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A department that doesn’t exist anymore is having work Christmas drinks

The brief existence of a former super-department, created solely to accommodate an awkward campaign decision from then opposition leader Kevin Rudd, is so fondly remembered by some of its employees they want to hold a work Christmas function for it — more than four years after it was abolished.

The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations lasted from the Rudd era to, err, the Rudd era. Nonetheless, the DEEWR left a wealth of material for academics researching the ups and downs of machinery of government changes.

The premise for its existence — merging the former departments of Education, Science and Training, and Employment and Workplace Relations — gained renewed significance last month with the release of the former prime minister’s autobiography ‘Not for the faint-hearted: a personal reflection on life, politics and purpose’, covering Rudd’s rise to power. It includes one fateful decision by Mark Latham that would have a lasting impact on the cabinet roles of soon-to-be treasurer Wayne Swan, Rudd’s Brutus — Julia Gillard — and the more than 4000 public servants who were swept up in the aftermath.

According to Rudd, Latham gave Swan the treasury spokesperson role in opposition as ‘a joke on the party’ in 2004 to create problems down the line.

“He would bequeath Swan to his successor as a permanent Achilles heel, entrenched in the position once it had been given to him, simply because Swan’s factional strength would make it impossible to remove him,” Rudd wrote.

Whether it was Swan’s factional strength or a desire to not give then Coalition prime minister John Howard ammunition in the upcoming election, Rudd promised his frontbench would not change if he won government. Indeed, it did prevent Gillard, Rudd’s then deputy, from assuming the role of treasurer on winning the election in 2007.

To have Labor’s first female deputy prime minister not also hold the Treasury role was an uncomfortable reminder of the glass ceiling for women, and so a super portfolio needed to be created.

It lasted until Rudd lost the 2013 election to the Liberal’s Tony Abbott, and the more than 4000 public servants split off into the the Department of Education under secretary Lisa Paul, and the Department of Employment under secretary Renee Leon.

But as Leon told The Mandarin a few years ago they’re like-departments along with Social Services and Human Services and you can mix them up in lots of different ways.

Come say hi to former colleagues in Brisbane

The Christmas event on tomorrow is the brainchild of Alicia Weiderman and, in her words, “a bunch of other people I roped into being involved”.

No word on whether Lisa Paul, the DEEWR’s departmental secretary, or any of its ministers can make it.

Author Bio

Harley Dennett

Harley Dennett is editor at The Mandarin based in Canberra. He's held communications roles in the New South Wales public sector and Defence, and been a staff reporter for newspapers in Sydney and Washington DC.