‘Partisan staff undermine government institutional memory’

Ministerial staff and public servants need to find better ways of working together to stop the loss of corporate memory, a new book examining political staffers argues.

The growing divide between public servants and ministerial staff is preventing the retention of governmental corporate memory, say the authors of a book examining the lessons learned by prime ministers’ chiefs of staff.

Increasingly, governments are relying on partisan staffers over the public service — and nowhere more so than in the prime minister’s office.

Under Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, up to 70% of ministerial staff were on secondment from the public service, but increasing partisanship means public servants are worried that taking a position in the prime minister’s office will harm their careers.

“The consequences of these changes are obvious,” argue Associate Professor Anne Tiernan and Professor R.A.W. Rhodes in The Gatekeepers. “Both politicians and public servants had less knowledge of how government works, and the amount and quality of expert advice was reduced.”

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