Drums of war comment take some beating

By Chris Johnson

Wednesday April 28, 2021

Even departmental secretaries don’t deliver messages like Pezzullo’s without the risk of being sacked. (Image: Adobe/magmarcz)


When home affairs secretary Mike Pezzullo warned that drums of war were once again beating, he did so knowing there would be no blow back from his political masters.

Pezzullo appears to be an untouchable, surgically attached to the hip of Peter Dutton, the defence minister he wants to work with again.

Dutton has pretty much purged the office of his predecessor, Linda Reynolds. He prefers his own staff. People he trusts. Come July, the man he trusts the most might be his departmental secretary once more.

So perhaps Pezzullo knew he could scare the nation about imminent war because Dutton had his back.

Yet it could be more calculated than that.

Pezzullo could well have been asked, urged, ordered, to use the words he did from even higher up the food chain.

The message delivered is one that not too subtly lets the entire public sector know that things are going to be different. They are going to be different in attitude, approach and execution towards certain nations and relationships.

That a focus on defence spending has immediately followed Pezzullo’s remarks can be no coincidence.

Let’s look at a few things that make the giving of this speech somewhat unusual.

Firstly, Pezzullo is a public servant and not a minister. Public servants, even departmental secretaries, don’t deliver messages such as the one embedded in the Pezzullo address. Not without the risk of being sacked — which under normal circumstances and for just about anyone else, is a very real risk.

Ministers, usually prime ministers, warn of war if they think it’s necessary. To allow a public sector boss to do so without reprimand indicates a weakness at the highest levels of the current federal government. If it was sanctioned by the top echelons of government: even worse.

Secondly, it was out of portfolio. He is not in Defence (yet), nor DFAT. Those comments had no place coming from the Department of Home Affairs. They would have been starkly out of place if a minister in charge of home affairs made the comments. How much more so that the mere departmental secretary made them?

Thirdly, the impact of the words should not be underestimated. It was a finely-tuned and expertly-delivered message that has put the wind up the public sector and beyond. And it is already creating ripples around the world. Again, not something a public servant should be publicly doing.

Fourth, it was an Anzac Day address to staff. Flagging the possibility of another war is not at all what Anzac Day is about. Using the occasion to warn of war is disrespectful of the day at the least — and quite manipulative of it.

Lastly, it looks like a job application and a clunky one at that.


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5 months ago

Especially under Morrison, the Coalition has well and truly finished off Frank N. Fearless. “Benito” Pezzullo almost seems to operate as an Auxiliary Minister.

But the Coalition also makes the larger point of difference with Labor increasingly clear. Just today, Dutton claims “everyday Australians” back them on China.

Like it or not, simplistic or not, I think he’s right. 2020 Lowy Poll found voter regard for China at a historically low ebb, in contrast with regard for US.