then Channel 7 can show it back home and prove I’m just like one of the ordinary people, who goes on an overseas ‘family’ holiday while the country is on fire and doesn’t get the tax payers of that country to pay for me to take all my hangers-on, Hillsong and Qanon mates along with me! Don’t worry, if any FOI requests come in afterwards asking how much they paid for my holiday, we’ll just refuse the request, no worries. How good are holidays?”

    Amazing coincidence.

  14. Kaye Lee

    Monthly financial accounts for March have been published

    The underlying cash balance for the 2019-20 financial year to 31 March 2020 was a deficit of $22,359 million against the 2019-20 MYEFO profile deficit of $12,454 million.

    As at 31 March 2020, net debt is $429,646 million.

    Just as a reminder of when they took over screaming about a debt and deficit disaster, “The net debt of the General Government sector is $161,253 million at 31 August 2013”.

    AGS on Issue (gross debt) $596.9b with another $10.5 billion to be issued next week.

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