Will a Coalition Government have to deal with a bureaucracy stacked with Labor mates parachuted in to protect them? Mates who would run interference on the Coalition Government and hence improve the chances of Labor taking Government in the following election? I think this is a significant risk.
Labor has a strategy, the Embassy Rooftop Strategy, last used in 1996:
It involved, among other things, warehousing of valued staffers in the bureaucracy, earmarking and retention of documents likely to be useful in opposition, and ways to protect the seats of talented MPs so they would be available to help Labor rebuild.
Keating was not told about it. He would have gone off his face had he known. But those involved are convinced the strategy laid the groundwork for Kim Beazley’s near win over John Howard in 1998.
Back in 1996, they didn’t fuel up the choppers until quite close to the election, partly because Keating’s awesome political skills gave the party hope until near the end.
But Gillard’s political skills are not in the Keating class, and voters have given plenty of notice of what is in store for Labor.
The Coalition will need to be quite ruthless if elected, as there seems to be quite a few department heads (and numerous senior executive service officers) who will surreptitiously (but deliberately) work against the Coalition’s interests. Special projects might be a boom employment scheme for some government officials.
But if the Coalition Government fails to act quickly and decisively an acceleration in the stacking of the public service will help improve the chances of Labor returning to the Treasury benches earlier than otherwise. It could do worse than follow the advice of George S. Patton Jr. who said
May God have mercy upon my enemies, because I won’t.
This is NOT about competence. For any position there are many potentially competent appointments. It is choosing competent and sympathetic people who are committed to the philosophies of the Coalition to key bureaucratic positions (ie secretaries and deputy secretaries). At the very least it is appointing genuinely impartial and competent officers and rooting out those that will sabotage the Government’s agenda.
Labor does this – selecting competent people who are Labor-friendly and committed to Labor ideologies. Indeed competent people, who fundamentally disagree with Coalition policy, are more likely to be sure of their own position and be able to rationalise their actions of surreptitiously undermining policy and the implementation of policy.
But will an Abbott Government be ruthless? I was surprised to read that the Baillieu Government has appointed Pradeep Philip as Secretary of the Department of Health. Philip moved from a junior Treasury position to work for the Rudd opposition, then to Senior Adviser in Rudd’s office, before being parachuted to a Deputy Secretary position in the Victoria Brumby Government after Rudd’s demise. Baillieu kept him on, and has now promoted him. Is the Coalition so devoid of talent that people with known ALP sympathies are appointed to high office?
So far it seems that the Coalition is only looking at appointments to regulatory agencies – APRA and the RBA. In the Financial Review on 18 and 20 February (“Coalition may reject Labor appointments” and “Hockey’s threat raises questions of performance”), Joe Hockey states – rightly in my view – that a Coalition Government will not feel obligated to honour five major regulatory appointments that are likely to be made before the election:
- three from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority for terms that expire on 30 June: Chairman John Laker, Deputy Ross Jones and member Ian Laughlin
- two from the Reserve Bank: Governor Glenn Stevens’ term expires in September and Jillian Broadbent’s Board position expires in May.
Hockey and Abbott should go further – announcing that they will not honour appointments to departmental secretary positions also (unless consulted by the Government and agreeing to any appointment).
Take just one example of the Secretary of the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Blair Comley, who is very well-connected to Labor and strongly opinionated. Back in April 2012 I pondered how he would manage the blue book briefing for the Opposition – ie: covering the abolition of that department.
Well he won’t have too. The Prime Minister has announced that Comley will be transferred to become the Secretary of the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism. He has managed to jump ship from his sinking department.
Furthermore, the Prime Minister has decided to restart the clock on Comley’s appointment to five years from March 2013.
The announcement of Comley’s initial promotion and appointment as Secretary of the Department of Climate Change was made on 21 December 2010. Comley took up his post in February 2011 so his five-year appointment would normally expire in February 2016.
There is no need (although it has occurred several times under the Gillard Government) to extend the appointment even further to March 2018 as the Prime Minister has done. This has just created a contingent liability for the taxpayer for no benefit. Section 58(1) of the Public Service Act 1999 simply states
The Prime Minister may appoint a person to be the Secretary of a Department for a period of up to 5 years specified in the instrument of appointment.
Why not just appoint Comley (and the others) to the new departments for a period that corresponds to the expiry date of their original (or renewed) appointment instrument?
Meanwhile, Comley has decided to sign a 15 year lease for the premises for the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, which is due to be abolished under a Coalition Government. That’s a $158 million contract. Comley as the Chief Executive of the department has the power to sign such a lease. This is not a ministerial decision – the Public Service Act clearly puts the power and responsibility in the hands of the departmental secretary. Hopefully the Coalition will be checking carefully the processes that led to the signing of that lease. This is not to suggest that the lease is not above board – it probably is – but it does seem somewhat odd and deserves scrutiny.