Reader response: portfolio moves, council mergers, Defence vs APS

By The Mandarin

January 25, 2016

Closing the spectrum gap

Laurie Patton writes: Re. “What next for Indigenous Affairs?” A tangential, but perhaps prescient, example of the difficulties mentioned …

In 2010 former departmental secretary Neville Stevens was commissioned to undertake a review of the government’s investment in the Indigenous broadcasting and media sector. I was a member of the Expert Panel for the review.

After extensive consultations Neville recommended that Indigenous broadcasting be moved from the Office of the Arts to the Communications portfolio. The rationale was that the expertise required to affect long overdue changes would be resident in an organisation that manages other broadcasting matters rather than one with empathy but no technical knowledge.

One of the few recommendations from the review that was actioned was the portfolio move.

Sadly, the bureaucrats in DBCDE, as it was, showed no interest in implementing the raft of changes that would have gone a long way towards “closing the gap”. One such recommendation, for example, was to provide training to Indigenous workers, especially in regional and remote areas, so that they could assist in the digital television switchover and the rollout of the NBN. Five years later and NBN last year announced a similar initiative in recognition of the huge skills shortage that is hampering the broadband implementation.

Last I heard the portfolio move had been reversed. So I guess that Indigenous broadcasters are now back with people who care more about them but who have little or no expertise or the administrative framework to assist them with the very specific needs of broadcasters and media producers.

And, so it goes …

Dept of Garbage Administration?

Dr Hal Colebatch writes: Re. “Why NSW council amalgamations are well overdue” Stephen Mayne is entitled to his opinions about local government in NSW, but they are just that: opinions.

He simply asserts that the fewer councils you have the better governed you are, and NSW should aim to have fewer councils than Victoria. Why should the comparison be Victoria? Why not Switzerland, which is about the same population as NSW — and has more than 500 councils? This is not because the Swiss don’t believe in efficiency: it’s because they also believe in democracy.

Mayne relates with relish that amalgamation in Victoria was accomplished by the suspension of democracy, the appointment of “hand-picked” commissars and the sacking of 10,000 workers. He yearns for councils run by businessmen and covering the whole metropolitan area. And despite everything he knows about corporate Australia, I suspect he believes that if you pay a lot of money to directors and top executives, you will get better corporate performance.

But if this is what Stephen Mayne believes, let him say so, and admit that this is not about reforming local government, but about replacing it with corporate government under state government control. There is a perfectly respectable argument that a single government corporation would manage garbage collection and disposal, or road maintenance, or libraries, or town planning, or any other local government function, more efficiently than individual councils — no matter what the size of the council. Set these corporations up, and you wouldn’t need councils at all. Why mess around with these trivial ineffective tinkerings?

Tribalism gets defensive

Many people wrote back to The Mandarin in response to two exclusive stories by Harley Dennett published the first week back this year. “Don’t fake it: women see through culture change phonies” and “Keep ex-Defence out of public service, bureaucrats plead” drew the ire of some, and the praise of even more. Rather than choose one letter to (inadequately) represent the many responses, here is a summary of their concerns and thoughts:

Women in the senior ranks of the Australian Public Service and Australian Defence Force that responded were unanimously supportive of the first story — which raised their concerns that talk on gender inclusiveness must be followed by enforcement and consistency. It’s a message that hasn’t yet sunk in at all levels of the organisation, wrote one. Another wrote that anonymity was the only way they could be critical of senior leadership when it says one thing, and does another — she was grateful The Mandarin chose to publish the comments even though they couldn’t be named.

The latter story — highlighting concerns public servants had about former ADF members bringing cultural problems with them — caused something of a stir. Former ADF members wrote to say it lacked balance. They wanted to see comments from ADF members critical of their public servant colleagues. However, the source report from the Department of Defence had none that fit the bill. The four quotes from APS members were picked because they matched a pattern of free-text comments in the Unacceptable Behaviour Surveys; there was no corresponding pattern of quotes critical of APS culture.

The department may not have received comments critical of APS culture in Defence, but after the story published The Mandarin certainly did. One wrote that the whole story was laughable, that the APS has rank and uniform envy, and constantly lock the WPA into military conditions of service. He added that APS verbally attack those in uniform, “reminding us we are no better than them and don’t do the hard yards, like them”, and exclude uniformed personnel from some social interactions. Another wrote that the story was full of lies, as he had a female boss and worked with many public servants and contractors while in the Navy, but some APS still couldn’t comprehend this.

“They fail to take into account our service, whether it be active or peacetime, changes us as people, which is a requirement of our training.”

“They get the same training about equity and diversity and acceptable behaviour but trying to get them to abide by their code of conduct or investigated under it is near on impossible.”

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