Archive for June, 2019 | Monthly archive page

Industry gobsmacked as APS ‘insources’ $62 million contract

Friday, June 7th, 2019

About 100 call centre workers employed by the UK-based multinational in regional Victoria face an uncertain future. Photo: Robert RoughFull public service coverage

The federal government’s “Shared Services Centre” has swooped on a $62 million services contract that had been in private hands for years.

Industry insiders say they were gobsmacked when the Australian Public Service outfit aggressively bid for an Education Department contract held by outsourcing giant Serco, with the work to be “insourced” back into government.

About 100 call centre workers employed by the UK-based multinational in regional Victoria face an uncertain future after Serco lost the “customer-facing” service contract it had held since 2011.

Several other companies had put together bids for the work when they were told recently that it was to “insourced” and that the SCC would be taking over.

The coup has sent shockwaves through the business process outsourcing industry with executives crying foul at having to compete against a government entity when bidding for work they believe should go to the private sector.

“The whole industry was just gobsmacked,” one executive said.

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But the Abbott government’s “contestability agenda” is clear in its instructions to the bureaucracy’s leaders that shared services should be in the mix in decisions about the future of Commonwealth functions.

The contractors in the call centre in Bendigo, which was run by a smaller firm called Excelior before their takeover by Serco, also answer telephone inquiries for the Employment Department.

The capture of the contract from Serco will take the Shared Services Centre into new territory; the provision of customer-facing services when it takes over the call centre in January 2016, shocking observers who expected it to confine itself to back office functions.

But the government’s contestability agenda will force bosses to consider the shared service model when assessing what work can be outsourced or privatised.

The SSC already has more than 600 public servants or staff, making it bigger than some departments, and has taken over “backroom functions” from 11 departments and agencies and further growth looks likely as the privatisation push gathers pace.

The centre, which emerged from the breakup of the education and employment departments in 2013 and has only been operating since early 2014, is a key plank in the government’s contestability program which might see tens of thousands of Commonwealth jobs outsourced.

Public sector experts say the program, which will be rolled out across the Commonwealth government in the next three years, could be one of the biggest upheavals in the service’s history.

The Finance Department has confirmed that “portfolio stocktakes” are under way with government departments being assessed to see if work can be farmed out to either the private sector or the SSC.

The Shared Service Centre declined to comment on the Serco contract.

The Education Department would not answer questions about the call centre work.

“The Department of Education and Training’s contract with Excelior/Serco for contact centre services is in place until January 20, 2016,” a spokeswoman said.

This contract is also used to deliver Department of Employment contact centre services.

Serco also declined to provide detail of the future of the contract.

Martin Parkinson’s fall is a lesson for departmental secretaries

Friday, June 7th, 2019

Former Treasury secretary Martin Parkinson’s public comments regularly strayed into contentious areas. Photo: Josh RobenstoneThe Public Sector Informant: February issue

Martin Parkinson’s time as a secretary, first at the Department of Climate Change and finally at the Treasury, came to an end in December. However, he will remain a controversial figure when commentators debate how secretaries should behave and how their appointments should be handled.

On one account, Parkinson was a model public servant, extremely able and professional, who was unjustly sacked (or eased out of his position) by the incoming Coalition Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, perhaps at the urging of his chief of staff, Peta Credlin.

His main fault, apparently, was to have been a former secretary of Climate Change, a department the Coalition abolished and a policy area of which many in the Coalition were deeply sceptical. As Treasury secretary under Labor, Parkinson also skirmished occasionally with the opposition, for instance over claims in 2012 that the Treasury had been involved in costing Coalition policies outside an election campaign and leaking them to the media. In response, Parkinson had defended the Treasury’s obligation to cost any polices referred to it by the treasurer and had angrily denied responsibility for any leaks. No doubt, the leaks emanated from the minister’s office, which was keen to invoke the Treasury’s authority to score points off the opposition. On any fair reading of events, Parkinson and the Treasury were blameless.

From this perspective, Parkinson’s conduct had been exemplary throughout and his dismissal reflected a serious breach of Westminster conventions of a politically neutral public service. For critics of the Coalition’s disrespect of these conventions and its readiness to dismiss incumbent secretaries, Parkinson has becomes a symbolic martyr for an apolitical public service.

An alternative assessment of Parkinson’s performance is more ambiguous. While his capability as a policy analyst and departmental leader are unquestioned, he always had a tendency to speak out publicly on controversial policy issues. For example, in 2008, not long after his appointment as inaugural secretary of Climate Change, he wrote a lengthy opinion piece for The Australian, discussing various options for reducing greenhouse emissions and supporting some options over others. Such an open and relatively contentious intervention in policy debate was an unusual initiative for a departmental secretary.

Under the normal conventions of an apolitical public service, public servants avoid open discussion of contested policy options. They may help the government formulate policies and frame arguments to justify them. But public articulation is usually the role of ministers. Similarly, when answering questions from Senate committees, public servants are usually careful to refer controversial matters of policy to ministers, keeping clear of any suggestion of partisan commitment.

Parkinson’s 2008 article marked him out as a public servant willing to breach traditional conventions of anonymity and to engage publicly in policy advocacy. By 2010, with the breakdown of bipartisan discussions on climate change policy and Abbott’s defeat of Malcolm Turnbull for the Coalition leadership, climate change had become a highly polarising issue. As such, it was an area in which politically cautious public servants knew to watch their step. By all accounts, however, Parkinson, who continued as Climate Change secretary until early 2011, made little attempt to hide his support for the Gillard government’s carbon tax against the criticism of the Abbott-led opposition.

On this view, whatever the rights and wrong of Parkinson’s eventual dismissal, a case can be made that he overstepped the proper bounds of political neutrality as Climate Change secretary. The opinion, now firmly embedded in much of the gallery and the commentariat, that Parkinson was penalised simply for being in charge of a policy area of which the Coalition disapproved is therefore open to question. It applies much more clearly to his successor, Blair Comley, who was later snapped up by the NSW Coalition government, than to Parkinson himself.

As Treasury secretary from 2011, Parkinson continued his readiness to speak out on policy issues. In 2012, for example, in a widely reported address to a business lunch, he argued that current fiscal settings were unsustainable and that governments needed to be prepared to significanty increase revenue or severely cut public services, a theme he repeated on several occasions. In 2013, while defending the objectivity of Treasury budget forecasts, he questioned the overall reliability of medium-term forecasts, which had become so central to political debate. He suggested individual items could be given “confidence levels” indicating how much credence they should be given, as a means of increasing public awareness of the inherent uncertainties in budget forecasting.

After the election of the Coalition, Parkinson, now branded as a lame duck, became even more outspoken. In July 2014, he publicly attacked critics of the Coalition’s first budget who used “vague notions of fairness”, a blatantly partisan remark considering the opposition parties’ claims that the budget was unfair. His comments raised the ire of Paddy Gourley in the Informant of August 2014 and were described as “an almost unprecedented intervention in political debate” by former Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Michael Keating. A former public service commissioner, Professor Andrew Podger, also considered Parkinson to have gone too far on that occasion.

In August, Parkinson told a public gathering of young economists it was “unfortunate” that “we” did not spend more time talking about tax and spending changes as part of the budget process. On this occasion, he not only criticised the government but also accepted joint responsibility for its decisions and political salesmanship, both clear breaches of public service conventions. In September, he called for reductions in direct taxation as a boost to productivity, again a politically controversial proposal.

Given the compromised position in which the Abbott government had placed him, Parkinson can perhaps be personally forgiven for speaking his mind in his last months. However, his actions must also be considered from the point of view of public service ethics and professional practice. Does his readiness to enter the fray of public policy debate represent an example for others to follow or to be avoided? This question is particularly relevant at a time several influential public service commentators, including former PM&C secretary Terry Moran, are urging senior public servants to be more willing to engage in public debate. The traditional cloak of public service anonymity, it is claimed, is out of kilter with the new era of contestable policy and open government.

As is often the case, competing principles are at stake and their application calls for sensible judgment. A strong case can be made for encouraging senior public servants, particularly secretaries, to adopt a higher public profile and to help the public understand the issues underlying policy debates and decisions.

The Treasury secretary has a particularly important public function stemming from the Treasury’s dual role as a normal government department under ministerial direction and also a recorder and analyser of the national economy. In exercising its recording and analysing functions, the Treasury operates at arm’s-length from government, more like the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and the secretary rightly takes public responsibility, for example when explaining the methodology behind budget forecasting.

In commenting on government policy, however, like other secretaries, the Treasury secretary should leave partisan arguments to the minister. For this reason, it is a mistake to treat the Treasury secretary on a par with the Reserve Bank governor as someone officially entitled to criticise publicly the direction of government economic policy.

How outspoken secretaries should be is ultimately determined by politicians and their advisers (together with gallery journalists on the lookout for evidence of internal disagreement in government). Ministers and their staff do not take kindly to public servants who appear to undermine them in public, while oppositions mark down those public servants whose excessive support for ministers suggests possible disloyalty to a future alternative government.

At the present, critical time for the future of the public service, the imperative is that senior public servants win and maintain the trust of politicians on both sides of politics. Only if trust is secure will ministers start to make better use of departmental advice and improve the quality of government decision-making. On a change of government, incoming ministers should have no good reason to distrust the loyalty of any current secretary. Only then can ministers be fairly criticised if they breach the principles of a professional public service by summarily dismissing incumbent secretaries

In such a climate, secretaries can be forgiven if they reserve their frank and fearless advice for confidential exchanges with ministers and tend to keep their heads down in public. By all means, they should venture more into the public sphere, but only with the consent of ministers and without provoking opposition parties. In analysing these issues and deciding where to draw the line, the career of Martin Parkinson will continue to offer rich material for discussion.

Richard Mulgan is an emeritus professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University. [email protected]

Federal public servants’ pay rose rapidly last decade. But are they overpaid?

Friday, June 7th, 2019

The minister responsible for the public service, Eric Abetz. Photo: Andrew MearesThe Public Sector Informant: February issue

Employment Minister Eric Abetz is right: federal public servants have enjoyed undeniably good times over the past decade, receiving much higher wage rises than most Australian workers.

Whether they are overpaid, and whether their salaries should now be restrained, is a harder question to answer.

But, first, we need to clarify some confusion in this debate, which has played out in The Canberra Times over the past month or so. Back in December, Abetz responded to union anger that public servants were expected to accept below-inflation pay rises (i.e. real pay cuts) to help address the nation’s “dire fiscal challenge”. The minister told Parliament that the Community and Public Sector Union should “remind its members that, over the last decade, median public service pay rises outstripped CPI by 14 per cent”.

For whatever reason, Abetz underplayed wage growth in the Australian Public Service. He added annual salary rises together, but did not compound them. What’s that mean in plain-speak? Well, it’s an unusual method to describe an increase over time because it doesn’t actually reflect the full extent of the increase.

So, when the minister wrote last month that “APS median wage rises have totalled 42 per cent over the last decade, compared to CPI increases of 28 per cent”, he was, in a way, correct. But if we’re measuring how the median wage in December 2013 (the latest data available) differed from 10 years earlier, it actually rose by 50.7 per cent (not 42), and prices rose by 31.8 per cent (not 28). In other words, public service pay growth outstripped inflation by almost 19 percentage points, not 14 points as Abetz suggested. In short, counting the numbers a little differently can make a big difference.

Now that the methodology behind Abetz’s numbers is apparent, we can accurately compare federal bureaucrats’ pay growth against other industries (see the graph above). It was wrong to say, as a Canberra Times column did in December, that APS wage growth of 42 per cent (to use Abetz’s methodology) was “about the same” as the 42.3 per cent wage growth across the private sector (to use the Bureau of Statistics’ methodology). When we compare like with like, it’s clear APS staff have been in a good pay paddock. Perhaps not quite so green a field as miners, builders or utility workers, but pretty lush nonetheless.

How relevant is all this to the wage negotiations now under way across the 160,000-strong bureaucracy? It shouldn’t affect the bargaining at all. Unfortunately, it appears it will.

In a recent radio interview, Abetz highlighted public servants’ rapid pay rises over the past decade, saying that “when times are good, of course, the good times should be shared, including with the public service”. He added: “I think we can all be agreed times are now tougher … and that is why we’re calling for wage restraint.”

Let’s be clear: public servants’ salaries are not the cause of the deficit. The difference between the entire bureaucracy receiving an annual pay increase (including superannuation) of, say, 1.5 per cent versus 3 per cent would be about $270 million a year. To put that in perspective, the larger of the two increases (3 per cent) would cost taxpayers an extra $1 for every $1600 or so the government spends. Wage restraint will not cure the government’s budget blues. Any resulting savings would be dwarfed by the regular ebbs and flows of tax revenue, which are measured in tens of billions of dollars.

Nor, despite what Abetz said, should the “good times” be shared with public servants for the sake of it. That’s the sort of profligacy that caused the rapid wage growth of the past decade, and which allowed unjustified classification creep and poor personnel practices to flourish in government agencies.

Only one factor should determine wages for public servants: the value of their work. As former public service commissioner Professor Andrew Podger wrote in the December Informant: “Fundamentally, it is the labour market, not budget restraint, that should determine the price of the skills required. Of course, the price must be affordable – but that is primarily a function of the activities governments want to perform being affordable.”

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So to the harder question: are public servants worth a pay rise? It depends whom you ask.

For several years, government-commissioned analyses suggested most APS staff were paid relatively poorly. Yet Canberra businesses argue the opposite, saying the bureaucracy’s wages dramatically inflate the price of labour in the ACT.

The last independent remuneration analysis, carried out for the Public Service Commission by consulting firm Mercer, was published 3½ years ago. Its findings reflected its previous work. Most APS staff were paid better than their state, territory and local government counterparts. However, Mercer also found that those employed at APS level 3 and higher tended to be underpaid compared to private sector workers with similar qualifications and experience.

Try telling that to an ACT business owner.

Former Canberra Business Chamber chief executive Chris Faulks says “almost all of the private sector” in the ACT complains that the bureaucracy pays relatively unskilled staff far higher wages than elsewhere in Australia. “I hear on a regular basis that, if [government agencies] shifted their operations to places like south-east Queensland, they would pay, on average, about $10,000 less a year per employee.”

She cites a recent experience at the chamber, where she had employed a receptionist. “She was straight out of school, with no extra qualifications and average year 12 marks. And I was paying her well above the award rate. She got a job in the public service that paid $20,000 a year more than I was paying.”

Faulks says the APS skews Canberra’s labour market for skilled staff, too – such as managers and specialists – through its generous conditions, particularly maternity leave. “Businesses here, especially smaller businesses, just can’t compete with the public service to attract women of child-bearing age, where those conditions are much better.”

However, she acknowledges the problem eased in recent years when government recruitment slowed. Nor is it “all bad news”. “The flipside of this is that, although wage expectations are high, Canberra has a very highly skilled and well-educated workforce. You don’t get that in other parts of Australia.”

Kathy Kostyrko, the public sector director at recruitment firm Hays, agrees Canberra’s labour market has been somewhat lop-sided in past years, paying low and mid-level staff more than they would likely receive outside the ACT. She says salary growth in the business sector collapsed after the global financial crisis. The broader labour market, she argues, has now placed public servants in a weak bargaining position.

“In general, across the private sector, wages were completely stagnant last year. Most organisations are looking to minimise their spending; they’re trying shorter working weeks and other ways to save money. Businesses are simply not paying CPI wage increases at the moment. Some people have had no pay rises at all for years. You then compare that to the federal government, where all staff are on enterprise agreements and have been receiving annual pay rises.”

Kostyrko says there is an argument that the bureaucracy should “restore a level playing field”, at least in the ACT, by restraining staff wages until they are in sync with private sector pay. However, she warns this may create as many problems as it solves.

“Many people fear for their job at the moment. The government is cutting staff but it’s not cutting programs, so people are working much harder, too,” she says. “And now, on top of that, their enterprise agreements are being negotiated and salaries are being cut back in real terms. You’re going to have a very unhappy government workforce.”

There is a potential solution – though, unfortunately, the government has already rejected it. Last year, the Public Service Commission began the difficult task of trying to restore consistency to APS job classifications (APS6, EL1, etc). These job levels are the basis on which public servants are paid. But over the years they have come to hold vastly different meanings in different workplaces. Nor do workers at the same level receive the same wage; pay gaps between different agencies sometimes reach tens of thousands of dollars a year.

The commission’s new work-level standards for each classification became mandatory in December last year. As a result, agency heads must now ensure that every new job complies with these standards.

This begs an obvious question: if the government has gone to such lengths to restore consistency to the meaning of job titles, why not restore consistency to pay, too? Unscrambling the decentralised mess that public service pay has become would take time, but it is possible. And, as Informant columnist Paddy Gourley has noted regularly, it could save hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

A few years ago, parliamentarians agreed to an independent review of their own remuneration. This led to an overhaul of their allowances and a significant increase in their salary – and with good reason. It’s well past time for a systematic review of public servants’ pay, too; a genuine attempt to determine the value of their labour. The result might please some public servants and displease others. But it would almost certainly provide a better basis for paying them than arbitrary budget decisions and the shifting politics of the day.

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Sri Lanka has lost its casino Crown but it’s all sweet for Aussie cricket captain Michael Clarke

Friday, June 7th, 2019

Australia’s favourite casino mogul, James Packer, may have lost his roll of the dice in Sri Lanka – and been deemed persona non grata to boot by the new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe – but Crown’s adventure on the “resplendent island” did not end badly for everyone.

Crown confirmed to CBD that Australia’s injury-plagued Test cricket captain Michael Clarke still has a gig despite the project’s collapse.

“Michael Clarke remains a valued education and training ambassador for our resorts and workforce in Australia,” a Crown spokesman said.

Clarke was recruited to the Sri Lankan role in 2013 “to work closely with Crown on the education and training aspects of the proposed project, if it is successful,” Crown said at the time.  Take note

On a similar note.

A changing of the guard at Westpac on Monday does not appear to have changed attitudes to James Packer at a certain bank branch on Collins St, just a short stroll from Melbourne’s Crown Casino.

Brian Hartzer may be teller in chief, and Gail Kelly has walked off into an African safari sunset for the next couple of months, but the branch window still displays a scrappy little note giving – how can we put this – a rather unfavourable appraisal of the mogul. A test for Hartzer’s eye for detail perhaps? Trouble Onthehouse

Some companies just aren’t meant to stay out of the spotlight.

Take real estate data group, Onthehouse.

This is the outfit that has been compared to United States hot stock Zillow – except for the fact that their respective share prices have headed in opposite directions since the Onthehouse IPO in 2011.

It was only a few months ago that the dust settled on the trouble involving its founder and chief executive, Michael Fredericks.

He resigned from the group despite amicably settling a legal dispute with a former business partner over a trust that held their shares in the company.

Now the company faces a S249D notice to sweep its entire board save for non-executive director Gabriel Radzyminski, head of Onthehouse investor, Sandon Capital.

One problem for the rebel investors is that Radzyminski “has advised the board that he is not an associate of the requisitionist or the proposed new directors and is not supportive of the requisition,” according to the latest update from Onthehouse.

Michael Dempsey is one of the names being proposed for the revamped board.

The Brissie entrepreneur acquired an 8 per cent stake in Onthehouse in December, just months after he sold his payment business, Ezidebit, to US-based Global Payments last year, and trousered $150 million.

His attempt to set up a spill meeting has run into a bit of trouble though.

“The requisitionist has since withdrawn the requisition and indicated it intends to lodge a replacement requisition. The replacement requisition has yet to be received,” Onthehouse reported.  Outlook with interest

All eyes will be on the RBA’s decision on interest rates on Tuesday, but Sir Rod Eddington does not appear to be worrying about the outcome.

His old Toorak castle on Ledbury Court might still be on the market with an $11 million asking price since October last year, but Sir Rod was confident enough to splash out about $6 million on a new home around the corner, according to Property Observer.   Recruiting under-25s for $22

With the current crop of conservative leaders looking a little soiled, right-thinking thinktank the Institute of Public Affairs Australia has thoughtfully started an under-25 recruitment drive to freshen up the ranks a little.

For only $22, the young turks can join the IPA as it “fights back against the Nanny State and attacks on our fundamental liberties like freedom of speech”.

And there is great value to be found.

The $22 annual membership fee for IPA juniors comes gets you a limited-edition IPA phone cover, a custom-designed IPA 4GB USB, discounted tickets to all IPA events, as well as a subscription to its magazine.

As if that wasn’t enough, the new members will also receive a free copy of In Defence of Freedom of Speech: From Ancient Greece to Andrew Bolt by the IPA’s Chris Berg.

But wait, there’s more.

Young members who sign up before March 27 are in the running to win lunch with what the IPA describes as “Australia’s most-read columnist”, Andrew Bolt, and the IPA’s executive director John Roskam.

Just don’t ask about Tony Abbott. Assuming he is still PM.

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Wise appointment: John Lloyd equipped to tackle the public service’s neglected problems

Friday, June 7th, 2019

Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd in his new office last month. Photo: Jay CronanThe Public Sector Informant: February issue

When the Abbott government chose John Lloyd to be Public Service Commissioner for a five-year term from December 2014, it must have expected the “usual suspects” would not be tardy in finding his appointment wanting.

Lloyd’s recent history as Australian building and construction commissioner made him an obvious target. Moreover, he had subsequently aggravated this egregious offence by a period as red tape commissioner in the Victorian government and a later sojourn as a research fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs. The Community and Public Sector Union was soon on the job, deeming Lloyd a “stalwart of the radical right”; this was not intended as a compliment. For union stalwart and Labor senator Doug Cameron, it was enough that Lloyd was “an IPA pin-up boy”.

Lloyd’s appointment is unusual but not especially so when seen in light of the history of such appointments in federal government, whether to the Public Service Board in its various manifestations (1923-31; 1947-87) or the Public Service Commission of recent vintage. With a few exceptions, all such appointees have effectively come from the ranks of the public service itself, as does Lloyd in a broad sense. Even the big exceptions of the past both came from the NSW public service: the inaugural commissioner, the celebrated Duncan McLachlan (1902-14); and, in 1953, Keith Grainger, who had made something of a name for himself as a pioneer of that great fashion of the immediate postwar decades, organisation and methods.

Another two – A. V. Langker and D. L. Linehan – were, when appointed to the Public Service Board, on leave, having taken jobs on the union side. Sir Frederick Wheeler, appointed chairman of the board in 1960, was treasurer of the International Labour Organisation. He had been an increasingly senior officer of the Treasury between 1939 and 1952 when he resigned and went to Geneva. Most commissioners of the Public Service Board came from the staff of the board itself, even if some had, by the time of their appointment, moved to senior posts in departments.

Until the 1970s, membership of the Public Service Board was a final posting. Thereafter, most appointees moved from the board to chief executive posts elsewhere in government. Among the chairmen, Wheeler subsequently headed the Treasury; Sir William Cole took the reins at Defence; and Peter Wilenski had a succession of jobs starting as head of Transport and Communications and concluding as secretary at Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Since its inception in 1987, there have been, before the Lloyd appointment, seven public service commissioners. Apart from Stephen Sedgwick, who has just completed a maximum five-year term, all came directly from departments and none had been previously on the Public Service Board’s nor the commissioner’s staff. (Sedgwick, when appointed, was director of the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research.)

Four had held secretary positions (John Enfield; Helen Williams; Andrew Podger; Sedgwick); the rest had effectively been deputy secretaries (Denis Ives; Peter Shergold; Lynelle Briggs). Of the seven, three (including two former secretaries) retired directly from the post and another former secretary did so after a brief interval. Three, including one former secretary, went on to secretary or chief executive positions.

Lloyd is a former officer (aka ongoing employee!) of the Australian Public Service, having previously been a deputy secretary in the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations. His state government assignments have included chief executive in the Department of Productivity and Labour Relations in Western Australia.

In the industrial relations field, he has been a senior deputy president of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (as the Fair Work Commission was less pejoratively known in an earlier incarnation) as well as Australian building and construction commissioner. He has thus experienced both the tough end of industrial relations as well as the bureaucratic side. To this he can add membership of the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission. For those worried that his view of society is too limited, he could point to his involvements with the Cerebral Palsy Association in Western Australia and Hartley Lifecare ACT.

Lloyd takes up the role of Public Service Commissioner at a significant stage and a stage for which his background and experience provide important preparation. This arises as a consequence of one of the few commendable measures in the public service field recently: the decision to restore pay and employment conditions to the commissioner’s jurisdiction after several decades of quietude while in the embrace of the industrial relations and employment departments in their various permutations.

This is possibly the most significant change in the evolution of the public service commissionership since its creation in 1987.

From an unpromising start, the commissionership came to enjoy some prestige. It could not, however, be said to rival what might be seen as an eminent counterpart office: the first commissioner of Britain’s Civil Service Commission. And few would consider it to be, within the APS, one of the glittering prizes to which the most able, the most distinguished and the most ambitious aspire.

The most telling accomplishment of the public service commissioners in a quarter century has simply been survival of the office. It had an inauspicious birth after the Block report on the role and functions of the Public Service Board. But sentiment in the APS favouring a non-partisan public service was sufficiently strong to require a statutory overseer of recruitment and personnel management on a merit basis.

By contrast, the mighty NSW Public Service Board, when it met the same fate shortly afterwards, left no residual heir. The recent history in Macquarie Street (Sydney) suggests, however, that when, within the machinery of government, there is no institution responsible for professionalism and ethical conduct, it eventually becomes necessary, again, to invent one!

The commissioner’s role was initially very modest, largely centred upon what is sometimes known as staffing in a very narrow sense. Management of the senior executive service was probably the most substantive responsibility. Some functions of the Public Service Board had essentially been discontinued; others were unhappily relocated to the Finance Department where, in the main, they withered.

But the big task, which brought real weight and traction with the service, namely pay and employment conditions, was separately lodged in the then Department of Industrial Relations. It hardly prospered and the function was of such little significance as rarely to rate much of a mention in annual reports.

The commissioner has had a phoenix-like quality, slowly, and usually surely, not so much rising from the ashes as putting down some very firm roots. In the first instance, espying a gap in staff development and training, a major and enduring line of business grew on a cost-recovery basis. This characteristic continues to this day: the commissioner has a staff of slightly more than 220, about half of whom are reportedly engaged in providing services which are funded on a cost-recovery basis.

In the mid-1990s, the commissioner was also able to claim a place in preparation of new public service legislation and eventually to become custodian of its passage to the statute book. This exercise had losses as well as gains. On the loss side, the commissioner’s role in managing the SES was steadily circumscribed, as departmental and agency heads asserted greater autonomy. On the gain side, if it can be so described, a new centre of activity was devised: the APS values. Endowed with more labour than the 10 commandments (or even Woodrow Wilson’s 14 points), these have become a constant source for speeches, articles, conferences, seminars and training sessions. The commissioner, in the role of overseer of ethics and conduct, had a visible tablet from which to work.

From its inception in 1902, the first commissioner had a statutory remit to report to Parliament on the “condition and efficiency of the public service”. This obligation, with the effluxion of time, became a duty to report on the “state of the service”. It was the basis for an enormous industry, based on extensive surveying, annually, of serving public servants. But its essential limit was that it was confined, if not rigidly, to the responsibilities of the commissioner. There have been important aspects of public service administration that have accordingly been beyond its purview. High on this list is simply the size and cost of the service, which should, logically, be an opening chapter.

Along the way, the quest for survival was aided by the centenary of the APS, part of the celebrations in 2001 marking the centenary of the Commonwealth. This provided an occasion to extol the contributions of the APS to the governance of the Commonwealth and record its achievement in a handsome publication.

Assurance of survival came with the Rudd government’s decision to review the public service. It was not clear that the service needed this review, which, in the event, proved nothing so much as that the age of reform was well and truly exhausted: the need for “reform” is not proven by going through the motions with constant repetition of the word.

The acting commissioner of the time was a member of the review body from the start (replaced in the course of time by the public service commissioner when appointed). Instructively, though the review team included the secretaries of the Treasury and the Environment Department, and the director-general of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, it did not include the secretary of the Employment Department!

The report, Ahead of the Game, disarmingly recommended: “If agreed by government, the responsibility for Australian government policies for agreement making, classification structures, APS pay and employment conditions, work level standards and workplace relations advice would transfer from the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations to the Australian Public Service Commission.”

It was hardly a shining example of evidence-based policymaking. The review did not at any stage analyse or assess performance of the employment (pay and conditions of employment) function in the APS, notwithstanding the great size of wages bill. While it did not appraise the performance of DEEWR, its subsequent proposals about how the commission needed to be strengthened left little doubt that such appraisal would certainly have been brief and the grading would not have been high.

In awkward consultant-speak, Ahead of the Game observed that the commission would need to develop greater expertise in: workforce planning; human capital benchmarking; labour market analysis; centralised assessment and procurement of learning and development; and “classification structures, pay, employmenmt [sic] conditions and work level standards and public sector enterprise bargaining and workplace relations advice”.

If public inquiries seek to make recommendations that they expect to stand the test of time, they need to back them up with cogent analysis of the situation they wish to improve combined with clear exposition of remedies for identified deficiencies and sustained advocacy of those remedies and their rationale.

This was too much of a burden for the Rudd review team. Thus, when the government changed late in 2013, the new structure, though it had statutory endorsement, lacked convincing rationale.

In another tawdry piece of decidedly confused analysis, without too much stress on factual accuracy, the National Commission of Audit established by the Abbott government proposed undoing the recent changes. Though the audit commission was not so clear in its thinking as simply to advocate abolishing the public service commissioner, it proposed that the commissioner’s role and responsibilities be “assumed” by the secretary of the Employment Department, and that the relevant functions be transferred variously to Employment, Finance and individual departments and agencies.

With uncharacteristic clarity, the audit commission also advocated abolishing the role of the merit protection commissioner and transferring responsibilities for the code of conduct to, amazingly, the Employment Department! It is breathtaking that, given the indifferent performance of the Employment Department in public service matters over a generation, the audit commission should have wished to return an even larger portfolio of responsibility to that agency.

The recommendations could only have carried weight with readers with no knowledge or understanding of even the most recent history. It is unsurprising the proposals went nowhere. The basic meaning of Lloyd’s appointment as Public Service Commissioner for five years is the most emphatic rejection, by the government, of the National Commission of Audit’s recommendations.

Lloyd’s appointment is also significant in that, unlike his predecessors, he brings substantially relevant background, particularly covering the commissioner’s enlarged industrial relations jurisdiction. Lloyd will inherit a large backlog of work in this field, given the history, but his agenda will not be limited to pay and conditions.

He will need to address the question of underperformance, a favourite topic of many observers of public service on which there has been more repetition than explanation of what is at issue. Increasing use of what are termed “spill and fill” practices bring a belated application of merit to handling redundancies; reverse order merit has been, by contrast, a feature of North American personnel practice for at least four decades. Promotion processes are probably due for some examination, too.

Successive commissioners have done well to maintain a stake in staff development and training, but this is still a Cinderella field and is detrimentally influenced by the dysfunctional thinking that underlay the Hawke-Keating governments’ training guarantee legislation.

Another item for the agenda, long term, is an intensive review of the APS’s connections with the Australia and New Zealand School of Government. There are legitimate questions about how well this body contributes to meeting the staff development requirements of the APS, mainly for the upper echelons and those destined for senior rank. The research side should also be addressed because, after a decade, it is far from clear that ANZSOG’s presence has had the effect of enhancing and increasing research on government administration; what is clear is that the avenues of funding have changed.

Even a brief consideration of the tasks confronting the new commissioner is sufficient to show that, when he was appointed for a five-year term, a wise decision was made.

J. R. Nethercote is an adjunct professor at the Australian Catholic University’s Canberra campus. He is a member of the Institute of Public Affairs. john杭州龙凤[email protected]

The brutal politics of privatisation stark after Queensland election shock

Friday, June 7th, 2019

Crushing defeat: Queensland Premier Campbell Newman addresses supporters in Brisbane on election night. Photo: Photo: Glenn Hunt Crushing defeat: Queensland Premier Campbell Newman addresses supporters in Brisbane on election night. Photo: Photo: Glenn Hunt

Crushing defeat: Queensland Premier Campbell Newman addresses supporters in Brisbane on election night. Photo: Photo: Glenn Hunt

Crushing defeat: Queensland Premier Campbell Newman addresses supporters in Brisbane on election night. Photo: Photo: Glenn Hunt

Illustration: John Spooner.

The shock election loss in Queensland largely because of a backlash against a big privatisation agenda and the brouhaha over the East West Link contract following an election loss in Victoria has turned infrastructure into a political minefield.

With the NSW state election scheduled for March 28, both sides of politics will pay extra attention to the attitude of the electorate on asset sales, lease-backs, and infrastructure reform.

A lot of polling has been conducted over the years and the common perception in voter land is that prices go up when governments sell assets to the private sector.

While NSW Premier Mike Baird is leading a popular government with a big agenda and big reform plans, including the $13 billion partial sale and lease back of electricity assets, the events in Queensland at the weekend will undoubtedly send a chill wind through business and politics.

The sudden and brutal change of governments in Queensland and Victoria adds an element of uncertainty to infrastructure projects.

In the case of Queensland, it means $37 billion of transactions have automatically been taken off the table. It will be a big blow for investment banks, super funds and companies that anticipated being part of the sales.

For the Queensland economy, which is grappling with a slump in mining revenue and a downturn in mining expenditure, it heightens the prospect of a recession.

The plan was to use most of the $37 billion proceeds to slash debt and reinvest in road, rail and public transport projects, which would have created jobs and boosted productivity by reducing congestion.

For Indian conglomerate Adani Enterprises, the dumping of Campbell Newman will be a blow to its $16.5 billion coal mine project in central Queensland, because he was a major supporter of helping fund a big coal mine in the Galilee Basin. During the election campaign, the now-ousted Newman estimated infrastructure spending in the Galilee Basin from the LNP would be in the “hundreds of millions of dollars.” In sharp contrast, Labor said it would scrap such spending.

Against this backdrop, Prime Minister Tony Abbott told the National Press Club in Canberra on Monday he would like to be remembered as an infrastructure PM. “I am determined to be an infrastructure PM,” he said.

He first made this promise during his election campaign in 2013. Infrastructure is the backbone of the economy, providing jobs, efficiencies and the key to improving the country’s flatlining productivity. To be remembered as the prime minister who raised productivity by cutting red and green tape and eliminating pork-barrelling is commendable.

Whether he can do it is another question, given Canberra’s role in infrastructure is intricately linked to the states. Abbott admitted this during his press club address.

“I accept that, to achieve that, it’s necessary to work with the states and obviously we had a change in Victoria, and who knows where things will ultimately fall in Queensland?” he said.

In terms of Victoria, he said, “The only serious thing to emerge so far from the new government in Victoria is an apparent liability to pay up to $1.2 billion, not to build the East West Link. “I can’t think of anything more crazy than spending $1.2 billion not to build a road, given that the Victorian Government’s contribution after the federal government’s contribution, after road users’ contribute, after the private investors contribute was probably only going to be $1.5 billion in the first place …”

He was referring to the election of the Andrews Government, which brought with it a promise to dump the $6 billion East West Link road contract after it had been signed. The cost of breaking the deal has been estimated at more than $1 billion, which includes costs and future profits.

According to reports in The Age by state political reporter Josh Gordon, the Victorian Government has signalled that it is prepared to legislate to rub out the contract if a compromise on the break fee cannot be reached. Such a move would have profound ramifications for sovereign risk. As one industry executive said, “If they went down this path, they would need upper house approval, which is unlikely given the long-term impact and the reputation damage as Victoria would be seen as no better than an African country by the private sector for years to come.”

The clock is ticking for Australia. With an infrastructure backlog and big budget deficits, we can build the infrastructure we need only by selling assets and attracting private capital.

It means the Competition Policy Review and Tax White Paper review will be very important if Abbott is to stand a chance of fulfilling at least this promise.

50 Shades of Grey may create a run on whips and handcuffs but does it gives BDSM a bad name?

Friday, June 7th, 2019

Fifty Shades of Grey may have done good things for female sexuality but BDSM should never be exploitative. Photo: SuppliedThere has been much anticipation surrounding the movie Fifty Shades of Grey which will finally be released in Australia on February 12, two days before Valentine’s Day. It’s based on the erotic trilogy by E. L. James, which has been on the bestseller lists since it was published three years ago; over 100 million copies have been sold and it has been translated in 51 languages.

For a taste of what’s to come, check out this wildly popular trailer for the movie which was released last July.

Love or hate the book, there is no denying the powerful impact the novel it made female sexuality. Debby Herbenick, an educator and research scientist at the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, believes the book got a lot of people thinking and talking more openly about sex.

“It is helping women to feel more comfortable enjoying something about sexual fantasy and arousal,” she said. “Not only is it okay to fantasise, not only is it okay to read explicit info about sex, but right now, it’s the cool thing to do.”

Fifty Shades has become socially acceptable pornography; no need to cover up the title when reading it on the train or downloading it to your iPad or Kindle. The book certainly helped many women feel more empowered about their sex lives and helped some with their relationships in the bedroom. E. L. James gave women who were curious permission to explore sexual themes that weren’t mainstream, making them more accessible and acceptable.

Fifty Shades also presented an opportunity to clarify what BDSM (Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission, Sadism and Masochism) really is about. The popularity of the book goes some way to normalise what used to be a fringe sexual practice. However many BDSM practitioners believe the book, and now the movie, will give BDSM a bad name,   and sex educators have also criticised it for portraying such practices inaccurately.

BDSM is a safe and playful arrangement between two consenting adult partners, who before entering this relationship clearly define the boundaries of what they and their partner would like and are willing to engage in. BDSM should never involve emotional or physical abuse.

Susan Quilliam, a British psychologist and sex advice columnist wrote an, academic piece on the trilogy for the Journal of Family Planning. She agrees with the BDSM community that the book’s depiction of the lifestyle is inaccurate. Christian Grey’s initial seduction of Anastasia breaks every rule. The relationship portrayed is exploitive “on both sides and therefore emotionally unsafe and not sane”, Quilliam says.

“Christian wants total control over Anastasia, including the right to dictate her eating patterns, what she should wear, her contraception choices, plus the right to inflict pain on her as a means of arousing himself.”

Quilliam is concerned that some couples, who experiment with BDSM for the first time, will do so based on the book or the movie.

It’s often assumed that people who participate in BDSM might have a history of sexual abuse, which is not the case. This myth is perpetuated by Christian Grey’s disclosure of his past sexual abuse and suggests that people who do this are “broken”. Most people who engage in the practice do so because they enjoy it as a fun and pleasurable thing to do.

Dr Andreas Wismeijer, a psychologist at Tilburg University, the Netherlands, headed a research study called Fifty Shades of a Phenomenon, published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine in May 2013. The results mostly suggested favourable psychological characteristics compared with a control group.

He found that BDSM practitioners were less neurotic, more conscientious, more open to new experiences, less rejection-sensitive, had higher wellbeing yet were less agreeable. He concluded that BDSM might be thought of as recreational leisure, rather than the expression of psychological characteristics.

A different view of what BDSM is about was shown in the documentaryKink directed by Christina Voros and produced by actor James Franco, which premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. During 2011, Franco was filming the movie About Cherry, in the former San Francisco Armory, the headquarters for Kink杭州龙凤419m, the largest producer of BDSM pornography.

He was given a tour of the place and watched a video being made. “It was very interesting because the dynamic in front of the camera was very different from what was happening off camera. I thought I’d like to explore this, and I’m sure a lot of other people would, too.”

It offers a rare and frank behind-the-scenes-look at the world of professional BDSM pornography.

I haven’t seen Fifty Shades yet, but I assume it will show a different sort of BDSM. Promotion of the movie will definitely help sales of rope, handcuffs, whips, blindfolds, feather ticklers, pleasure beads and sexy lingerie, just in time for Valentine’s Day. 

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Luke Foley’s long journey from faceless factional man to media tart

Friday, June 7th, 2019

Luke Foley with his family after he was elected unopposed as Labor leader. Photo: Nic Walker Luke Foley announces his railway policy. Photo: Darren Pateman

Luke Foley with his family after he was elected unopposed as Labor leader. Photo: Nic Walker

Luke Foley announces Labor will establish a new “koala national park”.

Luke Foley at the beach in Newcastle. Photo: Darren Pateman

Luke Foley with his family after he was elected unopposed as Labor leader. Photo: Nic Walker

Luke Foley with his family after he was elected unopposed as Labor leader. Photo: Nic Walker

The Public Sector Informant: February issue

Factional heavyweights continue to loom large in the Australian Labor Party, whether at the federal or state level. Luke Foley, the party’s new leader in NSW, is a case in point.

Foley’s background is very much that of a faceless man. The big question is whether he can engage with the wider public in NSW and overcome the perception he is just another factional robot.

Foley’s experience in internal politicking dates back to 1992, when Labor senator Bruce Childs employed him as an electorate officer. In the years that followed, Foley embraced factional life to the full, including the downside. On three notable occasions, he was on the losing side in bruising internal encounters.

In 1992, he was the Left faction’s chosen candidate for president of the NSW Young Labor movement. The Left had controlled this breeding ground of factionalists since 1973 but, at the 1992 annual conference, things went wrong. Amid allegations of vote-rigging, Foley was not elected. The Left lost out to a ticket headed by future parliamentarian Reba Meagher.

A second setback for Foley came in 1995 when Anthony Albanese, then an assistant secretary in the NSW state branch, was preselected for a federal parliament seat. Albanese’s party position was reserved for the Left minority. It took soundings to determine a successor. These indicated that union official Damian O’Connor had more support than Foley. O’Connor was elected unopposed.

In 1999, reports of dissatisfaction with O’Connor’s effectiveness began to circulate in the media. A trio of Left faction notables comprising Albanese, Senator George Campbell and NSW upper house member Ian Macdonald wanted O’Connor to stand aside in favour of Foley, who was then an official with the Australian Services Union.

A deal was done. O’Connor was allowed to stay on with the understanding that he would stand down in two to three years. Within a year, though, there was media speculation that O’Connor would be removed.

However, Foley was the one who was dudded. O’Connor stayed on as assistant secretary until 2003, beyond the supposed deadline. Foley eventually succeeded him after an eight-year wait.

Foley was short-changed a third time when, in 2006, Left operatives canvassed a plan to remove Macdonald from the Labor ticket for the NSW Legislative Council. Foley and Campbell urged Macdonald to stand down. He resisted. To break the deadlock, yet another informal timetable was drawn up. Macdonald would serve until 2009 and then resign.

But as might be expected, 2009 came and went without Macdonald getting around to resigning. On cue, the usual disaffected chatter began to appear in the media. A frustrated Foley had to wait until June 2010, when Macdonald quit the NSW Parliament over the issue of his travel expenses. Foley was appointed to the vacant upper house seat.

In 2011, after Labor’s devastating defeat in that year’s state election, Foley became Labor’s leader in the upper house. This spot was traditionally reserved for the Right. Despite coming from the Left, Foley was appointed because he had emerged as the best Labor performer by far in the upper house. He was taking the fight to the Liberals. Factionalism, for once, bowed to merit.

And it did so again over the recent summer break when, with the next state election due in a few months, the state branch office orchestrated the demise of Foley’s luckless predecessor, John Robertson. Foley succeeded him as Opposition Leader without the need for a party-room ballot.

The new Opposition Leader has, naturally, started off in his job with little name recognition. Foley has been in politics for almost a quarter of a century yet has never had to solicit votes from the public in an actual popular election. How can he hope to forge a connection with real people at this late stage?

But Foley will try. His rebounds from past internal rebuffs indicate he never takes no for an answer.

Foley seems to have an instinctive grasp of how to use the media. All his past internal stoushes have been accompanied by one or two racy media stories. He was often the source. The same reaching out to the media has been evident since Foley became leader. He has fed the news cycle with a flood of proposals, such as establishing a koala national park or lowering NSW’s racing tax.

His contrite outing of himself as a drink-driving offender served the same purpose. The faceless man of yore is intent on building a warts-and-all public profile. In another exclusive, this time designed to assuage the right-wing ardour of The Australian, where it appeared, Foley indicated he supported abandoning Labor’s formal commitment to the goal of socialism.

If we are to believe the current polling data, Foley cannot hope to win the forthcoming NSW election. But he can make a sizeable dent in the Coalition’s majority if he puts his newfound, post-factional agility to good use.

Premier Mike Baird now faces an aggressive opponent who can work the media. Baird may be re-elected on March 28 but, by then, Foley’s potentially interesting career as a Labor leader will only just have started. As ever, he is in politics for the long haul.

Stephen Holt is a freelance Canberra writer. [email protected]