Broadband audit challenges public sector advice failure

An independent audit of the NBN policy process questions the “malaise” of public officials when their advice is rejected or unheard by government. Author Bill Scales asks mandarins to stand tall.

An audit of the NBN public policy process has challenged public sector leaders to ask why their advice was not seriously considered.

The Independent Audit — NBN Public Policy Processes: April 2008 – May 2010 report authored by Bill Scales, a former Productivity Commission head and Telstra director, credits the public officials involving in the NBN policy development with “dedication and commitment” to making it work. Department of Communications officials have been largely vindicated by an independent audit for their part in the development of National Broadband Network policy. But the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission came into criticism for giving “unsolicited advice”

However, Scales took task with the lack of resistance within the public service when its cautions were rejected by government:

“[T]he public service, even at its most senior levels, had difficulty in having its ‘voice’ heard on many important NBN policy matters. It is tempting to assume that this was simply circumstantial and related to the very special circumstances and operating culture of the Rudd Labor Government at the time and were specific to the NBN public policy development process. However, this may be too convenient an explanation. There have been many other times in Australia’s history when similarly difficult and complex policy issues have emerged and have created tensions between the Executive and the most senior levels of the public service, and yet, robust advice has still been provided to Ministers and the Executive, and it has been seriously considered by the Government of the day.

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