‘Take a holiday’: when leaders crumble, keep your head down


CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 02:  Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Margie Abbott prepare to leave the National Press Club on February 2, 2015 in Canberra, Australia. Prime Minister Abbott will lay out his 2015 plans as his ability to lead the party is questioned by political commentators following the unpopular decision to knight Prince Philip and Coalition party loss in the Queensland election.  (Photo by Stefan Postles/Getty Images)

What should public servants do when leadership spills and political instability loom? Keep your head down, stay motivated — and maybe take that holiday you’ve been planning.

Queensland doesn’t have a government days after an election. The Northern Territory administration is in turmoil after a failed coup. And Canberra is consumed over who should be the prime minister.

When leaders fall and governments crumble, throwing policymaking into chaos, what’s a hard-working public servant to do? “Take a holiday!” said David Charles, half-jokingly.

The former secretary of the Department of Industry, Technology and Commerce — now director at consulting firm Insight Economics — told The Mandarin: “That’s a very hard question. Where the government is in disarray, I guess that raises difficult questions.

“The government is the government until it’s no longer the government. Public servants will know what’s going on, but on the other hand they’re there to serve the government of the day.

FREE membership to The Mandarin

Receive unlimited access, get all the latest public sector news and features, plus The Juice, our daily news update sent direct to your inbox.

The Mandarin is where Australia's public sector leaders discuss their work and the issues faced within modern bureaucracy. Join today to discover the latest in public administration thinking and news from our dedicated reporters, current and former agency heads and senior executives.

  • disqus_CVNqy9HvXa

    I completely dispute that public servants give themselves time off during caretaker period. Even in policy in my experience there’s plenty to do – it’s just slightly different from the rest of the electoral cycle.

  • CM58

    Ah, caretaker period – once gave a public presentation and was told not to mention future policy implications. That went down really well with the private sector in attendance. But agree with below, there is a lot of prep for post election and program delivery continues on.