Tom Burton: benching talent brings worst of Washminster

Sacked mandarin Paul Grimes will now join the ranks of distinguished talent wasted on the grandstand of public life. Instead of learning from the best of Westminster and Washington, Australia has picked up the worst.

The exiling of federal Department of Agriculture secretary Paul Grimes to the departure lounge points to a far wider problem about public life.

In my experience Grimes is as good an executive leader as you will find. Balanced, thoughtful, capable, he learnt his craft as a PhD economist, rising through the ranks to earn a public service medal for his work around the global financial crisis.

Grimes is but the last of a long line of distinguished public administrators who are being lost to Australia’s public sector. Over the last 18 months we have seen purges of three major bureaucracies¬†— in Canberra, Melbourne and most recently Brisbane.

Some I have to admit were no great loss, but the vast majority are competent, intelligent leaders who earned their positions through hard work and dedication to a greater public cause. Public sector pay grades are relatively comfy these days, but many of these mandarins could have earned far bigger bucks in mid-tier private firms, without the grueling personal toll agency leadership exacts.

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