OPINION: by Kersh de CourtenayNews Weekly
Politicisation of our public service
, March 19, 2011
News Weekly, in its recent cover-story ("Build new dams now!", February 5), has drawn attention to the scarcity of dams in Australia. Major infrastructure building in Australia has been missing for the last 30 years.
This has been facilitated by politicians deliberately removing technical bureaucrats from the top managerial positions and replacing them with those who are solely administrators, usually politically aligned. This ensures that the politicians are not questioned or corrected when they propose a flawed course of action or an omission of action that is required. The new breed of administrators obey without query.
In Western Australia, this trend started in the 1950s, first with the Public Works Department, then the Water Authority, the State Electricity Commission (SEC), the Main Roads Department, the Fremantle Port Authority and, finally, the Department of Mental Health and its case managers from the Department of Health.
Successive governments have taken about $4.5 billion out of the state's Water Authority, now a corporation, in the past 13 years, and over $100 million a year from the SEC, or its later subdivisions, with consequent maintenance neglect. Governments now call these withdrawals "dividends".
Would they have got away with this if technical managers had been in charge? The excuse was always that the technocrats could not manage. But the results speak for themselves. Impartial public service advice has long been a myth in Australia. We are now much more like the United States of America.
On climate and its real implications, departments like CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology have now been neutered on the issue. Unofficial comment is absolutely stifled under pain of serious career repercussions and/or lack of recognition for past services.
Whistle-blowing is still a self-defeating undertaking. (Three state meteorologists in the US had their university tenure removed by Democrat state governors owing to their stance on climate.)
For the past 40 years, politicians in executive government have been working to avoid public ministerial responsibility for the conduct of their own departments. They now slip seamlessly into apparent arms-length criticism of those they have appointed.
The Wivenhoe Dam operation during the recent Queensland floods is a good example. For years, Brisbanites were not allowed to water their lawns due to water shortages. Now the cry is: "You should have emptied the dam when you saw it coming."
Saw what coming? The proposed public inquiry is a gross abuse of the operators. Internal review would be better. Governments even go through the fiction of fining their own departments, when they have been caught out by others.
I gave some examples above from WA. How long would the list be if we examined the Commonwealth and other state governments? The problems for the Commonwealth Government have been exacerbated by the treaties it has signed without any mandate from the voters.
Governments have never governed, only redistributed, and they are becoming more and more only supernumeraries.
Take the mining industry out of Australia, and what is left? An unpleasant picture of decay and patronage. Politicians play their own exclusive game among themselves - indulgence at the national level, and pretence at international level. All of which are quite remote from what ought to be their priority, which is attention to our country's best interests.
Exercising power for power's sake is particularly exemplified by the political Left. A good example is New Zealand's former Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark. Out of office on Saturday, and off to her United Nations job on the Monday.
The fact that News Weekly
sees a necessity to raise the dam-building issue now is a sad commentary on the state to which Australia has sunk. The public service, as we once knew it, did better for us.News Weekly
should campaign to reverse the trend of self-interested ideological government interference in the provision and maintenance of all physical infrastructure and service delivery.Kersh de Courtenay is a retired civil engineer who lives in Perth, WA.