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Reportage

Media rules in the court of Carr

IT WAS A typical political fix. More designed to fit ministers' personalities, their power preferences and media agendas than coherence in governance, policy formulation or operational management.

The re-election of the Carr Government for a third four-year term in New South Wales on March 22, 2003, was immediately followed by a ministerial reshuffle and a purge of some top bureaucrats. The removal of these administrators seems to have unnerved many of the chief executives of the 145 departments, agencies and public trading enterprises. "It was like there'd been a change of government. All of a sudden everything was up for grabs," said one insider. After working out their slots with Premier Bob Carr, ministers hit the telephones in a scramble to try to persuade their favoured top bureaucrats to come to work for them.

Functions of government were chopped and changed. Long-serving Right faction ministers (Eddie Obeid, Richard Amery and John Aquilina) were dropped, replaced by younger, more ambitious operatives. A ruthlessly powerful group of political hardheads now surround Carr – Michael Costa, John Della Bosca, Michael Egan and Craig Knowles, with Labor Party secretary Eric Roozendaal aboard ex officio by speaker phone from Labor Party headquarters in Sussex Street. The power sharing with Labor's already compromised Left and its leader, Deputy Premier Andrew Refshauge (who moved from planning to education), continued.

Carl Scully, who had been considered a potential successor to Carr, was damned by sections of the Sydney media over perceived failings in his handling of public transport in the lead-up to the election. Scully was apparently demoted, ending up with roads and housing, but with the key tactical job as leader of the government in the bearpit of State Parliament as well. With these constituent-friendly portfolios and a prominent parliamentary role, Scully is still in a position to build a caucus base for any future attempt at the leadership.

Of those in the inner sanctum of the court of the Premier, Craig Knowles is thought to be at the top of the list in any succession, although there is speculation that Michael Costa may move to a lower house seat as another leadership option. With a majority cushion of 17 lower house seats in the NSW Parliament, the ALP is entrenched and it is planning, through its centralised control and candidate-selection mechanisms, for victories in the 2007 and 2011 state elections.

As a result of the reshuffle, a group of top bureaucrats who were employed on contracts were moved to the state's notorious "unattached list" pending their redeployment or exit negotiations with the government-appointed careers undertaker, Gerry Gleeson, head of the Statutory and Other Offices Remuneration Tribunal (SOORT). Questions are now being asked about the contract system that was introduced to improve public-sector performance, with some now believing this system is open to abuse by narrow media management and for political purposes. In the process, and with little public debate, the old Westminster convention of ministerial responsibility for administrative and policy failure appears to have been abandoned.

 

AFTER CARR'S EIGHT years of incumbency and the promotion of a cult of personality around him, something of a Medici court has developed with its own backbiting, rivalry and competition for access and inside influence. This court reaches into the upper levels of the public service. Chief executives are now acutely aware that their tenure depends on the grace and favour of the minister. In as large and dispersed an administration as NSW, the rationale is that the minister must be comfortable with the department or agency head. If not, that head may roll. Ministerial satisfaction now depends not only on the quality of the advice and administration but also on the ability to play the small "p" political games of any court.

The risk of politicisation of the public service through the senior executive employment contract system has been an issue since the abolition of the Public Service Board in 1989. Up until that time, ministers were consulted but did not have the final say in the appointment of heads of department. The board's authority had been established by legislation to ensure its independence and to protect it against nepotism and favouritism by ministers.

In cases where a minister could persuade the board that the relationship with the head of the department was such that removal was warranted, then the board would act. But permanency under the Public Service Act meant an alternative position would always be found. Now the barriers of separation between the minister's political office and the department have eroded and some administering the system fear the pendulum may have swung too far.

"We are also witnessing the rise in power of the ministerial chief-of-staff in some portfolios," said a former departmental head. "In the United States, politicised administrations are the rule and the norm. There are some very good points in favour of that system. When governments change in the US the new administration makes deliberate political appointments at chief and senior executive level to work alongside the 'permanent' or non-political staff. Here we've been going that way by stealth, but without any clear rules or public debate."

The introduction of the fixed-term contract system by the Greiner government (1988-1994) was designed to improve public-sector management and performance. The objective was to match private-sector practices and also allow salary packaging. The remuneration of senior officers was considerably increased at the same time.

The power of the Public Service Board was broken and replaced with systems whereby authority to appoint and terminate chief executive officers rested with ministers. The authority to appoint and terminate senior executive officers rested with heads of departments. This switch of power led to concerns from the Institute of Public Administration and others that the days of "frank and fearless" independent advice to government were over.

 

AFTER SUCCESSFLLY OUTMANOEUVRING the state Liberal/National Coalition on the law-and-order issue during the election campaign last year, Michael Costa, the former head of the Labor Council, moved from police to transport services. His brief was to get on top of public transport after months of headlines dominated by problems in the portfolio: the Waterfall train disaster in which seven people died, the Menangle bridge affair in which an engineer's report recommending closure of a structurally suspect rail bridge was not immediately implemented and cost overrun and operational problems with the Millennium commuter trains.

On the day of his swearing in, Costa dispensed with the services of the Director-General of Transport, Michael Deegan, the CEO of the Rail Infrastructure Corporation (RIC), John Cowling, and the State Rail Authority CEO, Howard Lacey. Cowling was visited by the chairman of the RIC board at 10am on April 8 and told to vacate his office by noon when a news conference announcing Costa's restructure would be held. He eventually took one year's severance pay with him.

Lacey, originally from Queensland where he was a senior executive with Brisbane Water, was only 13 months into his contract when the Waterfall tragedy occurred. His management of safety, including issues such as the known ineffectiveness of the dead man's brake on the Tangara train, was under examination at the Waterfall inquiry. But Lacey's services were dispensed with without any ministerial appraisal of his performance or without considerations of the findings of the Waterfall inquiry.[i] He received 24 weeks' pay from the State Rail Authority and a top-up of 38 weeks' pay as compensation, awarded by Gerry Gleeson in his role as chairman of SOORT. Gleeson, the éminence grise of public administration in NSW, was Premier's Department head under Carr's mentor, Neville Wran. Gleeson also heads the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority. His influence permeates the state.

In the post-election reshuffle, Craig Knowles moved from health to a new so-called "super" ministry of infrastructure and planning. He immediately removed Sue Holliday, until then head of PlanningNSW and a driving force behind the Government's urban consolidation policy. She moved to the unattached list pending negotiations with Gleeson. Publicly, Holliday held her tongue. But friends understood she had been told it was nothing personal. She was not to take her removal as a reflection on her professional competence. Without an explanation, though, something of a bureaucratic mystery was created in Holliday's case and in some of the other purges. Holliday had served one year of her renewed five-year contract. Gleeson cashed Holliday out of the NSW public sector on the maximum 38 weeks' payout allowable under the Public Sector Employment and Management Act. Holliday moved to the private sector.

In public works, CEO Dick Persson was squeezed out as the operational functions were absorbed into John Della Bosca's grab bag of responsibilities as Special Minister of State, Minister for Commerce, Minister for Industrial Relations, Assistant Treasurer and Minister for the Central Coast. Persson languished on the unattached list until eventually deployed as special administrator of the sacked Warringah Municipal Council.

SOORT does not publicly release the number displacements within the Chief Executive Service (CES) or the Senior Executive Service (SES) or the payouts made when Gleeson applies his discretion to finalise negotiations with displaced officers. The data is, of course, available to the Government. While there is no restriction on displaced officers commenting publicly, most are reluctant to draw attention to themselves by publicising their recriminations. Many feel ashamed and angry, embarrassed that they misread the rules of life in the NSW public sector.

Many have been watching with intense interest the two-year legal struggle of sacked police deputy commissioner Jeff Jarratt who won a Supreme Court ruling that his contract had been breached and his summary dismissal unlawful, only to have it overturned on appeal. So concerned was the Government following Jarratt's initial success that it successfully amended the Public Sector Employment and Management Act to specify that, regardless of performance-appraisal procedures in employment contracts, executives may be removed at any time without reason. The amendment has been described blackly within the public service as "Bob Carr's off-with-their-heads clause".

Gleeson does not discuss in public his criteria for determining payouts for displaced public servants, but at least two considerations weigh heavily in determining the degree of generosity of the public purse: the unexpired period of the contract and consideration of any pre-emptory action taken to terminate the contract. However, as is shown later, the poor administration of senior contracts in the state could mean that contracts were not in place.

NSW taxpayers paid a record $17.4 million in wages in the financial year to June 2003 for 292 displaced public servants, not including Deegan, Cowling, Lacey, Holliday and Persson. Figures show that 70 people had been on the list for more than a year, 37 for more than two years, 22 for more than three years and nine for more than four years. The Government has a policy of no forced redundancies and defends the practice as a means of retaining skill and experience, although constant restructures can lead to substantial SES job losses. [ii]

 

IN THE COURT of Carr, management of the media is a particularly prized skill. The Premier, himself a former journalist, is without doubt one of the most skilled media managers ever to occupy public office in this country. His ability to anticipate and head off potentially damaging issues and close down debate makes reporting state politics in NSW particularly challenging, but occasionally internal debates, and the threats presented by a media-driven policy agenda, make it into the public realm.

In transport, displaced director-general Michael Deegan was distinctly unhappy with his treatment. He has since moved to a public-sector job in Victoria. Transport, one of the largest portfolios, had previously been reorganised into a series of competing and complementary departments and agencies after an earlier train-disaster investigation and was particularly fraught with internal politics.

A measure of this politicking could be seen in the leaking of a letter Deegan wrote to Commissioner Irene Moss of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). Dated March 14, 2003, the week before the state election and three weeks before Deegan's sacking, it purported to comment on Moss's release of a report profiling corruption risk in the public sector.

"Dear Ms Moss," Deegan wrote. "A terrific piece of work providing real assistance in a structural sense to our service. Thanks ... The challenge is to provide for the public interest rather than sectional interest, as your report identifies. A number of our colleagues remain concerned at the corruption of the political processes, particularly by some media commentators. Threats to ministers and senior public servants that they will be axed unless certain commentators get their way are having a serious negative impact on the NSW public sector. I would be happy to discuss. Hire cars might make an interesting case study. Yours sincerely, Michael Deegan, Director-General, Transport NSW."[iii]

In the weeks before writing this letter, Deegan had been denounced personally in radio tirades by the influential morning radio announcer and part owner of 2GB, Alan Jones. The issue that put Deegan in Jones's sights was complaints from investors who had bought private-vehicle-hire plates only to find changing departmental policy resulted in a downgrading of their value. Deegan was characterised by Jones in his broadcast editorials as a "demon" and a "mongrel bureaucrat".

Confronted on camera, Costa denied he had ever discussed Deegan's removal privately with Jones and denied that the prominent announcer had any undue influence. Costa said he had decided to restructure transport and Deegan was simply surplus to requirements. Premier Carr dismissed the leaked letter as an act of disgruntlement by a displaced employee. As the Premier knew better than most, the use of the media to advance internal debates is a time-honoured tactic in NSW politics.

The questions to Costa about Deegan's departure had added piquancy because of the contentious nature of his role in the departure of the former commissioner of police, Peter Ryan, who considered Jones's radio attacks on him as politically pivotal to the undermining of his authority. By July 2001, Carr had lashed police for "taking their eye off the ball over the drug problem at Cabramatta". Whatever the rights or wrongs of the criticism, Ryan saw this as a turning point in their relationship. Costa, who became Minister for Police later that year, actively engaged in a campaign to publicly humiliate the commissioner, forcing him, by April 2002, through his lawyer, to seek (and quickly achieve) an early payout of his contract.[iv]

Costa's subsequent purge of Deegan, Cowling and Lacey in his new portfolio, after a similar media flurry about the effectiveness of the administration of transport, exposed the Government's willingness to use ministerial power to target senior officers, rather than requiring ministers to accept responsibility for administrative failure. This raises the fear that scapegoating is being institutionalised as a tactic for short-term gain in media/public perception. There is growing concern that public-sector careers can be unfairly destroyed for political purposes in an environment where the minister has the unfettered right to terminate a contract without reason. Coupled with inadequate contractual arrangements, this potentially capricious approach to the administration of some of the biggest organisations in the state carries several dangers: deskilling and politicisation of public-sector management and an emphasis on short-term outcomes rather than effective long-term administration of public assets and services.

Deegan, Cowling and Lacey are all known to feel aggrieved at the destruction of their careers in the NSW public sector. Many others further down the departmental food chain are also at a loss to explain the end of their public-sector careers as a result of restructuring departments in the image of the minister.

 

IN SEPTEMBER 2003, six monoths after his removel as CEO of RIC, what amounted to confirmation of John Cowling's political scapegoating was clear in the ICAC's two-bob-each-way findings on the RIC's conduct in the Menangle bridge affair.

The key issue concerning Cowling's conduct of risk management of the structurally suspect Menangle bridge was his statutory duty under the Rail Safety Act. Cowling was three months into a three-year contract, following 30 years in the private sector. Under his leadership RIC had responsibility for the infrastructure of the entire NSW rail system in an uneasy division of power and responsibility with other agencies. As part of an ongoing safety review, Cowling had been presented with a consultant engineer's report urging the bridge's immediate closure for fear of a catastrophic event. Instead of closure, Cowling had decided to manage the risk by ordering trains to move at greatly reduced speed over the bridge (on the main line between Sydney and Melbourne) pending further action. He asserted in evidence that the engineer, Professor Michael West, verbally agreed with that course of action. Cowling believed it was an acceptable method of managing ageing infrastructure.

After a five-month ICAC inquiry, Commissioner Moss's investigation concluded: "The RIC did not consider it was required to report Professor West's concerns to Mr Deegan, as the director-general of the then department of transport, because they did not meet the definition of a notifiable occurrence as defined in the Rail Safety Act 2002. Mr Deegan and Mr Donaldson (rail safety regulator) believed the concerns were notifiable occurrences. I do not consider Professor West's reports constituted notifiable occurrences as defined by the Rail Safety Act 2002."[v]

Commissioner Moss recommended a review of ministerial briefing procedures saying it would have been "advisable and appropriate" for Cowling to have informed the safety regulator of the report and the action that had been taken. The ICAC found that although there was speculative talk among staff of a pre-election political motivation in not closing the Menangle bridge, there was no evidence that any political considerations affected Cowling's conduct.

According to the ICAC, on March 21, 2003, the day before the state election, Channel 9's Sunday program began making inquiries of the minister's office. Thus alerted to West's report, ministerial inquiries were instituted internally. Cowling's risk management was overruled and the bridge was closed on March 27. In the witness box, then minister Scully said he had no idea why West's concerns had not been brought to his attention: "I have no idea. No idea. One of the things I've always emphasised is safety is paramount and certainly accountability. That's why when Mr Coulthart (Sunday reporter) made the inquiry, I gave him all the documents."

The minister's political posterior thus covered with the media, the CEO's contract was subsequently terminated. Cowling was removed as CEO of RIC two days after the Sunday program went to air on April 6.

Cowling's supporters at RIC are convinced he was a victim of pre-emptive media management by government and lamented his loss to the NSW public sector, saying he had been making substantial progress in improving reliability in a huge and chronically under-funded rail infrastructure network.

One senior executive offered this off-the-record summation: "John was told he was going and in subsequent discussions with the minister, even Deegan, he was told none of this was a comment on his success at RIC. It was all political. What it tells me is that to succeed, you have to be good at the political game. To be good at the political game, you can't be committed to the right result."

The issue of rail safety is of vital public interest, legitimately raised by the media when substantive information comes to hand. But expedient media and issues management by government now dominates all other considerations. Professional and objective performance appraisal of bureaucrats by government is abandoned. For short-term political objectives the bureaucrat can become the fall guy rather than the minister, with the consequent abandonment of the Westminster convention of ministerial responsibility.

 

THE DEPTH OF cynicism within the government is revealed in private diary extracts Carr has allowed to be published in a book by Labor Council historian Marilyn Dodkin. The diary entries expose Carr as an obsessive poll-driven populist, often delighted at the media's superficiality:

October 9, 1996: "I'm still pleasantly surprised by how well the toll decision [a road-toll reimbursement scheme] has been received. The Sydney Morning Herald saw it as a potential coup, the [Daily] Telegraph as the 'better late than never' honour of a promise. Nowhere was it condemned as bad policy and worse economics."[vi]

Although the Premier believes his third-term victory was achieved in spite of tirades against his government by the radio announcer Alan Jones, ministerial staff are under instruction to monitor Jones meticulously to prepare same-day responses and action plans to address any issue raised.

Carr has called Alan Jones a Liberal Party pamphleteer and described bias on air as unconscionable. But another insight recently published reveals Carr as a shameless media networker. In December 1988, when Jones was arrested on a sex charge in a London public toilet, Carr, then a newly elected opposition leader on the make, went out of his way to build a strategic relationship with an emerging media player.

According to Carr's then political adviser, Malcolm McGregor, quoted in the recent book Bob Carr: A Self-Made Man (HarperCollins, 2003): "We picked up a copy of The Daily Telegraph Mirror and saw that Jones was in a world of hurt and I said to Carr: 'Fucking get to this bloke straight away. Beat Greiner to him. You should extend the hand to him in his hour of need and he will never forget you. Send him a telegram.' Carr relished the opportunity. He penned a personal note, quoting Nixon, basically saying to Jonesy that your contribution to public life will sustain you through this. Jonesy was in the palm of his hand for a time after that, no doubt about it. By reaching out to him at that time, Bob won huge kudos from Jones."[vii]

In his own book, Thoughtlines (Viking, 2002), Carr reveals he believes he has perfected the headline techniques of tabloid journalism. It goes some way to explaining his calculated dog whistling in his frequent commentary on ethnic or cultural factors in Sydney gang-crime claims that win approving headlines and an upward bounce in polls. While Carr is not racist, he justifies this tactic as political leverage so that working-class Labor voters will not be lured away by the nostrums of One Nation or the Liberal Party.

In Thoughtlines, he refers admiringly to a past master in the game of rhetorical prejudice, Huey Long, the populist and reformist governor of Louisiana: "... but one with more decency towards black citizens than other southern politicians of his time. He was approached by the leaders of the state's black community who asked the governor to provide more jobs in the hospital system for blacks. Huey Long knew that in the racist climate of the 1920s this would be difficult. He visited a huge hospital and did a press conference on its steps, waving his fists as he declared it a disgrace that white women were nursing black male patients. A racist electorate agreed. Governor Long was then able to move swiftly to put hundreds of black women in nurses' uniforms."[viii]

With that degree of attention to the sophisticated manipulation of popular opinion, you begin to see how Carr's mind works. Cynical observers would say that he has learnt the lessons of effective management of the state of NSW well – that it has depended on managing the media and ensuring that the utilities deliver essential services. Now that the utilities have been corporatised, the main focus of the Premier's considerable energies lies in media or issues management. In this context, public servants may find that they are dispensable when negative perceptions arise in service delivery in health, education, welfare, transport or policing.

The pattern was repeated with headlines towards the end of 2003 when Health Care Complaints Commissioner Amanda Adrian was summonsed to a meeting with the Director-General of the Premier's Department, Dr Col Gellatly, and told her employment was being terminated forthwith because of Government dissatisfaction with her efforts.

Adrian's termination on December 11, 2003 was part of a range of measures announced that day as the HCCC's report into patient deaths at Camden and Campbelltown hospitals was publicly released. For months there had been complaints from the Opposition and nurse whistleblowers about the adequacy of the HCCC's investigations into health standards in the South West Sydney Area Health Service. As part of a media management strategy, designed to outflank its critics, the Government shot its own watchdog before the public was able to make an assessment about the volume of the watchdog's bark or the effectiveness of its bite. Commissioner Adrian was not allowed to publicly present her findings or defend her agency's investigative methodology.

Ken Moroney, who replaced Peter Ryan as police commissioner, has a contract requiring him to focus on and manage the perception of crime.[ix] Similar contracts can be expected for other CES appointees if there is not a debate about its consequences for the Westminster convention of ministerial responsibility and public service independence.

Issues management is now dominating public administration. Media monitoring by departments and agencies is a fully funded obligation so that instantaneous briefs can be provided to ministers for immediate planning of media strategies. For the author, covering state politics has become a process of engagement with "spin doctors" who now outnumber accredited journalists. Such is the level of cabinet, departmental and agency secrecy and paranoia that only those with time to develop back-channel sources of information can hope to discover what is really going on.

 

THE LINE BETWEEN politics and public administration has caused problems for several governments in NSW. The Greiner government was spectacularly exposed in the use of its newfound power to appoint senior executives on contract in the so-called Metherell affair in 1994, when Premier's Department head Richard Humphry acceded to a request to facilitate the appointment of a dissident Liberal backbencher Terry Metherell to a senior executive position in the Environment Protection Authority. While the NSW Supreme Court struck down an ICAC finding that the Parliament, on the evidence, was entitled to determine corrupt conduct by the premier (and his relevant minister), the issue was resolved politically when balance-of-power independents declared no confidence. Greiner resigned.

Late last year, the NSW Auditor-General exposed consistent breaches and flouting by Carr Government ministers of Premier's Department contract and performance-appraisal guidelines for the most senior officers. As mentioned earlier, some administering the process believe the pendulum has swung too far towards ministerial autonomy. The Auditor-General found that while improvements were needed to lift and monitor performance – through new methods of selection and termination of senior staff – some ministers were now exercising too much authority in the process, to the point of widespread concern among senior officers in the state.

The issues raised in the Commonwealth following the children-overboard affair weigh heavily. Some see it as an example of the erosion of the ability of senior public servants to act fearlessly.

Last October, Auditor-General Bob Sendt reported breaches of Premier's Department guidelines relating to contracts in nine of 16 agencies reviewed. In 2002, the results of a review of 146 chief-executive contracts were said to be "most unsatisfactory". "Unless ministers observe the guidelines, the risk is that unfair and unethical practices may evolve in the employment of executives," Sendt reported in 2003.[x]

The Auditor-General found unreconciled salary packages and a lack of performance agreements and appraisals. At the time of the review, the contract of the CEO of the Health Department was not finalised due to an "oversight" and other pressures. A performance agreement between the CEO and the minister was not in place. RIC had no policy on the CEO's contract and performance evaluation. The minister did not prepare a formal performance appraisal of the CEO of the Roads and Traffic Authority. The CEO of the Waterways Authority, appointed in April 2000, still had no performance agreement in place by June 2003. There was no current performance agreement for the Commissioner of the Rural Fire Service and the Department of Corrective Services could not provide documentation of a midyear meeting the minister held to discuss the commissioner's performance.

This raises issues both about public administration in the state, and questions of natural justice for those working at a senior level without a contract who may find themselves vulnerable as a result.

In NSW, the Premier's Department public-sector management office manages complex employee-relations issues providing advice to the Government through the Director-General, Col Gellatly. Under the contract system the CEO is required to have a performance contract agreement with the minister and the minister is expected to review this performance contract at least on an annual basis.

The Premier rejects any suggestion that after eight years in office his bureaucracy is being politicised through the contract system. He has said he is committed to the integrity of public-sector management. In answer to these criticisms by the Auditor-General, he said that Gellatly was working through the issues with the Auditor-General to ensure ministerial compliance with performance-appraisal guidelines for all executives. The Premier had personally issued a memorandum to all ministers on November 21, 2003, reminding them of their responsibilities in the management of CEO performance contracts.

Like the Auditor-General, Dr Louise Chappell, senior lecturer in economics and political science at the University of Sydney and a councillor of the Institute of Public Administration (NSW), sees danger signs ahead: "The current government is willing and able to take advantage of the contracts system to suit its own political needs. This raises a problem of insecurity at senior levels. It also encourages public servants to pre-empt the political agenda of ministers rather than concentrate on strategic policy development. In the process, the influence of ministerial staff is developing as one of the central accountability gaps in our current system of government. When government gets caught on issues management, it fails to recognise systemic policy problems and is unable to develop sound policy solutions. In such an environment, policy gets dumbed down – it becomes knee-jerk rather than a comprehensive, long-term and co-ordinated response to complex issues."[xi]

 

WHILE BOB CARR demonstrates great rhetorical skills and a cynical brilliance at media and issues management, the Government of NSW consistently fails to address major policy challenges, according to experts whose views were canvassed for this article.

The resident population of NSW at June 30, 2002, was 6,640,355, a little over a third of the Australian population, a 5.8 per cent increase since June 1997. Most live in Greater Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong. A quarter were born overseas. The state's economy is the largest in Australia with a 2001-02 gross state product of $249 billion, 35 per cent of the national total. Service industries account for 62 per cent of the state's income with a workforce in retailing, property and business services of 2.4 million.[xii]

State governments are service providers. One of the consistent complaints of experts is that the political-media culture overwhelms intelligent and logical policy formulation and implementation. The Premier often diverts criticism about service failure by producing a list of spending initiatives in the affected area.

 

AT THE JUNE 2003 opening of the University of Sydney's graduate school of government, Premier Carr was praised by Professor David Richmond, the school's inaugural director. Richmond was considered one of the state's most effective public administrators, with CEO-level experience in health, lands, housing, premier's and public works. He fixed the Government's intractable organisational and marketing problems as director-general of the Olympic Co-ordination Authority.

At the launch, Richmond noted Carr's support for vocational education and spoke of the "art of implementation" that needed to be instilled through the school's graduate diploma courses, which the Government is partially funding. Among the practical courses on offer was one on media management – a key tool of implementation.

"Political leaders may set and guide policy and strategy but implementation is in the hands of public servants," Richmond said. "The days of the grey public servant, derided and looked down upon by some, are long gone. Public administrators need to be recognised for the skills they exercise and the complexity of the tasks they manage."

Richmond cited Henry Kissinger as the apotheosis of the "art of implementation". "What we are endeavouring to achieve is largely summed up by one quotation James Reston, the pre-eminent Washington journalist used to describe Dr Henry Kissinger. 'It was,' wrote Reston, 'the sweep of his mind, so often lacking at the top of government, that I admired most'."[xiii]

In an environment shaped by short-term policy and media agendas, public servants are unlikely to be recognised for the skills they exercise or the complexity of the tasks they manage. Before this can occur there is a need for debate about the consequences of the issues raised here and the question of where artful implementers draw the line in serving their vote-hungry or media-conscious ministers' short-term political objectives at the expense of good policy or their own career advancement.

Media management is just a part of it, but perhaps Bob Carr could suspend his private German classes to participate in the school's courses to canvass these issues. He could skip media management.



[i] Financial Audits, Volume 3, 2003, The Audit Office of New South Wales.

[ii] Paola Totaro, The Sydney Morning Herald, July 26, 2003.

[iii] March 14, 2003, letter from Director-General of Transport to Independent Commission Against Corruption.

[iv] Peter Ryan: The Inside Story by Sue Williams (Viking, 2002) p298.

[v] September 2003 ICAC Report on Investigation into conduct of the Rail Infrastructure Corporation and others in relation to Menangle bridge.

[vi] Bob Carr: The Reluctant Leader by Marilyn Dodkin (UNSW Press, 2003) p149.

[vii] Bob Carr: A Self-Made Man by Andrew West and Rachel Morris (HarperCollins, 2003) p194.

[viii] Thoughtlines by Bob Carr (Viking, 2002) p165.

[ix] Contract of Employment between Michael Costa MLC Minister for Police and Mr K.E. Moroney, Commissioner of Police, June 2, 2002.

[x] Financial Audits Volume 3, 2003, The Audit Office of New South Wales.

[xi] Louise Chappell, University of Sydney/member of the Institute of Public Administration interviewed by the author.

[xii] Overview of NSW Government Services – Council on the Cost and Quality of Government.

[xiii] Welcome to Premier Carr by Professor David Richmond, inaugural director, graduate school of government, University of Sydney, June 2003.


From Griffith Review Edition 3: Webs of Power © Copyright Griffith University & the author.

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