PSst! I spy a spy

By The Mandarin

June 3, 2021

I spy a spy. (Image: Adobe/athichoke.pim)

Here is our next instalment of rumours, tips and good gossip for you to mull over while enjoying your coffee. PSst! What have you heard? Please feel free to send us any snippets of info to 




Defence dealings

After ordering his office and department to be as evasive and tight-lipped with the media as possible, defence minister Peter Dutton has been given a few orders of his own.

The Mandarin has it on good authority that the prime minister’s office made special effort to inform the minister’s office that dealing with enquiring journalists is part of the job. Just deal with it, was pretty much the message delivered and received.

Speaking of defence – Mike Pezzullo’s name isn’t being mentioned at all. The Home Affairs secretary would no doubt love to join his old boss Dutton and head up the Department of Defence, but the drums of war don’t seem to be beating too loudly for him.

What about foreign affairs?

One name being bandied about in the mix to replace Frances Adamson in DFAT, however, is Kathryn Campbell, the social services boss and the government’s COVID-19 welfare program director. Appointing Campbell to the post of DFAT secretary would be a bold move on the prime minister’s part. He is expected to announce his choice soon. An increasing number of insiders are describing Campbell as the frontrunner.

Sporting cyber spy

Did you hear the one about spies and sport?

Apparently, a senior public servant was being cyber-stalked by foreign spies who thought they had hit paydirt when he used social media to post pics of his child playing sport.   

A foreign spy in this country then signed up a child to the same sporting team, which led to a ‘friendship’ between the two adults. Which in turn, came to the attention of ASIO.

But the federal opposition is on the case. Labor is seeking formal advice about how such social media hazards can be avoided. Shadow minister Kristina Keneally told the Labor caucus this week about the incident. She said the opposition’s national security committee would prepare advice in consultation with ASIO about reducing the risk of online interference. All ‘interference’ should be left to the sportsground.

Office bound or bound to leave

Across the public sector there are now almost as many policies regarding work from home as there are agencies. Following the pivot to remote working at the height of the pandemic last year, departments have begun staging the pivot back.

But it seems the ones who have implemented a firm ‘back in the office’ regime are losing staff at a considerable rate. Working from home proved so successful for many workers (and agencies) that some can no longer abide the confinements and interruptions of the office every day of the week.

The Mandarin has been told that effective employees are searching for jobs in other departments where the rules around office-home work ratios are more reasonable.

Problem is, the agencies they leave don’t even know the reason why. No one appears to be stating on their exit surveys that it’s the draconian work arrangements prompting their departure.   

Do they really want to know?

The deadline for APS staff to complete and submit their employee census is fast approaching (June 11), yet many public servants still haven’t received their unique links required to fill them out. Requests across a number of agencies are being met with stonewalling in more than a few instances. It could be system overload, or simple incompetence. But it begs the question as to just how accurate a survey the census will be if a large number of willing employees are denied the opportunity to tell their bosses what they really think. Some have already given up the chase.

Queensland’s senior officers not happy

If you’re a state politician in Queensland, you’re getting a pay rise. So too if you are one of the state’s 60,000 rank-and-file public servants.

Not so if you just happen to be one of the thousand or so senior officers of the Queensland public service.

They have been left behind in salary negotiations and they’re not happy. And fair enough too – they haven’t had an increase since 2017. Some senior officers are now managing staff who earn more than them.

Project blowouts

There are lots of grumblings about project management right now, across most federal agencies. And the concerns are obvious.

Project management is a discipline with well-recognised methodologies and formal accreditations. Yet, you don’t have to look too far to find projects where the scope, budget and timeframes have blown out so much that some projects are simply re-baselined, renamed or given a 2.0 suffix to overcome the uncomfortable consequences of having to report and accept responsibility for these blowouts. 

So who is keeping a tally – at agency and whole-of-government levels – of the gap between original investment decisions, intended benefits and what is ultimately delivered?

If anyone has that pie chart, we’d love to see and share it.

End of an institution?

Could the end of popular Parliament House, Canberra café ‘Aussies’ really be approaching? There’s a good chance. For more than a quarter of a century, many public servants have sipped on a cappuccino at Aussies while discussing ‘business’ or collapsing after a gruelling estimates appearance.

But after years of changes for the café – by way of competition coffee carts being installed in the corridors, tightening of its own lease agreements, rent hikes and threats over its name – the Department of Parliamentary Services is now calling for expressions of interest for retail services in the building.

DPS wants all current licensees to submit an EOI, meaning the café will have to apply for its continued existence.

Word is, owner Dom Calabria has had enough and probably won’t even submit an expression of any interest whatsoever.


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