He said that

Ken Henry

No government has ever thought it appropriate to remove the head of the Treasury and put in someone who is … of a more comfortable political character. Now, I’m not saying that is what has motivated the Prime Minister on this occasion, it may be, but I really don’t know. But if that is what’s intended, that would be a very disappointing move and quite a historic one.

J.R. Nethercote in today’s Canberra Times

Has he no recall, even second-hand recall, of Gough Whitlam’s bid to unseat Sir Frederick Wheeler in 1975, if necessary by translating him to the governorship of the Reserve Bank?

I find the conceit of these secretaries and former secretaries quite amazing. They actually believe they have the job because they are heads and shoulders above the competition, when in reality many have the job because of Labor political connections. That’s not to suggest that the appointees are necessarily bad, just that there are many others who could do the job equally well, perhaps better.

It’s fine to accept the job on the basis of political connections – just don’t complain when there is a change of government and the new government wants to make some changes at the top. I watched a number of top public servants rise rapidly to the top because of these connections. Good for them. But don’t make the assumption that the top echelon of the public service is necessarily there purely on merit. But the hubris of thinking that they are necessarily better than others is concerning.

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26 Responses to He said that

  1. steve

    suck it up, Ken, you partisan schmuck!!

  2. Paul

    What about John Stone in 1983….

  3. AP

    Perhaps Abbott wanted someone in the role who was COMPETENT!

  4. Louis Hissink

    Translating? Surely transferring.

  5. Bruce of Newcastle

    remove the head of the Treasury and put in someone who is … of a more comfortable political character

    No one needs to be put in. As I’ve said before Treasury is hopelessly politicised. It should be abolished and the bare necessity of statutory requirements be transferred to the Reserve Bank.

    All those dinky studies they do can be better and more accurately done by private sector consultancies.

    That would make Dr Parkinson redundant…like the many others the ALP aligned bureaucrats have done out of a job.

  6. H B Bear

    Somewhere a wombat gently weeps …

  7. stackja

    Parkinson supported the ALP and the Carbon tax.
    Wheeler supported an independent non-political Treasury.

  8. dismissive

    I know I said something of this ilk on the site a year or two ago but I will reiterate.

    After the audit. which is supposed to highlight to the govt what they should be doing as a federal govt of Aust is completed;

    1) Create brand new, clean skin departments under the (new) Ministry.
    2) Define the functions of each department.
    3) Appoint secretaries to the new departments
    4) Appoint a structure group (Private enterprise people should dominate – APS people to ensure the PS ACT is followed.
    5) Have the structure group work with the minister and the secretary to define a new structure
    6) Advertise the positions, fill them etc – no preference to existing staff
    7) Make any staff who do not win positions redundant.
    8) If knowledge specialists exist in the APS who have not been selected – offer them a 12 month contract with no extension allowed to hand over the knowledge. If they fail charge them with treason. Make this clear before they start.

  9. Des Deskperson

    Odd that Ken has apparently never read part 7 of the Public Service Act 1999 (the Act), even though it sets out the arrangements for the appointment and termination of Portfolio Secretaries like himself!

    To summarize:

    Portfolio Secretaries are excepted from the sections of the Act Public that mandate merit as the basis for engagement in engagement and promotion

    Ministers must be ‘consulted’ in the appointment of Portfolio Secretaries

    Portfolio Secretaries can be terminated at any time for any reason (Barratt v Howard, FCA 1999).

    In other words, they are political appointments!! That may or may not be a good thing, but Henry has no excuse for being surprised at it!

  10. Judith Sloan

    And maybe Treasury secretaries have survived a change of government, at least for a while, but there have been very many instance of department secretaries being sacked. Give us a break, Ken.

  11. blogstrop

    John Nethercote is quite right to point this out. Another example of the short or perhaps conveniently short memories of the Labor boosters.

  12. Grigory M

    Treasury is hopelessly politicised. It should be abolished and the bare necessity of statutory requirements be transferred to the Reserve Bank.

    All those dinky studies they do can be better and more accurately done by private sector consultancies.

    Bruce – Treasury is not necessarily hopelessly politicized, but certainly highly politicized. The same can be said of virtually every department and every other government body, both Federal and State, throughout Australia. And, almost invariably, the politicization is Left/Labor aligned.

    As far as Treasuries are concerned, I believe you would have to go back to NSW in the late 70s to early early 80s to find Norm Oakes as the last real example of an apolitical Treasury Secretary whose tenure provided comprehensive and consistently unbiased analysis, advice and policy options in the true spirit of what the Public Service should be. Since then, under successive governments Australia-wide there has been a proliferation of separate Treasuries and Finance Departments, both Federal and State, seemingly to meet the need to extend portfolio allocations to meet the ambitions and ensure the allegiance of Ministers in expanded Governments/Cabinets.

    Rather than abolish Treasury and allocate its functions to private sector consultancies, I think it would be preferable to merge the current functions of Treasury and the Dept of Finance. This should be done within a budget and staff establishment of no more than 50% of the total budget and staff establishments that currently apply to the two organisations aggregated. There is in my view an overwhelming need for the merged entity to remain as a separate public sector organisation and to maintain the closest possible contacts with and surveillance of the activities of all other government bodies to ensure that the government of the day has the most accurate and up-to-date budgetary and financial information available to it as possible. I doubt that can occur on an external consultancy basis.

    At the same time, the Reserve Bank should be retained as a completely separate entity with the same functions and responsibilities that it currently has.

  13. Mon

    Poor Ken must be related to the Labor Party, still has not realised there has been a change of Government. Get over yourself Ken.

  14. Rabz

    Barratt v Howard, FCA 1999

    Good one, Desky!

  15. David

    Somewhere a wombat gently weeps

    Probably in abject misery at the probability of having this dickhead gentleman having unrestricted time to whisper in its little ear hole.

    Wombats have feelings too.

  16. politichix

    Grigory M
    #1224873, posted on March 14, 2014 at 8:30 pm

    Bruce – Treasury is not necessarily hopelessly politicized, but certainly highly politicized. The same can be said of virtually every department and every other government body, both Federal and State, throughout Australia. And, almost invariably, the politicization is Left/Labor aligned.

    So when are we going to see them highly politicised with a Liberal/National/LDP/right alignment? Has that ever happened?

  17. Tony Cole lost his job the day after the 1993 election because of a political error.

    Howard sacked 6+ department heads in 1996.

    It was Bob Hawke who gave himself the power to sack department heads at will.

    Most of the senior executive service is now employed at will too, as I understand it?

  18. wreckage

    So when are we going to see them highly politicised with a Liberal/National/LDP/right alignment?

    Well I’d get into it on day one, and wait for the screaming to die down, but the LibNats didn’t seem to have a plan good to go. Get in fast, kick arse, give the voters plenty of time to get sick of hearing about it by election time.

  19. Grigory M

    So when are we going to see them highly politicised with a Liberal/National/LDP/right alignment? Has that ever happened?

    It happened for a short while in NSW after Greiner was elected in 1988.

  20. Ant

    The wombat discrimination here is disturbing.

  21. Squirrel

    “Jim Rose

    #1225101, posted on March 14, 2014 at 10:40 pm

    Tony Cole lost his job the day after the 1993 election because of a political error.

    Howard sacked 6+ department heads in 1996.

    It was Bob Hawke who gave himself the power to sack department heads at will.

    Most of the senior executive service is now employed at will too, as I understand it?”

    Yes, Tony Cole’s fate under PM Keating was a lateral arabesque to Health.

    Nethercote’s ”fount of all business” quote from Bagehot overstates the current role of the Australian Treasury, which lost significant “business” functions when Finance was split off by Fraser.

  22. Abu Chowdah

    remove the head of the Treasury and put in someone who is … of a more comfortable political character

    That comment shows he considers himself to have been impartial, when in fact he was a major leftwing suckle.

  23. Des Deskperson

    ‘Most of the senior executive service is now employed at will too, as I understand it?’

    Last time I looked, around 96% of the SES were ‘ongoing’ employees, which means that they can only be terminated on specific grounds set out in s 29 of the Public Service Act 1999. These include inefficiency, being excess to requirements or breaching the Code of Conduct.

    It is actually very difficult to terminate an ongoing SES employee on any grounds other than being excess to requirements, and that almost always involves a large redundancy payment. So far as I am aware, no SES employee has ever been successfully terminated on grounds of inefficiency.

  24. jupes

    Any Treasury Secretary who advocates a ‘carbon’ tax as sane, rational policy should be sacked immediately.

  25. I am the Walrus, koo koo k'choo

    Ask Ken what happened to Tony Cole.

    Maybe he can’t answer, and the ALPBC won’t ask, cos that was an example of the Hippies exerting their political prerogative over Treasury.

    Any Treasury Secretary who advocates a ‘carbon’ tax as sane, rational policy should be sacked immediately.

    Agreed. It was a sad day when the Treasury – of all departments, the one with the greatest responsibility for safeguarding the public interest – fell for the biggest con and scam since organised religion. How could they have been so gullible, it’s terrifying.

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