Flat White

Taking out the trash in Victoria: bureaucrats, not just ministers, need to go

27 September 2020

11:10 AM

27 September 2020

11:10 AM

Other Victorian Ministers will inevitably soon join Jenny Mikakos on the political scrapheap, but the spotlight should be turned to the state’s mercurial public administrators, the so-called mandarins.

As the wheels start to fall off the ramshackle Andrews’ government, it’s time to examine the role of those supposed to be administering the multi-billion dollar department’s of Health, Jobs and Justice and Community Safety.

Calls for the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews to follow his former Health Minister out the door are premature.   

His future should be, and will be, determined by the outcome of the inquiry into the deadly hotel quarantine fiasco and in the court of public opinion — even if we never actually learn precisely with whom blame should lie.

What’s not in doubt however is the utterly disgraceful recent performances of the most senior figures in the Department of Health & Human Services and in the Department of Premier and Cabinet.

Kym Peake, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services,  along with the hapless Chris Eccles — Victoria’s highest paid public servant as Secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet — have together done more to damage and demean the standing of public administration in a few days than at any previous time.

The shameful testimony of Eccles at the inquiry last week in which he slithered his way around perfectly simple questions will stand forever as a marker of the decay and decrepitude in public administration in Victoria over at least the last decade.

Working at senior levels of government was once a respected, admired and much sought after occupation. People of real ability, accountability and independence oversaw huge departments covering health, education and transport among others.  

Taxpayers could reasonably rely on the integrity and dedication of those at the top of public administration. They were not household names, but their tasks were clear and provided administrative expectations were achieved. The names of those behind the scenes didn’t matter.

In 2020, Victorians are rightly asking themselves whether they can still have confidence in those in whom great accountability is placed and to whom very large salaries are paid.

Eccles takes home around twice the

Premier’s salary and benefits notwithstanding, Daniel Andrews is the highest-paid Premier in the land.  

After years of partisan appointments, ideological hocus pocus and waves of leftist indoctrination of those entering public service roles it has come to this.  

Victorians have witnessed the consequences of the unrelenting politicisation of all levels of the public sector and this has diminished the calibre and capacity of those employed in it.

At the very moment taxpayers expected calm, measured balancing of competing demands in which people’s lives were at risk they got panic, obfuscation and now we know, total confusion resulting in the deaths of many elderly people. Worse still hundreds of thousands of Victorian jobs have been lost thanks to breathtaking bungling of highly paid departmental officers. 

Non-government, independent, intelligent people would have done a better job than those in whom we ought to be placing our trust.

Whatever the government’s motivations in imposing what are thought to be the world’s most stringent lockdown laws, the unwillingness of our so-called ‘institutional leaders’ to answer questions – on oath – has damaged the government and severely weakened public confidence to its core.

It’s entirely a reasonable question: Can Victorian public administration recover its purpose and its self-respect?

The answer can only be – perhaps. 

This government’s well-documented efforts to clone the entire public sector to a particular equity driven ‘compliant ideology’ in which you are either ‘in’ or ‘out’ has all but removed public accountability and encouraged group-think, bringing the state to the miserable position it is today.

The determined, rehearsed spectacle of Eccles while on oath well and truly earns him a leave pass to that place where failed public servants go. He ought to go and go now — and he ought take with him Kym Peake (around whom their remains much speculation regarding what she knew and when she knew it). 

While smart, non-aligned people well beyond the confines of this flawed government ponder what’s needed to restore our broken economy — the government might give the people who pay for its existence a modicum of respect and actually start governing.

Andrews would be well advised to make a start on cleaning out those people on whom we should have been able to rely on but on whom we so evidently cannot any longer do so.

For the Andrews government to keep playing its despicable brainwashing ideological games — the time is up.  

Victorians demand and deserve better than this. 

John Simpson is a Melbourne company director.

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