ScoMo takes axe to public service

The Morrison Government is reportedly poised to slash Australia’s public service in a bid to reduce ‘red tape’ and save on costs:

Scott Morrison is poised to put an axe through the public service today with plans to dramatically cut the number of government departments with another round of mandarins set for the chopping block.

The Australian, which flagged the changes in July, understands that several more super-departments will be created in a move to dramatically cut bureaucratic red tape.

Senior government sources said it was expected to be the biggest realignment and reform of the public service since Bob Hawke cut the number of departments from 28 to 18 in his reforms to the machinery of government in 1987…

Mr Morrison, on becoming prime minister, appointed himself as minister for the public service in a signal that he was planning sweeping changes to the “mandarin” club in Canberra…

“We don’t expect the public service to run the government. That’s what we were elected to do,” Mr Morrison said.

I’m no fan of the bloated public service, but this does have me worried.

As we know, the Coalition has already recently stacked the public service with Liberal Party “yes men”, including:

  • appointment of former chief of staff to both Treasurers Peter Costello and Scott Morrison, Philip Gaetjens, to the secretary of the Australian Treasury and then the Secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet;
  • appointment of former chief of staff to Finance Minister Mathias Cormann and cabinet secretary in the Turnbull government, Simon Atkinson, to the head of the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development; and
  • appointment of former Liberal Party staffer, Michael Brennan, to head of the Productivity Commission.

Australia’s public service has already been stripped raw by decades of government outsourcing, waves of senior redundancies, as well as a preference for governments to seek advice from paid consultants, erroneously named ‘think tanks’, and political staffers.

The end result is that the “frank and fearless advice” that the public service was once renowned for has vanished, replaced by spin and purchased analysis designed to support a pre-conceived political agenda.

Nowhere is this propaganda more obvious than the Australian Treasury, which has become a blatant shill for the Federal Government, as evidenced by the department’s dodgy Budget forecasts, dodgy modelling around company tax cuts, as well as dodgy propaganda around mass immigration.

Further examples of the corruption of the Treasury can be found here and here.

In short, this “reform” agenda reads like Scott Morrison is telling the public service to “do what their told” and to not question government decision-making. And with it, we should expect the public service to morph entirely into government shill “yes men/women”.

It is also unlikely to save taxpayers in the long-run with public servants’ wages replaced by expensive external consultants, as we witnessed after the Howard Government’s downsizing in the late-1990s.

Leith van Onselen


  1. GunnamattaMEMBER

    Let me tell you about the ‘leadership’ levels of the public sector.

    For the most part they have little ability with numbers, and they have plausibly even less ability with words. Unlike their predecessors of a generation ago – some of whom I helped public sector organisations walk outside the gates on the basis that they represented ‘stovepiped thinking’ or werent ‘team players’ (though many had other behavioural facets which limited their ability to engage with both other ‘leaders’ and the people whom they were supposed to be leading [and they were nearly all male] – they have little actual ability to do anything, apart from exhibit the behaviour of loyalty (subservience, desperation, pathological fear, expectation of better things for them) to the clique which they have become part of.

    Governments post 1996 (both sides) have planted their own at the top of most public sector organisations, and those plants have metastasized at lower levels all around the ‘ethos’ of leadership. The lower levels in turn have adopted a widespread ‘just do it’ mindset and have largely let go of anything remotely resembling ‘the public good’.

    What we have instead is a workplace ‘cult of personality’ of the type Stalin knew, with a grip on issues derived at sans data (numbers or words) and reflecting only ideology.

    For the most part I tend to the view that the only difference between 1996 and 2020 in terms of the public services is that a leadership cohort of mainly male psychopaths, all defending (who could often be quite disagreeable), upholding, propagating instituting a view and a mindset (which generally involved an identifiable logic in relation to verifiable data and an articulated narrative, and generally more comprehensively reflected a significant body of the views of the subordinate staff) has been transformed into a leadership of psychopaths with is now largely female [which I have no in principle problem with] but which is invariably glib, lacks any narrative in terms of logic verifiable data, or progress towards an outcome, which is all too often even more dismissive of subordinate staff, ‘customers’ (a concept which has been grotesquely deformed in almost all public sector organisations) and is focussed on the concept of loyalty towards the head of an organisation – who is generally there to exhibit [and motivate in their staffs] the same loyalty towards the director, secretary, first assistant secretary, general manager or whatever, who in turn has the same desire (and expectation) to demonstrate that same unquestioning ‘loyalty’ to a Minister and a Minister’s office.

    That mindset means that nobody ever questions the actual intellectual skills, or history of newly appointed senior staff – they are appointed in the first place because they are the ‘right fit’ or are ideological ‘safe hands’. Rather they are welcomed into a club, and expected first and foremost to ‘behave’ in a particular way, which in the first instance involves loyalty to others in the same clique. It is only when they fall over (as would appear to be the case with this woman recruited into the SA public sector executive recently) that the ensuing search for why (which is invariably a blame apportionment exercise in itself) becomes apparent. The far greater question is not why some entirely unqualified individual was able to get in, but why so many utterly bereft individuals remain in place in executive levels in public service organisations all over Australia, long after they have ceased to grasp straightforward concepts, and long after they have ceased to be able to coherently identify and organise for the expectations of ‘customers’ or their own staffs.

    And this is just the outcome out politicians (particularly our Liberal and National politicians) quite like. They spend gazillions on meaningless consultants. They completely fuck up things like IT (particularly the Commonwealth public sector). They desperately want to get rid of ‘Old White Males’ (generally because these represent some form of corporate knowledge and understanding of things beyond ‘loyalty’ in terms of function or the experience of ‘customers’) and love nothing more than to give vacated positions to some old white female (if she has done the time), or suitably emasculated males (particularly recent migrants, all keen to keep the buttock above moist – but also those desperately trying to sustain a family or mortgage) who are desperate to make their way up the chain and can thus be relied upon to be ‘loyal’ no matter what ideological nonsense is shat down on them from above. They beam out endless meaningless emails and, make endless completely wasteful site visits, and adopt ever more achingly insidious programs, catchphrases and slogans, and generally festoon themselves with only the choicest lips to apply to their buttocks. They create the juiciest of contracts for ‘private’ consultants, contractors, and often are surprisingly open about the prospects of moving into the private sector on the back of the contracts they have taken part in farming out.

    They duck and weave at the slightest registration of an ‘issue’ (meaning both subordinates and other sections/branches or whatever need to keep an eye out). They avoid responsibility like the plague. They are no less inclined than their predecessors to workplace bullying, sexual harassment, or simply hoping that malcontents will simply retire and go away (and boring the pants of them in order to achieve that outcome), as well as outright bullshit.

    They are a large factor in Australia’s contemporary socio-economic, and across the board policy, malaise.

    What will happen with these ‘reforms’ is that they will be used to:-

    Provide greater Ministerial loyalty within APS leadership ranks.
    Provide even more payrises for APS leadership ranks – which the APS doesnt get
    Provide redundancies for a load of mainly aged long serving Canberra residents.
    Provide more ‘non ongoing’ employment opportunities at APS2 level for younger people.
    Provide a load more juicy contracts for ‘service providers’ who have been generally shown to provide an inferior service than the public servants they replace, but are far more effective at extracting funds from the public teat.

    The public will not get ‘better’ outcomes.
    The public will not get lesser cost outcomes.

    The public will get Ministers announcing they have ‘streamlined’ public service
    The public will get a load of glib APS SES types smiling like the overly remunerated psychopaths they are, nodding in agreement.

  2. Well this will certainly help wages growth to get back on track. 🙂 Austerity before the recession. 🙂 Nice.

  3. “We don’t expect the public service to run the government. That’s what we were elected to do,” Mr Morrison said.

    No, mate, you were elected to act as a middleman between the people and what they want. You are by the fundamental definition of your role, generic and disposable, and in no way should you be on the critical path of “running the Government”.

    His contempt for democracy is palpable in that statement. “Running the Government” is *exactly* what the public service should be doing, but not longer can because it has been hopelessly politicised at the upper echelons.

    It would be hilarious how the people who insist Government should be run like a business, would generally seem to do a piss-poor job of running a business – if it weren’t so important.

    • The public service should be delivering essential services not regulating the crap out of everything that moves. Take the workplace gender equality agency – companies with more than 100 staff have to report to it stating how many staff are female etc. What business is it of government to know this other than to vilify.

      • The public service dont regulate anything, the Government sets policies and laws that regulate. The public service implement, oversee and advise around the application of those regulations.

        If you think we are over regulated, and I agree with that position in terms to some areas of life, then the ones to blame are the government for enacting the regulations and the whingers in the community that begged for “something to be done”.

    • Spot on with all! Despite pretense, no member on any level of Govt run their corner as a business. Since they think the river never runs dry they’re nonchalant about any costly mistakes….. no skin in the game.

    • I instantly cringed when I read that quote from Scomo…and the more you ponder it, the cringier it gets.

    • HadronCollisionMEMBER

      Your comment is a little kind/

      I mean, using the word mate, even if perjoratively.

      How good is mateship!

    • Language used here is completely wrong headed. Either it is in error or its a Marxist mindset at play.
      Bureaucracy is supposed to implement Government policy at the direction of the elected reps who are ‘ministers’. Departments administer stuff but they don’t run the country.
      Politicians are not middle-whoever. Precisely because they are directly elected, like-it-or-not they must be the best representations of what people want – be they quiet or minority or whatever.

  4. The BystanderMEMBER

    >“We don’t expect the public service to run the government. That’s what we were elected to do,” Mr Morrison said.

    Okay Scummo, can’t wait for your modestly staffed office to start implementing policy for 25 million people. I mean, we don’t expect the public service to do any of that right, that’s your job?

  5. Odd the liberal party doesn’t change it name to the business council of Australia
    Based on outcomes, it’s so in/on the money

  6. “There will be no changes to ministerial portfolios under the department mergers.”
    No politicians will lose their jobs….

  7. “We don’t expect the public service to run the government. That’s what we were elected to do,” Mr Morrison said.

    In that case, the Centrelink enquires phone number should divert to Mr Morrison’s office.