Parkinson: 'I was never actually formally sacked' by Abbott but it sent a 'bad message' all the same

By Stephen Easton

July 26, 2019

Dr Martin Parkinson wants to make it clear for the record that he was never formally sacked as the secretary of the Treasury in 2013, despite being told his services were no longer required shortly after Tony Abbott became prime minister.

“I actually left at the end of 2014, 15 months after I was told that my services were not wanted, and I think it sent a very bad message to the public service,” he told ABC reporter Laura Tingle in an interview broadcast last night.

“People — whether it was intended or not — people interpreted it as ‘you shouldn’t take on roles that could be perceived as controversial’ even when all you’re doing is actually carrying out the lawful instructions of an elected government.”

The outgoing secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet maintains it is his choice to step down at the end of next month, well over a year before the end of his term of appointment. And it feels “pretty darn good” to jump instead of being pushed, he told Tingle.

Parkinson’s take on Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s plans for the public service is that “he wants clearly measurable and reportable metrics” and, if it wasn’t already abundantly clear, the PM wants public servants to get on with delivering on his priorities. “So I personally think it’s a very good initiative,” he said in the interview.

On to less personal matters, Tingle pointed out it seemed hard to understand how he could have cleared former ministers Christopher Pyne and Julie Bishop of breaching the rules of ministerial ethics through their post-political career moves.

He thinks people are judging them against what they believe the ministerial standards should be, but noted he could only consider the complaints against the actual standards.

“Those standards are pretty clear and they are reasonably, I think, reasonably well structured,” he added.

“But it’s almost a case that some of these people who are critical of former ministers are really implicitly saying ministers should never be allowed to hold a job again. No prime minister can ever work again because they cover so many issues. No treasurer could ever work again because they’re involved in so many issues and I think it’s just, it’s a case where people have not thought through enough about what is actually required.

“And the key issue is to ensure that people don’t misuse information that they obtain purely because they happen to be minister for X at a particular point in time.”

The interview then moved on to matters that concerned Parkinson in his role prior to becoming head of Treasury in 2011 — climate change, and the best ways to incentivise a reduction in carbon emissions.

As an economist, he believes electricity and gas prices are higher than they need to be as a result of ineffective climate change policy. Until the nation has “a sensible set of policies that can be sustained in the long run” Australians will continue paying too much for energy, he said.

An emissions trading scheme that puts a price on carbon is the most efficient way to reduce the air pollution driving climate change, Parkinson explained. “Whatever else you do, renewable energy target or anything else, they can be no cheaper than putting an explicit price on carbon.”

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