When former bureaucrats speak out: insight and resentment


It seems former bureaucrats can’t win when they critique their old workplaces: critics cry hypocrisy while former colleagues feel slighted.

Australia’s former top statistician risked both yesterday, hitting out at the “intrusiveness” of plans by the Australian Bureau of Statistics to retain the names and addresses collected in this year’s census survey. Bill McLennan, the ABS head between 1995 and 2000, told The Australian Financial Review he believes the census could be a disaster when citizens wake up to the data retention decision and refuse to trust the survey:

“They’re not going to sell this to the public when it realises what’s going on …

“What happens when a future government suddenly decides it wants information about terrorism in Australia and passes legislation with one line that gives them that information. That can happen in half a day.”

It’s an unhelpful intervention for ABS executives now defending the plan. Duncan Young, head of the 2016 census program, told the paper there is public support for the move and it’s “the kind of thing they expect of us”.

Sandi Logan, too, has probably lost friends in his former workplace, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. The former departmental communications manager has been a regular critic of asylum seeker detention policy and current management at the agency, including yesterday when he attacked secretary Michael Pezzullo for his “foot in mouth” statement that referenced crimes “allegedly experienced in Nazi Germany”. Logan told The Mandarin:

“Aside from the nuance associated with how to correctly use the adverb ‘allegedly’, especially when talking about the Nazis, this stuff-up is symptomatic of an organisation having so comprehensively drunk the Kool-Aid. It is inured to any sense of reality let alone, in terms of communicating a message, a sense of what’s right, what’s wrong and what’s appropriate …

“Mr Pezzulo has for too long said too little about his department’s operations — a complete Berlin wall of silence — and when he does, it’s always reactive, poorly phrased and, as in this instance, foot in mouth.”

Some Mandarin readers were quick to attack Logan as once part of the problem (he left the agency in 2013). Now a communications consultant, he’s aware of the fine line he treads in speaking out.

In a post on LinkedIn, Logan — who used Twitter aggressively in defending the department while in the job — insisted his comments “should in no way be interpreted as a criticism of some very good colleagues still doing their level best in the mis-trusting comms environment in which they now operate”:

“More and more I am being approached by journalists and producers to offer comment on the operations of Australia’s immigration authorities. Many of you would know I was the department’s spokesman for eight years (2005-2013), under the Liberal-National Coalition government of John Howard, and briefly, that of Tony Abbott; and for the entirety of the Labor government under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.

“My expertise is in strategic communications, not policy, but after being immersed in a topic/issue for as long as I was, and with access to the leading lights’ insights and thoughts during that period, I am not backwards in coming forward (sometimes) to offer policy advice!”

Some mandarins retire never to be seen or heard again. Many move into the consultancy work to share their expertise for a price. John Menadue, a Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet boss in the 1970s, is a regular blogger. Paul Barratt, a former Defence and Primary Industries secretary, is prolific on Twitter.

As Barratt has said before on the social media platform, he espouses views now he would never dream of saying while in government.

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