Ex-pollie credentials ‘off-limits’ for public servants

By The Mandarin

Thursday February 4, 2016

Kate Carnell
Kate Carnell

Public servants put up with a lot of bad behaviour from the political class, from verbal abuse to questioning why professional development is in the public interest. And it appears even after the pollies leave office, they remain firmly part of the “upstairs” and the public servants “downstairs”.

The latest example is this snippet in The Australian today, where Barry O’Farrell scores a highly sought government gig with the Sydney Cricket and Sports Ground Trust — without the usual process:

“His appointment was ­approved by cabinet but did not follow­ the process he established for such appointments, where those wishing to offer themselves for government boards register with the Premier’s Department, which runs a vetting process­. It was felt it was inappropriate for public servants to interview an ex-premier about his skills.

He’s not alone lately. Former ACT chief minister Kate Carnell (pictured) walked into the allegedly “new role” of the Australian small business and family enterprise ombudsman this week. She displaces Australian small business commissioner Mark Brennan, a long-serving public servant, barrister and solicitor, appointed by the previous Labor government.

Brennan’s skills and credentials were impeccable having previously served as the executive director of small business in the former Victorian Department of State Development and having developed the small business commissioner position the state. He has also been named a “small business champion” by industry groups. However, he was effective sacked by the passage of legislation that renames the role from commissioner to ombudsman, and other than minor tinkering, changes little in terms of its functions.

The difference between the roles of commissioner and ombudsman, according to Treasury’s own descriptions, is extremely slight:

  • The ombudsman is a “Commonwealth-wide advocate for small business”, while the commissioner is to “represent small business interests”.
  • The ombudsman assists with “referral to dispute resolution services”, while the commissioner is a “concierge for dispute resolution”.
  • The ombudsman “contributes to the development of small business friendly laws”, while the commissioner “works with government”.

Carnell explained her understanding of the role in media rounds:

“From my perspective, the role is to be a strong advocate for small business and family enterprise across the board, particularly with federal departments to ensure that laws and regulations are appropriate for small businesses and family enterprises.

“We will work with various departments to reduce red tape. There’s lots of things the federal government does for small business, you’ve just got to be a genius to understand it.”

The Office of the Small Business Commissioner was moved from the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science to Treasury in the last machinery of government shake-up.

The Mandarin reached out to the department to find out more about what was actually changing as a result of Carnell’s appointment compared with the office Brennan ran, and whether the office staff would be retained. That request was passed up to the Assistant Treasurer Kelly O’Dwyer, whose spokesperson replied: “That’s a matter for the Department of Treasury.”

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