Compromising the Public Service

The processes of our national Parliament are generally not that exciting to the majority of Australians, even though the outcomes affect us all. Senate Estimates is perhaps the process that confirms that generalisation best of all.

Senate Estimates provides Oppositions with the opportunity to question the Government and its departments about the effectiveness of their programs and policies. Over the course of successive 14 hour days, thousands of questions are asked of hundreds of public servants.

Usually it is a cordial but robust process used to accumulate details and insights otherwise not available. Occasionally it throws up information that, outside of the usual political point-scoring, should concern all Australians.

One such moment arose on Monday during questioning of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Under questioning about the Government’s Community Cabinet meetings, a department official volunteered that they had been instructed to only inform Labor senators in each state of upcoming meetings.

So what’s the big deal?

In normal circumstances, I would agree that this is simply base level politics that all political parties indulge in.

Yet this is a significant revelation because the behaviour of the department compromises the political independence of our public servants.

Australia’s public service is here to serve the country and its citizens, not partisan political party activities.

The Australian Public Service (APS) Values actually state that the APS “is apolitical, performing its functions in an impartial and professional manner.”

By any measure, the decision by departmental staff to accept an instruction to violate one of the core values of the APS should worry us all.

It is a gross departure from acceptable practice and further evidence that the Rudd Government is politicising the supposedly unbiased guardians of governmental advice.

There are many questions that arise from this alarming new direction of the public service. Not least of all being whether this is simply an aberration or a dangerous new direction at the behest of a Government bent on exerting further control of all aspects of Australians’ lives.

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