Alex Mitchell’s WEEKLY NOTEBOOK – Thoughtlines from the head of the civil service

Terry Moran AC was secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in Canberra from March 2008 to September 2011 during the turbulent chaos of Kevin Rudd and his successor Julia Gillard.
Trained in nation-building and policy execution, Moran found himself managing a political crisis desk for politicians trying to survive the relentless pathological attacks of Tony Abbott and the Murdoch press.
In his role as president of the Institute of Public Administration he recently gave a speech on “The Craft of Governing” in which he told some home truths about Canberra’s civil service.
“It would be true to say that public servants make something of a Faustian pact in which their ability to advise Ministers comes at the price of eternal silence,” he said.
“The passing parade of contemporary politicians and their populist tactics corrodes respect for our democracy, while the Trappist vows of senior public servants deprive our society of one possible source of our democratic system’s explanation and defence.”
Moran lamented the fact that there was no framework for evaluating economic and social reforms. All that mattered was that the reforms be measured in terms of economic growth.
He added: “To open up the works of Ministers to evaluation is to threaten them with a demonstration of the emperor having no clothes. Economists, therefore, get off lightly.
“While political scientists have given us an acute understanding of the institutions of government and how they operate, we still don’t have a good understanding of what weighs on the minds of Ministers when they go down the policy track of whim and fancy [e.g. Rudd and Abbott – AM] and the consequences for Australia from decisions made while plodding down that track.”

Screw the economists

Moran delivered a sobering judgement on the role of economists in Canberra accusing them of advocating the “privatisation, outsourcing and dismemberment of many of the organisations in which they work”.
“There have been very few studies to examine alternatives to the preoccupations of economists and inadequate evaluation of their consequences.”
He made two recommendations:
1. The policy advice of economists be evaluated more independently and with a greater focus on its impact on institutions and citizens;
2. There be a recognition that many of the problems we face won’t be solved through the pure application of economic thinking.
He gave the example of the Abbott Government’s creation of “an exaggerated urgency about the need for fiscal consolidation” which resulted in a resort to the punishing proposal for $8 per medical visit co-payment.
“But there’s an entire alternative universe of policy solutions that could be better used and that would involve the Commonwealth addressing the systemic deficiencies of its own administration of the primary care system, as well as aged care, mental health and disability services.”

Bye bye Amanda

Amanda Fazio bade farewell to the NSW Legislative Council after two terms of seven years in which her salary almost doubled from around $100,000 to $200,000-a-year. At one stage she rose to the exalted position of Upper House president on a package of a quarter of a million dollars plus a chauffeur-driven limousine, her own staff and generous expenses.
Her retirement pension will be around $140,000 a year, tax-free, fully indexed for life.
Qualifications? From 1992 to 2000 Fazio was “executive officer” at Sussex Street, home of the machine that runs the NSW Labor Party. Before that she worked on the staff of right-wing organ grinder “Leaping” Leo McLeay.
Every job she held – inside parliament and outside – was a gift from her right-wing faction with the blessing of the fake “lefts”. She didn’t seek nomination for a third term when she learned that was going to be dumped from the ticket.
Her response? She rolled into the Upper House and attacked her right-wing faction.
In her final speech on 20 November Fazio was warm-hearted and generous to the bitter end. She told MPs: “I am quite aware that some members may expect to use this speech to attack people – and there are a number of people in this world whom I intensely dislike – but I do not want to give such a pack of talentless, useless non-entities any publicity.
“I have only one thing to say to that group of people: I only wish them anything but well in the future.”
Will we ever see her like again? ‘Fraid so. Wollongong MP Noreen Hay is engaged in a shameful mud wrestle to gain pre-selection over Wollongong University academic Paul Scully and Wollongong City councillor Ann Martin. The fix is in for Hay: the vote is on December 6.

Modi the menace

I’m sick and tired of hearing the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi described as “a rock star” and his poverty-stricken, backward republic called “the world’s largest democracy”.
Modi is a petty nationalist and cunning opportunist. His party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, embraces all the sectarianism of Hindu fanaticism. Since it was taken over by the country’s business lobby, the BJP has been transformed into a “people’s party” with the aim of ousting the long-established Congress Party once led by Nehru and his daughter, Indira Gandhi.
Modi’s election victory was underwritten by a club of billionaires from the mining, textile, energy, transport and media industries. Modi has convinced Washington and London that he will turn India into a strategic ally against Pakistan, Iran and China. He’s convinced Tony Abbott too.
Modi is seeking uranium to establish a nuclear power industry which will also produce plutonium to build nuclear weapons.
Abbott can’t wait to restart uranium exports even though India refuses to sign the Nuclear Arms Non-Proliferation Treaty. Other non-signatories are Pakistan and Israel.
Abbott’s new-found attachment to Modi is fraught with political, economic, diplomatic and military problems. This is made very clear by my son, Scott Mitchell, in this article for the global current affairs service, Vice News:

Brigadier Lycra MIA

On the eve of the September 2013 Federal Election, Army top brass visited bases in Australia telling soldiers they should all participate in the election and that the ADF believed the defence forces would get a better deal from the Coalition than Labor.
So much for the much-vaunted “non-political” armed forces. It amounted to overt political campaigning on behalf of the Coalition, and Abbott duly received tens of thousands of defence votes. They came from serving personnel as well as the partners and parents of servicemen and women. The ex-service community – ferocious haters of Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd – voted en bloc for Abbott as well.
Now the “Mad Monk” has insulted the “khaki” voters by insisting on a pay rise of 1.5% (half the rate of inflation) and cutting leave entitlements.
Just wait for the backflip.


“Jacqui Lambie is a person of integrity, decency and honesty.”
– NSW Labor Senator Sam Dastyari, former general secretary of the NSW Labor Party (aka Sussex Street)
PS: How would he know?

One comment

  1. I love my weekly dose of vitriolic bile aimed at the nsw labor party. Whenever you vent your spleen you forget how many thousand honest people within the party you besmirch with a few cheap shots at some of the bad eggs. Lets have lunch and have a discussion about these things some time soon Alex, best to Judith. Eh

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