In our previous lessons we learned that sovereignty does not reside in the people but in the Parliament.
We learned that the Australian colonies federated to become a country and for that reason we have two houses in the Federal Parliament. The Lower House or ‘House of Representatives’ is based on electorates with equal numbers of people in them, and the Senate has equal numbers representing each State.
We learned that government is Cabinet and Cabinet governs largely by directing the Public Service.
We also followed the career path of a person to become a Cabinet member. We learned about some of the constraints that Parliamentarians live with and we looked at ways to gain influence with Parliamentarians.
We also learned that all governments in the Westminster system are incompetent and that they rely on other sources for expertise. We are now going to look at what some of those other sources are and how you can engage with them.
The Policy Cycle
Ministers are at liberty to inform themselves about something in any way they wish. We have already looked at the Parliamentary Committee system. In addition Ministers and other senior government members hire advisors and research staff. This is, in many ways, an affront to the Public Service because it is the role of the Public Service to undertake research and provide advice to the government of the day. However it is also the role of the Public Service to be non-political. Advisors are often highly political and are usually members of the Party. For this reason they may be more trusted by politicians and they are also more available. Public servants seldom take calls late at night.
However, the Public Service does drive agendas, and does initiates and carry out policy. The Public Service acts under instruction from the Minister but also seeks to steer the Minister by providing advice. It is the job of senior Public Servants to protect the Minister and in essence, help them do their job. However, here are times when the Public Service will undermine a Minister and there are times when Ministers will undermine the Public Service.
Ministerial staff who are smart work hard to cultivate links with the Public Service. It is a complex relationship, and it is one which can make or break a government. When these relationships work well governments do well and there are fewer leaks and less internal strife. When they work badly governments struggle and leaks and internal frictions are more likely to occur.
Note also that there is the Commonwealth Public Service that answers to the Federal Government and each State and Territory also has its own Public Service that answers to the government of that State or Territory. They work under different awards, have different work cultures and answer to different people. The relationship between the Commonwealth and State bureaucracies on issues like health and natural resource management is often fraught.
So what does all this mean for us?
Well one thing that the Public Service does is consult on proposed policies and legal changes. There is normally a formal process of policy development and review for all manner of things – everything from regulation of caravan parks to management of the Murray Darling river system. This is called ‘policy development’. The process is officially called the ‘Policy Cycle’.
Here is a diagram outlining the policy cycle. Each stage of the policy cycle can provide an opportunity for in-put. If you want to be a person or organisation of influence it is worth paying close attention to what the public service is doing so you can engage with this cycle.
Example of how the Policy Cycle works
Let’ suppose the government decides on a certain policy e.g. diversity training in schools.
The Minister will ask their Department to draft a proposal, make it publicly available and call for public submissions.
Once public submissions are called for this is your chance to provide a coherent argument for or against the proposal, and your chance to suggest alternatives. It also alerts you to the fact that there is an agenda out there on a particular issue on which basis you can start calling talk-back radio, writing to the paper, and knocking on the doors of your local MPs.
When the time allowed for submissions closes, the relevant Department will read, collate, record and understand these submissions then report to the Minister. Typically the Department will also write a public report that summarises the main issues of concern.
The Department will advise the Minister of what people have said and suggest what the Minister should do. The Minister will then tell the Department what they will do. There could be any amount of further consultation or none. At that point the idea might be shelved, or it might go ahead but it might be changed a bit.
Eventually, there will be a final proposal or a final draft law for Parliament. At this point, if you like the proposal you are pretty happy. If you don’t like it you can hope that Parliament will not support any draft law associated with the proposal.
Is it worth writing to the Minister at this point? The letter will only be seen by the Minister if their staff consider you or your letter important enough. It will probably be answered by somebody in the Public Service. But if a lot of people write on an issue in a small State like Tasmania or South Australia it may have in impact. If nothing else, the Minister will become aware that there is a lot of concern out there and someone – public servant or staffer, will let them know if there is a consistent theme to the correspondence.
Sometime after the policy goes ahead there should be a review to see whether it has worked. This is called a ‘Post Implementation Review’. This is your next bite at the cherry. Here the Department repeats what it did before – call for submissions, meet with stake-holders, write up a report on what everyone has said, and advise the Minister. So engage with this process.
How to write a submission
What if it’s a Sham?
Usually these review are genuine but be aware that sometimes these consultation processes can be a sham. Sometimes the Minister has already made a decision but has to cover themselves by doing a consultation. Senior bureaucrats will likely get the message and give the ‘right’ advice to the Minister. After all they are on lucrative five year contracts and those contracts may not be renewed. The decision might be to go ahead despite objections, or the consultation might be a face-saving way of scraping a policy. This is particularly the case if the policy was inherited from a previous government. In the case of one Federal consultation review into defence policy it was later publicly admitted that the review had been a sham because the government was committed to buying the Joint Strike Fighter regardless (refer you to your materials for further information).
It also pays to be aware that Departments have their own biases and cultures often driven by senior management. When it comes to consultation processes the Department gathers and filters the information that the Minister receives. The Public Service can simply filter out or bias what gets to the Minister. In that case you should still engage but you may choose to limit your effort and focus instead on local MPs and community campaigning.
The other way to try to influence the Public Service is to work in it. If you wish to make change in the Public Service you will need great patience as large policy changes take around ten years. They happen when consistent pressure from the public, and consistent support from within the bureaucracy, meet political opportunity. The bureaucracy is seldom mentioned in the news but is a key player in the policy game. It needs good people. As with all attempts at influence, you are playing the long game not the short game.
End of Lesson 6
Sources and References
On Political Staffers see here:
Few women in public life would not be subject to sexism. But it is also possible for women – just like men – to be the architects of their own downfall. And when that is demonstrably the case, it cheapens the principle of gender equality to play that card so casually, writes Barrie Cassidy.
Undoubtedly Tony Abbott’s chief of staff, Peta Credlin, would at times have been the victim of sexism. Most women have been.
As a woman you would have to work alone in a lighthouse not to be exposed to men who will never get gender balance.
“If I was a guy I wouldn’t be bossy, I would be strong,” she said this week. “If I was a guy I wouldn’t be a micro manager, I would be across my brief or across the detail.”
But it is also possible for women – just like men – to be the architects of their own downfall, and when that is demonstrably the case, it cheapens the principle of gender equality to play that card so casually.
It makes it harder for women genuinely aggrieved to be heard.
Credlin was a control freak who was given that control by the prime minister. Her clout from an unelected position was almost unprecedented.
To that she says, “If I wasn’t strong, determined, controlling, and got them into government from opposition I might add, then I would be weak and not up to it and should have to go and could be replaced.”
No. She was – along with the prime minister himself – replaced in part because she was too controlling. And that would have been the case no matter whether a man or woman had played it so badly.
It was her failure to conciliate, to reach out and to build bridges with the front and back bench and the public service that led to the February spill. Because both Credlin and Abbott seemed blind to that reality, even after February, the tensions never went away.
Credlin was the power behind the Abbott throne, but the record will show she reigned in government for less than a full term. Her boss lost his job after just two years, the first Liberal prime minister since John Gorton to be cut down by his own party.
That is surely in anybody’s judgment a fail with a capital F.
That she was singularly powerful is not disputed.
She even made the claim that she “got them into government”.
That’s a nonsense of course. Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and the Labor Party did that pretty much on their own after years of dysfunctional government and internal infighting. And a few other people on the conservative side of politics played important parts as well.
But because she believes that to be true – that such is her power and influence – then equally she must take responsibility for the spectacular undoing of the prime minister; for the knighthoods, the appalling slogans, the negativity, the failure to make the transition from opposition to government, the dysfunction and the internal angst.
Credlin also argued, “If you are a cabinet minister or a journalist and you are intimidated by the chief of staff of the prime minister, well maybe you don’t deserve your job.”
That ignores the strength of the intimidation, coming as it did with the authority of the PM.
Ministers, let alone staffers, reasonably feared retribution. And political journalists, being political journalists, feared being cut off from information.
Credlin further argued:
You will want to have women like me in politics. You will want to have women like me sitting in seats of authority and power… You want women in places where they can make a difference, because half the policy of this country is for us, but only about a tenth of it is by us. And if we do not stand up and put women in the epicentre of decision making, whether it’s boardrooms, government boards, politics, cabinet rooms, wherever, if you don’t have women there, we will not exist.
Yet, as Liberal MP Sharman Stone pointed out this week, while Credlin seemed “distressed that there weren’t enough women about”, she “was the gatekeeper for Tony Abbott. She was his most influential and indispensible rock and during that time we only had two women in cabinet and they sure as hell didn’t have the finance portfolios.”
One former Abbott government ministerial adviser told me this week that Credlin’s major failing was “an obsessive insistence on micro-management”.
There was almost zero delegation of authority to ministers and even the most inconsequential decisions required direct sign off by the PMO.
The inevitable result of this over-centralisation of power was a massive logjam in the decision making process.
He argued the long delays frustrated the public and that placed unnecessary political pressure on the government.
Then, as a result of that pressure, “the PMO would make decisions on-the-fly that were mind-bogglingly stupid; a case in point that imbecilic plan announced in August to deploy Border Force officers on the streets of Melbourne.”
Therein lies the poison at the heart of the Abbott government – and the Rudd government before it. Why did those two leaders fall in their first term? What was the common thread?
Both eschewed the time-honoured practice of having seasoned public servants as chiefs of staff. And Both Rudd and Abbott gave their political staff clout and authority over ministers that they should never have had.
Bob Hawke succeeded in part because all of his chiefs of staff, from Graham Evans to Chris Conybeare to Sandy Hollway and ultimately Dennis Richardson, were very senior public servants – the best in the business.
They intimately understood how the system worked. They showed respect for others and appreciated ideas wherever they came from. Paul Keating continued the tradition with Don Russell. John Howard had a treasury official, Arthur Sinodinos, as his chief of staff for almost a decade. They were successful and productive years. Sinodinos worked hand in glove with the political operator, Grahame Morris. However, the two roles were separate. Politics did not drive the process. The very concept of handing the responsibility of the chief of staff to public servants sent a signal that good governance and sound process was at the heart of the operation.
On a daily basis at least, the politics was secondary. And so, by extension, was the media strategy around it.
The chief of staff knew when to be absent from political discussions. Usually that pertained in any case to internal party matters.
Abbott, by comparison, praised Credlin as the “fiercest political warrior”. Andrew Podger, a professor of public policy at ANU, wrote in the Australian Financial Review on Thursday: “This is not a healthy attribute in any chief of staff, let alone the PM’s.”
Podger referred to Allan Behm’s recent book, No Minister, about the role of a chief of staff:
Behm, a former senior public servant himself, makes clear that the chief of staff is not the boss – the minister is – and unelected ministerial staff must show respect for all elected members of parliament. The PM’s chief of staff in particular should be out of the limelight and working with ministers and backbenchers as a respectful facilitator of communication with the PM.
Rudd’s senior advisers – and much later, Credlin – didn’t do that. Power went to their heads. They ostracised senior ministers and so in the end both their governments paid a heavy price for that. When will they learn?
Perhaps Malcolm Turnbull will. His temporary chief of staff is a departmental head. He would be wise to make that a permanent arrangement, whoever gets the job.
There is a place for the politics; and a place for process. The two are not mutually exclusive. “Political warriors”, however, never seem to see that. Whether they’re men or women.
Barrie Cassidy is the presenter of the ABC program Insiders. He writes a weekly column for The Drum.
25 Sep 2015 8:58:02am
Its really simple.
Our Constitution, our political system, our traditions of governance, are designed around checks and balances. One of these is ministerial accountability. Ministers are the masters of their domains. They are accountable for what happens in their portfolio, and they are held accountable by the Parliament, including the Opposition. In Question Time, have you ever heard questions being asked of Bob or Jill, the backbenchers?
When a Minister lies, misleads or makes a huge mistake in their portfolio, then can be sacked, or put under pressure to resign. This is ministerial accountability in action. Without it, governments can go right off the rails. So, what happens when you have an unelected advisor calling all the shots? How are they to be held to account?
There’s nothing wrong with the PM having staff. As long as their job is to support the PM to do their job. If they’re doing everyone else’s job, how is that government “for the people, by the people”.
Too many partisans have been too keen on ignoring the importance of democratic principles … at least while their team is in power. Our systems and mechanics of democracy keep use safe from tyranny. If you excuse your team from playing by the rules, don’t be surprised if the other side do it too.
And specifically, that was what this article was about. Ms Credlin’s lack of self-awareness and reflection on where it all went wrong is highlighted in her own words. The words of the ministers suffering under her tyranny tell a wholly different story, don’t they?
On the Public Service undermining Ministers see here:
“Minister for Defence
In 2008 Fitzgibbon expressed dissatisfaction with an unclassified briefing he received on an assessment of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). He subsequently ordered and received a classified report that addressed his concerns, and then expressed confidence in the JSF project. In the same interview, he denied any personal involvement in the Australian Federal Police (AFP) raid on the home of Canberra Times‘ journalist Philip Dorling, although he did not guarantee that his department had not contacted the AFP. Dorling was accused of receiving confidential cabinet documents intended for Fitzgibbon.
On 22 October 2008 Fitzgibbon instructed the Department of Defence to cease debt recovery procedures against SAS soldiers who had been accidentally overpaid. A subsequent audit by KPMG discovered that the soldiers’ pay continued to be docked after the ministerial instruction.
On 26 March 2009, Fairfax Media reported that officers in the Department of Defence had conducted a covert and unauthorised investigation into Fitzgibbon’s friendship with a Chinese-Australian businesswoman in the belief that it constituted a security risk. This was alleged to have included officers from the Defence Signals Directorate accessing the computer network in Fitzgibbon’s office to obtain the woman’s bank details. The Department launched an urgent inquiry into the reports. Nick Warner, the Department’s Secretary, stated that he had not seen any information to confirm the claims and that there were no circumstances in which secret investigations into Ministers could be authorised. Fitzgibbon was reported to be “furious” about the investigation, and has suggested that it may have been conducted by officials opposed to his reforms to the Australian Defence Organisation.
Fitzgibbon resigned as Minister for Defence on 4 June 2009 after admitting that meetings held between his brother Mark Fitzgibbon, the head of the health fund NIB, and Defence officials concerning business opportunities had breached the Ministerial Code of Conduct.
In 2013, Fitzgibbon reflected on his term as Defence Minister and said that the defence chiefs had an obsession for the JSF, and refused to consider other alternatives. “
“Former defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon has slammed the defence force chiefs he once worked with as ”obsessed” with the troubled Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program and accused them of running ”interference” to protect it.
According to Mr Fitzgibbon, the defence ”generals” have had a ”disproportionate” influence on the Howard, Rudd and Gillard governments’ decisions to press ahead with the JSF.
His comments to Fairfax Media’s Breaking Politics follow an ABC Four Corners program in which the new head of the Joint Strike Fighter program in the US conceded the highly expensive jet had been put into production before proper testing and major problems had resulted.
Australia has been committed to the multinational JSF program since 2002, with plans to buy up to 100 of the fighter jets. The program is now at least five years late and the original cost estimate per jet – $40 million – has more than trebled.
Labor’s first defence minister after the Howard government lost office, Mr Fitzgibbon’s assessment now of the project he oversaw for 18 months, is cautious, verging on pessimistic.
”It might still be all right in the end,” he says.
He talks of ”the disproportionate influence of those in uniform, both on the former government and the current government” and says they ”were in love with this project”.
So much so, according to Mr Fitzgibbon, they set out to thwart their minister when he looked for alternatives.
”When I was trying to put some strategic competition into the debate by inquiring about access to the F22 Raptor, and aircraft like the Eurofighter, I was . . . pilloried by those in uniform. Interference was run,” he said.
”The generals if you like to use the vernacular, or though in this case it might be more apt to say the air marshals, were obsessed with the project and were disproportionately influential.”
A Copy of my Letter to Mr Fitzgibbon
19 December 2007
The Hon Joel Fitzgibbon
Minister for Defence
C/- Parliament House
Dear Mr Fitzgibbon
Congratulations on your election victory, and on your appointment as defence minister. I am pleased that there is now new leadership with a clear mandate to break from the past. Nowhere is this more needed or more apparent than in your portfolio. Australia now faces State based military capabilities in our region without parallel in the post war period. It is my contention that if the force structure and defence acquisition planned by the previous government is continued, the capacity of the ADF to defend Australia and our interests abroad will be fundamentally compromised. Australia will be the least defended relative to our region than at any time since WWII.
For the reasons set out below, I urge you to disregard the advice of the Department of Defence, and seek an unbiased appraisal of the force structure and defence assets needed in each of the services. I write with particular reference to the RAAF. I do so because the needs of the RAAF are most urgent, because the previous government has put the RAAF on the path to a force structure that will lead to a massive down grading of RAAF capability, and because without air superiority the other services are no longer survivable in our region. Put bluntly, present force structure planning for the RAAF is comparable to the disastrous Duncan Sandy’s 1957 Defence White Paper which almost destroyed British aviation during the cold war, and from which Britain has never recovered.
Russia is now the major exporter of arms to Asia. These weapon systems represent the next generation of systems that were designed to defeat NATO at the height of the cold war, and many are superior to Wester equivalents. That has resulted in a quantum leap in regional capabilities. Further, these systems are fully supported, and have significant growth/upgrade potential. The benchmark for air power in our region will by 2015 consist of highly networked and integrated assets including:
Essentially the conventional threat environment that existed in Europe circa 1990 has been exported to South East Asia with improvements. Against this the previous government committed Aegis fitted air warfare destroyers, the Super Hornets, and the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). All of these platforms are squarely within the technical envelope the Russian systems are designed to kill. I have been unable to find any analysis by the Department of Defence that considers the survivability of these systems against the new regional benchmark for air power. However it is clear from the open literature that they are outclassed in most cardinal parameters. For example, the Super Hornet is not a fifth generation aircraft and lacks stealth, or the range, speed, height, or endurance, to be competitive. The JSF is designed as a battlefield interdiction aircraft with some air-to-air capability. It is not designed as an air superiority fighter. That is because it is meant to operate under cover of its ‘big brother’ the F-22 air dominance fighter. Every other air force in the world that has looked at the JSF recognises this fact. Those countries interested in the JSF intend to use it under the cover of their top tier aircraft, being the F-22 (USA), the Eurofighter (UK), JAS (Norway) or the F-15 series (Singapore, Israel). No defence force apart from Australia’s would be silly enough to pitch the JSF against the Sukhoi in open combat.
Ironically the only Western aircraft in our region that is designed to fight and survive in the new threat environment is the F-111. Designed to defeat the Soviets at the height of the cold war it can penetrate deep into hostile air space and strike high value targets. No other aircraft available to Australia can do this so well. Contrary to the claims by the Department of Defence (DoD), the F-111 is not an outdated relic due for retirement, but a cutting edge platform that comprises half of the RAAF’s strike capability. The technical facts are that the F-111 can be safely maintained and evolved through 2030 at minimal cost. The only western aircraft designed from the outset to defeat the Sukhoi is the F-22. Contrary to disinformation from the DoD the F-22 is not significantly more expensive than the JSF, and is not solely an air-to-air combat platform. The FA-22A is now an evolved multi role aircraft. The F-111 and the FA-22A in combination demonstrably provide air superiority in the regional environment. The JSF and the Super Hornet in combination demonstrably do not.
The Aegis system is designed for destroyers operating under the cover of carrier based aircraft. Used in this niche it is a powerful force multiplier. However without robust air cover it is unlikely to survive attacks from Sukhois equipped with modern anti-shipping missiles. In fact, no vessel has survived a concerted air attack without air cover since pre-WWII. Therefore, without a credible air force the ADF will be unable to defend the air sea gap, or project force in our region against the wishes of Indonesia, Malaysia, or China.
Indonesia is investing in a modern air force based around the Sukhoi. Climate change will hit their archipelago hard and it is likely that in future Australia will need to deter aggression/transmigration against PNG and smaller nations in the South Pacific. The proposed ADF force structure will cost historic sums of money, but will not enable the ADF to credibly deter aggression or project force. It will not deliver.
There is now a generational opportunity to turn that around, to deliver not only the capabilities to ensure regional superiority, but the planning and decision making structures to support them. Sadly, the decision making process within the DoD is broken and must be re-built from the ground up if it is to deliver. I have followed the debate about the future of the RAAF with interest for some time. In that debate the DoD has shown itself to be tribal, incapable of learning, lacking in technical knowledge, unable to acknowledge mistakes or correct wrong analysis, punitive towards dissent, resistive of debate, unaccountable, and with a marked preference for ‘spin’ over analysis.
I wish you well in your portfolio and look forward to a meaningful review of RAAF capability planning.
This can only be corrected long term with reform driven by the Minister and Prime Minister, and in the medium term by involving non DoD players in the decision making process to ensure that ideas and analysis are contested, and conclusions are factually based.
Questions to Consider
Examples for the last dot point:
Increasing tariffs might increase/protect employment in an industry. However other countries could impose their own tariffs in response and this might harm exports. Also tariffs generally make goods more expensive.
Spending more money on a social program might help people who need those services. However that money has to come from somewhere. Taxes must increase, other services must be reduced, or the government has to borrow money. Alternatively is it possible to save money by being more efficient elsewhere or delivering the service differently?