Interesting Idea, Lousy Source

Voters don’t realise that electing a new government has the limited effect of changing about eight people in a single Minister’s office, who may oversee 15,000 entrenched public servants.

So Godwin Grech’s suggestion  of a post-election spill of all SES-level public servants is worth considering. Pity that coming from him it undermines its own argument for public sector accountability, and pity it was buried in an article that lauded the Coalition.

Public sector reform must address the core issue of an ALP-stacked bureaucracy and tribunate, but doing so as part of a partisan communication isn’t going to get far.

The need for frank-and-fearless advice is always trotted out in this debate. But the combination of stacking and spanking that the previous NSW ALP government practised destroyed that even without a spill.

The reality is that both sides of politics make politically-based bureaucratic appointments. The reality also is that the ALP does so egregiously, and in a way that is many orders of magnitude more damaging to public sector functioning than the timid and (thankfully) restricted stacking from the Right.

Look at the backgrounds of the independent arbiters at Fair Work Australia. Or at the  review  of the FW Act.  So much for no perception of bias.

Indeed, recent Coalition governments have been scrupulous in their hiring processes (see NSW’s approach and Public Service Commission), to the dismay of some less-thoughtful party climbers.

Unfortunately, scrupulous hiring from a broken organisation has resulted in the continuation of ALP-hackery with a Coalition stamp. I  could point to a large number of NSW public servants who aren’t in the public eye. but that wouldn’t be fair.

The problems with NSW’s approach are that hacks remain in decisionmaking roles; and that experience in bureaucracy becomes an entrée to further appointment.

When ALP ministerial staffers have been parachuted into roles across various departments  from Deputy-Director level to 4 steps down the hierarchy, it is no surprise that Coalition Ministerial offices complain of being “Sir Humphrey-ed“.

This  is particularly the case in contentious areas with highly ideological staff, and in some of those areas it’s going to get worse as policy reforms start to bite.

A broader question is the normalisation of Leftist thinking within the bureaucracy. There’s a problem when the culture of the public service demonises the centre or the centre-right as extreme, and is supported by left-leaning social policy researchers who equate rational with their own prejudices.

Hack-stacking and normalised leftism can only be addressed by personnel change. And that can only be addressed by substantially different personnel management in the public sector. A post-election spill may be one answer, but without comprehensive structure under it, I am yet to be convinced.

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