Justinian the Great: Our Bureaucrats Don’t Believe in Costed Policies

Politicians and bureaucrats love to espouse “evidenced based” policy making as though politics and economics were an actual science.

It amounts to plausible deniability. Our policies were disastrous but the evidence and experts suggested otherwise.

Evidenced based policy is largely a fiction but its pretence enables subjective political activism to be cloaked in the rhetoric of neutral policy positivism.

The Coalition routinely fall for this nonsense always deferring to departmental “advice” as though our bureaucrats were genuinely independent experts.

In the interest of “evidenced based” policy-making I give you the Federal election results for the ACT:

  • ALP: 41.6%
  • Green: 16.6%
  • Coalition: 31.2%

That’s right. Our politically neutral public servants lean 58.2% towards the Left and Far Left.

I suspect that even this lop sided result is probably a gross under-estimate.

The 31.2% of Canberrans that voted for the Coalition probably come from the military and small business community and perhaps some industry association types.

If that were the case then our public sector bureaucrats are probably 80% plus Left leaning.

That’s right. The people responsible for good policy and good governance voted overwhelmingly for un-costed climate fantasies.

We are doomed!

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46 Responses to Justinian the Great: Our Bureaucrats Don’t Believe in Costed Policies

  1. It’s always been like that. Thankfully the ACT isn’t that important.

  2. pete m

    “We are doomed” only if they alone were to decide the winner.

  3. Robbo

    So most voters in Canberra lean heavily to the left and nearly all of them are public servants. Now who would have thunk that?

  4. David Brewer

    Evidenced based policy is largely a fiction but its pretence enables subjective political activism to be cloaked in the rhetoric of neutral policy positivism.

    Yes, but it’s worse than that, because keeping up the pretence requires policy-based evidence. You could never justify most of the activists’ policies with objective and comprehensive analysis of likely costs and benefits. So false evidence has to be manufactured instead.

    Result: policies that don’t work. Further result: calls for more and harder application of the same failed policies. “Climate action” is only one of many such examples.

  5. amortiser

    Washington DC is even worse. They voted more than 90% for Clinton.

  6. Dr Fred Lenin

    Abolish the ACT let NSW annex it into Queanbeyan Shire ,decentralise the remnants of the PS after you have closed departments that duplicate state functions ,health ,education ,employment etc. put all PS staff on 1 year contracts including judiciary with performance based salaries and pay your own super ,same conditions as real workers . Think of the money we could spend retiringRGR T debt?

  7. Bunyip Bill

    Canberra is a monument. They don’t put brains in monuments.

  8. stackja

    Most in Canberra arrived with Gough and stayed. APS now closest to permanent employment. The old timers retired, and likely ALP staffers took over.

  9. stackja

    Inside Gough Whitlam’s office
    EVAN WILLIAMS
    21 OCTOBER 2014

    Ministerial staff (such as they were) were drawn mainly from fairly junior ranks of the public service and poorly paid. Every minister was entitled to a Class 6 officer (a little above the lowest clerical grade) and two stenographic assistants, usually female. Whitlam had a bigger establishment, but little choice in the selection of his team. Peter Wilenski, the brilliant young foreign affairs officer who became his first principal private secretary in government (succeeding Race Mathews, who resigned to contest a federal seat), was seconded from within the bureaucracy. He and Whitlam made a first-rate team, but Whitlam was later to insist, against strong bureaucratic opposition, that ministerial staff be chosen by ministers themselves rather than their departments.

    In Wilenski, Whitlam was fortunate in having someone who knew how the public service worked and how permanent heads could be handled. He was an invaluable ally in dealing with hostile public service heads who resisted any role for prime ministerial staff. The underlying tensions between the office and the public service establishment were one factor that persuaded Whitlam to set up a commission of inquiry into the public service under the chairmanship of Dr H.C. “Nugget” Coombs. Wilenski was seconded to the commission as its special adviser. (The Hawke government later appointed him chair of the Public Service Board.) Before Whitlam took office, Wilenski had devised a new departmental structure to facilitate the transfer of power and reflect the policies of the new government. Its centrepiece was a machinery of government committee, consisting of the government leaders in both houses, senior public service heads and Wilenski and Spigelman from Whitlam’s office. “Its real importance,” Freudenberg was to write later in A Certain Grandeur, “was that it enabled the politicians, inexperienced as they were in administration, to establish an immediate ascendancy over the public servants.”

    What could possibly go wrong?

    Wheeler, Sir Frederick Henry (1914–1994)
    by John Farquharson

    Sir Frederick Henry Wheeler was once described as a “legendary public servant and a master of guerrilla warfare in the bureaucracy.”

    He was also one of Canberra’s “seven dwarfs” — Allen Brown, H. C. “Nugget” Coombs, John Crawford, Harry Bland, Dick Randall and Roland Wilson — that remarkable group of top public servants who exercised enormous influence on policy formulation through the Menzies-Holt era of the 1950s and 1960s.

    But it was in the Khemlani loans affair, which led to the downfall of the Whitlam Labor Government, that Sir Frederick showed just how formidable was his talent for bureaucratic infighting. What shook Sir Frederick, as Secretary of the Treasury, was that for a brief period during 1974-75 Treasury lost control of the raising of loan funds on the international market, a function it had normally shared with the Reserve Bank. For the Government had turned to a small-time Pakistani commodity dealer, Tirath Hassaram Khemlani, who, through Mr Whitlam’s Minerals and Energy Minister, R. F. X. “Rex” Connor, was asked to tap newly-rich oil sheiks for funds to put together a $4 billion loan.

    While Sir Frederick was fighting to ensure the supremacy of Treasury’s authority in a vital area of Australian economic policy, he also saw inherent dangers for the Government if it persisted in using people such as Mr Khemlani, who in the eyes of Sir Frederick and the Treasury, was no more than an opportunistic “funny-money” man or “carpetbagger.”

    There is a story that at one stage when Sir Frederick started lecturing the Prime Minister on the dangers of the loans affair, Mr Whitlam’s response was, “Shut up. I’ve heard everything.”

    Sir Frederick was reported to have come back with, “Prime Minister, you will listen to me. I am drawing to your attention facts, your ignorance of which, will bring you down.” These proved to be prophetic words, as Mr Whitlam was to learn the hard way when Mr Connor revived the loan arrangement with Mr Khemlani after his authority to do so had been terminated.

  10. Bruce of Newcastle

    This is why ScoMo must clear-fell the public service. Halve it. If they can’t do all the work with the people they have left then that work isn’t worth doing.

    Also move as many Departments out of Canberra as possible. They should go to regional centres so that the public servants see what Australia actually is.

  11. Pyrmonter

    I posted Brecht’s ‘The Solution’ in reply to TAFKAS yesterday; in a practical sense, it could more usefully be applied to Canberra. Could we not dissolve it and move, say, the executive to Adelaide, the courts to Melbourne and Parliament to Brisbane?

  12. duncanm

    There’s a reason the territories are represented by only 2 members in the Senate.

    Smart men, those federalists.

  13. Squirrel

    Those voting statistics are a graphic reminder of how unrepresentative the permanent government in Canberra is of Australia. Another fact to bear in mind is that Canberra has not elected a Liberal to the Reps since the mid-1990s, and that was only for a brief period until said Liberal was turfed at the next general election.

    A government with a relatively short list of promises to deliver, and a Budget under pressure, would be doing itself, and future Coalition governments a favour, if it took every feasible opportunity to contain and curtail the Canberra bureaucacy.

  14. woolfe

    Has SlothMo sacked Parkinson. no, of course he hasn’t.

  15. yarpos

    Its an inbreed little community where they only hire people that think like them an act like them, and have that valuable govt sector experience. No nasties to be bought in from “outside”

  16. jupes

    That’s right. Our politically neutral public servants lean 58.2% towards the Left and Far Left.

    No. Your stats indicate they lean 89.4% towards the left, far left and batshit crazy left.

  17. Leo G

    Also move as many Departments out of Canberra as possible. They should go to regional centres so that the public servants see what Australia actually is.

    and move … Parliament to Brisbane?

    Move the palace to Alice.

  18. Elderly White Man From Skipton

    The author apparently thinks people who take public payroll are invariably stupid. Dangerous, even. Which would suggest that they have a very low opinion of the host of this site and various prominent contributors.
    I’d simply suggest that they make fewer assumptions about people and listen a bit. They might find that most people are surprisingly reasonable and bigots, narcissists and extremists are easily avoided.

  19. Nob

    Bruce, better to leave them all isolated on Canberra where their votes have no additional effect than swamping regional towns with more green leftie moochers.

  20. Nathan

    Biggest concern with Canberra is we now have multi-generational Public Servants. All they, their parents and in many cases grand-parents have ever known is living and working in the Public Service in Canberra.

    Not healthy.

  21. Mark M

    Planning for perfect weather …

    BHP Strategy Briefing
    Peter Beaven
    Chief Financial Officer 22 May 2019

    https://www.bhp.com/-/media/documents/media/reports-and-presentations/2019/190522_strategybriefing.pdf?la=en

    Queensland Coal comprises the BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA) asset, jointly operated with Mitsubishi, and the BHP Billiton Mitsui Coal (BMC) asset, operated by BHP.

  22. Tim Neilson

    The author apparently thinks people who take public payroll are invariably stupid.

    Epic logic fail.

    The post refers only to Canberra.

    It refers only to those Canberran public servants who voted Greens or Labor and states specifically that that’s estimated at 80% plus – not 100%.

  23. ACTOldFart

    I wouldn’t worry too much about Canberra bureaucrats. Their power and influence has steadily declined, particularly in more recent years. In Good Sir Robert’s day, Cabinet set the broad policy directions, and the departmental Permanent Heads (as they were then known) ran the country within the parameters set by Cabinet.

    Not any more. In recent times, for whatever reasons, Ministers and their offices have become much more active and powerful in the day to day decision making. The days of departmental heads and senior executives arguing with Ministers and their offices over policy settings and implementation are well and truly over. Indeed, I would suggest that the senior ranks of the public service have become little more than political prostitutes, echoing the lines that their Ministers set, with about their only creative contribution being to find some rationalisation, however shonky, for the latest Ministerial lunacy.

    I don’t expect ScoMo to institute a wholesale massacre of departmental heads, he already has the chorus line he needs. If he wants to do something useful he could reduce the public service HR departments by about 75%, and can all the shit about equity, diversity, gender balance, etc etc.

  24. Tel

    This means that the first preference tally across the country is stronger for the centre Left than it is for the centre Right.

    Correct. ScoMo’s mob (Center Left) came in well ahead of Bernardi’s mob (Center Right), and also well ahead of Clive Palmer (Center of Gravity).

    Everyone knew that would happen. It was a contest between sanity and insanity and narrowly we ended up on the better side of that.

  25. duncanm

    Elderly White Man From Skipton
    #3022767, posted on May 22, 2019 at 6:08 pm

    The author apparently thinks people who take public payroll are invariably stupid. Dangerous, even. Which would suggest that they have a very low opinion of the host of this site and various prominent contributors.

    Where did he say they were stupid?

    Misguided, foolish, naive, ignorant maybe. That’s what I took out of it.

  26. Boambee John

    Bruce of Newcastle
    #3022717, posted on May 22, 2019 at 5:09 pm
    This is why ScoMo must clear-fell the public service. Halve it. If they can’t do all the work with the people they have left then that work isn’t worth doing.

    Also move as many Departments out of Canberra as possible. They should go to regional centres so that the public servants see what Australia actually is.

    Bruce

    I used to support the decentralisation concept, but have come to accept that the practical outcome of its implementation would be to convert a number of safe “conservative” seats to marginal ones, or worse make them “progressive” seats.

    Moving entrenched left voters out of Canberra would not make them conservative. Check out Armidale with its academics.

  27. Habib

    The author apparently thinks people who take public payroll are invariably stupid. Dangerous, even. Which would suggest that they have a very low opinion of the host of this site and various prominent contributors.

    And they’re generally correct. Government is incompetent, extravagant, self-interested, and self-replicating. What’s to like? A beardy Nazarene May have advised to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, but that got him nailed up to some shoddy carpentry and skewered by a decanus. I’d sooner be proactive, and organise airborne egress.

  28. miltonf

    That is the biggest challenge for a conservative government- neutalize the pubic service sabotage.

  29. Des Deskperson

    This is a tad simplistic.

    For starters a person’s private political opinions need not affect their professionalism. I’ve worked wig APS employees who hated Howard and Abbott but developed and implemented their policies and programmes objectively and efficiently.

    Secondly, less than 40% of the ACT workforce are Commonwealth employees, so even a totally politicised public service wouldn’t necessarily account for the election result.

    The real reasons for the ‘progressive’ ACT vote is the same that pundits have been putting out all lover since last Saturday and that were summed up by Prof Warhurst recently on the ABC website, although perhaps in kinder words: Canberra is the archetypal educated, professional, largely taxpayer funded spoilt bubble that can flout its virtue because it would be largely insulated from the consequences of ‘progressive’ policies.

    ‘In recent times, for whatever reasons, Ministers and their offices have become much more active and powerful in the day to day decision making. ‘

    The growth of ‘responsiveness’ , of course, reflected the deliberate policies of governments of both sides of politics who wanted more control over what they saw as inflexible and rule bound bureaucracies. Whether this has affected the quality of policy advice and programme implementation remains an open question, The Pink Bats scandal was definitely the product of political hubris overriding the importance of objective, evidence-based advice. The Equine Flu, debacle, on the other hand, was an example of old school rule bound complacency that could have done with a bit more ‘responsiveness’.

  30. Boambee John

    ACTOldFart

    I don’t expect ScoMo to institute a wholesale massacre of departmental heads, he already has the chorus line he needs. If he wants to do something useful he could reduce the public service HR departments by about 75%, and can all the shit about equity, diversity, gender balance, etc etc.

    You make an excellent point about HR divisions. All of “equity, diversity, gender balance, etc etc” are well established in law. SES officers should not need HR drones second guessing them. Add meeting all the legal requirements to their performance criteria. Review annually. Those with a high rate of successful apoeals against their decisions get sacked or reduced in grade.

  31. duncanm

    HR has to be the most useless invention in the workplace.

    Nuke it all.

  32. Steve

    Please spare a thought for us that have lived in Canberra for the last 32 years (only 11 1/2 of which were as a Public Servant). I voted for Bob Hawke (not Labor really), but then I met Paul Keating (he was my boss, I worked at the ATO). Since then have never voted Labor again.
    For most of that 32 years, my vote has basically been wasted. This last election I couldn’t even bring myself to vote for the Libs after the whole Malcolm fiasco.
    In fact I voted Liberal Democrats, even though I knew full well the votes would flow through to the Libs, but what the hey.

  33. Fang

    ScMo and his Cabinet, needs to get 10 to 20 pick out of a hat of 10 to 20 electorates pick out of a hat, of People from all over Australia!
    To come in for a couple days, to chat about their dreams and aspirations on were they want to be in 20 years time!
    Surely, that carn’t be any worse than local lobbyist?

  34. Clam Chowdah

    I’d simply suggest that they make fewer assumptions about people and listen a bit. They might find that most people are surprisingly reasonable and bigots, narcissists and extremists are easily avoided.

    Well said. But this hate fest is cyclical and part of the furniture here. Fuelled on by the handful of middling retired bureaucrats who have thread posting rights here and (based on their own work ethic) encourage the belief that all public servants are lazy bludgers.

  35. Driftforge

    Surely, that carn’t be any worse than local lobbyist?

    Yeah, it can. And 9 times out of 10 will be.

  36. Clam Chowdah

    Biggest concern with Canberra is we now have multi-generational Public Servants. All they, their parents and in many cases grand-parents have ever known is living and working in the Public Service in Canberra.

    I’d say a bigger driver of shit policy is the swill of elected representatives sent to Canberra and chosen from amongst the finest in your home communities. Stop sending us so much of your shitheel dregs.

    Ta.

  37. Tel

    The author apparently thinks people who take public payroll are invariably stupid. Dangerous, even.

    Did anyone say “invariably”? No wait … you said “invariably” … that was your idea.

    Which would suggest that they have a very low opinion of the host of this site and various prominent contributors.

    You suggested that … no one else. If that’s what you think, then take ownership, otherwise don’t try to drag other people into your fantasy.

    I’d simply suggest that they make fewer assumptions about people and listen a bit. They might find that most people are surprisingly reasonable and bigots, narcissists and extremists are easily avoided.

    Sure. I would listen to you … except that you have nothing to say other than putting other people in the shit for things they never said nor did in the first place.

    Let’s get back to the original topic shall we? The climate change bandwagon has been running for about 25 years give or take. There’s a whole bunch of bureaucrats in Canberra, so this isn’t down to a single person … lots of people on the public payroll. A whole bunch of money too, going through that place. We are supposed to believe this “climate change” is the biggest moral issue, blah blah blah, you know the deal. Show me one loud and clear voice coming out of this Canberra collective who is calling out this fruit loopery. Just give me a link, or a quote from someone. Show me how to avoid the extremists, because I want to do that. Point me towards a reasonable, well balanced appraisal … coming out of Canberra.

  38. What an interesting post.

    The climate change bandwagon has been running for about 25 years give or take. [Since the mid 1970s, actually.] Don’t bother looking for contrary advice, there isn’t a single example.

    Back in the day, I worked in a ministerial office and later in the Canberra bureaucracy and was seconded to ministerial speech writing. For both sides.

    When I arrived in Canberra it was difficult to meet anybody who had been born in Canberra. Indeed, there was an ethos that it was only fair to recruit people from other places. That changed, of course, and recruits were almost all from the local area. But it did entrench the local mentality, mostly left-leaning.

    The first thing to note is that ministerial establishments in those days were quite small. Not like now.

    Within the bureaucracy, the quality of support for ministers from the department was poor. “The minister has accepted an invitation to speak on…..” next weekend. “Can’t help. We might be in a position to give some advice in nine months or so.” The following Monday they’d turn up in my office for a copy of the speech to find out what the policy was, because I’d written it.

    Des Desperson is correct. It is possible for a public servant to give objective advice.

    After leaving the APS, and quite a few years later, I worked for an industry association and had a [private] conversation with a [later] Labor minister, who expressed concern that ministers were captured by their staff and didn’t get good advice. I pointed out that the Hawke government had brought about that situation and he said, “Yes, I agree. I think we got that wrong.”

    BTW, there’s still a lot to be written about the Khemlani business.

  39. Leigh Lowe

    Thanks Tel 11:08 for the detailed demolition.
    Canberra public servants believe that job security and/or promotion prospects are enhanced under Labor.
    Many of them revere Keating …

    In the great race of life, always back self-interest. At least you know it’s trying.”

  40. Clam Chowdah

    You know nothing, Leigh Lowe.

  41. Des Deskperson

    ‘Show me one loud and clear voice coming out of this Canberra collective who is calling out this fruit looper.’

    Tel, that’s not the way it works. The climate change ‘bandwagon’ wasn’t initiated by a secret clique of Portfolio Secretaries at the Commonwealth Club. It’s been been running because that’s what governments on both sides of politics have believed for some time will get them elected.

    APS employees do not determine government policy. They provide advice on how policies may be implemented and then, after a government decision, they implement those policies. They are obliged by law to do this in independently and objectively, and in my experience they usually do so, but if a government wants to run with a bad policy – ‘Pink Bats’ – then there is little the APS can do.

    APS employees are not paid to publicly criticise the government. Apart form possible disciplinary action, I think it is a species of fraud to take money to implement the policies of a government elected by taxpayers and then public attack those policies, If you want to do that, you should resign.

    BTW, this morning’s Canberra Times has an interesting article, which I don’t have time to link to now, showing voting patterns by booth across the Territory. It shows the same general patterns as the rest of Australia – the more money and security you have, the more ‘progressive’ your vote. It’s just that the ACT has lots of money and lots of security.

  42. Rebel with cause

    Des – Largely agree, but departments can obfuscate and stymie if they don’t like a government’s policy. For Liberal governments it is especially important that ministers and their advisers actively drive departments to deliver on government commitments and continually question the advice they are provided. If they don’t, the departments set the agenda by default.

  43. Clam Chowdah

    APS employees do not determine government policy. They provide advice on how policies may be implemented and then, after a government decision, they implement those policies. They are obliged by law to do this in independently and objectively, and in my experience they usually do so, but if a government wants to run with a bad policy – ‘Pink Bats’ – then there is little the APS can do.

    Bingo.

  44. Tim Neilson

    Des Deskperson
    #3023247, posted on May 23, 2019 at 8:28 am

    I’ll defer to your experience in general Des, but my suspicion (based on many years of interaction with bureaucrats and politicians) is that in the tax area the ATO are very influential. If objective evidence of that is needed, there are examples where EM’s for tax amending legislation cite ATO publications as grounds for what’s in the Bill.

  45. Clam Chowdah

    Des – Largely agree, but departments can obfuscate and stymie if they don’t like a government’s policy. For Liberal governments it is especially important that ministers and their advisers actively drive departments to deliver on government commitments and continually question the advice they are provided. If they don’t, the departments set the agenda by default.

    Oh yeah we obfuscate and stymie AAAAAALLL the time.

    FFS. Straight out of central casting in this place when it comes to APS opinions.

  46. Rebel with cause

    Oh yeah we obfuscate and stymie AAAAAALLL the time.

    Not what I said. Reading comprehension not your strong suit?

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