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Trust 'gone' for ministers and PS

Trust between the Federal government and the APS is eroding.

Trust between the Federal government and the APS is eroding. Photo: Stefan Postles

The federal government's dealings with the public service are at an all-time low, according to senior bureaucrats who say a culture of distrust has been thrust on them.

High-level public servants across several departments have told The Canberra Times they believe the government to be in ''bunker mode'' and fearful of leaks against it.

''Trust with the bureaucracy has evaporated and relations between ministers and departments are at their lowest since Labor came to office,'' one said.

''There is zero consultation on policy and announcements, which means there is a last-minute scramble to do their bidding once they've decided on a course of action.''

Another said departments were often ''given orders at a drop of a hat'' and were being more frequently blindsided by announcements the government was making.

''It feels like there is a kind of fear in ministers' offices right now,'' the source said.

''I know as far as my department goes it seems like the minister thinks we're the enemy.'' But a government source said some ministers in recent times believed the bureaucracy had not been advising them as well as they could have.

The senior public servants said the mood appeared to worsen in the second half of last year and had deteriorated markedly this year.

''The release of the September 14 election date has only served to elevate the level of panic within government,'' one said.

''Staff in ministers' offices are just being outright rude to staff in the departments. And some of the ministers are just as bad, if not worse.''

Others spoke of workloads becoming ''ridiculous'', ''over the top'' and ''unsustainable''.

''They want it yesterday and they want more of it than ever before,'' one said. ''We get no notice and then suddenly, wham bam, they are screaming for things that we had no preparation for.''

Another senior bureaucrat said life was difficult under Labor but the greater fear was that the Coalition would slash public sector numbers and still demand the same output.

''Maybe Labor is counting on us wanting to help them get returned to office to avoid what Tony Abbott is going to do to the public sector,'' the source said.

Asked to respond, the government praised the public service and suggested relations between ministers and departments were good.

A spokesman for Special Minister of State Gary Gray said the government believed, and the OECD had acknowledged, that Australia's public service was one of the best in the world. ''The government worked closely with the public service to deliver important reforms such as the National Broadband Network, carbon pricing and the National Disability Insurance Scheme and will continue to do so,'' he said.

102 comments

  • Mr Gray could possibly have chosen better with his examples. Notwithstanding, he seems to have glossed over Defence, Immigration, Customs and Human Services, just to identify a small handful where relationships are interesting to say the least.

    Public servants have been treated shamefully and it is getting progressively worse. Having said that they have no light at the end of the tunnel, because if there is a change of government their future is still very much in doubt.

    Regardless of the rhetoric often voiced in this publication, a government without an effective executive arm (public service), is a serious issue for we the taxpayer. Public servants have a vital role to play and we should be supporting and strengthening their position, not side lining them and treating them has a political football.

    Both sides of politics need to take note..

    Commenter
    Irene
    Date and time
    February 14, 2013, 7:09AM
    • One thing is for certain.....Tony, Hockey & the team will decimate the public service. If you don't want this to happen then don't vote for them. The ACT will go down the tube if they get their way.

      Commenter
      Bazza
      Date and time
      February 14, 2013, 9:15AM
    • The Political Staffers in the Ministerial offices are arrogant and have no where near the same experience as the senior public service. Appointing the age 20-something's to advisers roles was a legacy of Rudd - continued by Gillard. It is simple you appoint the wrong people you will always get bad out comes

      Commenter
      Remember 1996
      Date and time
      February 14, 2013, 10:01AM
    • Government minister should be worried as Gillard and Co will be swept from office with vengeance by a long-suffering electorate - everyone already knows that.

      I suggest though that it is more the advisors and ministerial hangers-on whose jobs rely on the Ministers staying. There are probably a dozen or more per minister, well-paid, plenty of power. It is this power which they do not want to forgo - that and their actual jobs. Most of them are incompetent bullies who are jealous of the public servants who generally do know what they're doing.

      Commenter
      Peter
      Location
      Brisbane
      Date and time
      February 14, 2013, 11:20AM
    • Theory.Old theory,soon to be swept away by the tide of privatisation.Wave goodbye, and wipe the ideological tears from your eyes,because time and the tides of change care not for sentiment, for ideals, or even ideas, just the bottom line in the sand .The buried treasure to be found at the bottom of the skulls and crossbonres left in the hunters wake.

      Commenter
      Kane
      Date and time
      February 14, 2013, 12:11PM
    • Isn't the interesting that leaks emerged after Gillard's takeover indicating that Mr.Rudd was rather pushy and demanding of the public service resulting in many burning the midnight oil!

      Commenter
      Sam
      Date and time
      February 14, 2013, 12:19PM
    • @ Remember 1996

      "The Political Staffers in the Ministerial offices are arrogant and have no where near the same experience as the senior public service. Appointing the age 20-something's to advisers roles was a legacy of Rudd - continued by Gillard."

      Er - no. actually, it was started by Nick Greiner and reformed to an art by Howard. Those people who are always crying about "lazy, clock-watching, make-work lefty public servants" haven't even the brains to realise that a Labor government would be more likely to keep them than not - because it is the strongest source of unionised work in Australia. The cons started and are the masters at the scam of sacking public servants so they can win dumb voters over, but they don't tell them that they then rehire them as consultants at vastly increased cost.
      If you had even the faintest idea of what you're talking about, the evidence has been in front of your eyes for 35 years.

      The other reason the cons get rid of PS's is so that they can put all department heads on short-term contracts so they've got more political control over them. That's why we lose the PS's 'corporate history" and impartiality.

      It is simple you appoint the wrong people you will always get bad out comes

      Commenter
      BillR
      Date and time
      February 14, 2013, 1:15PM
  • The Australian Public Service is biased towards Labor, incompetent, lazy, and self-serving.

    Nothing in this story shows how Australia will be worse off when Abbott sacks them all. In fact, we'll be better off.

    Commenter
    Economist
    Date and time
    February 14, 2013, 7:22AM
    • Here here

      Commenter
      Sam Huggins
      Date and time
      February 14, 2013, 7:46AM
    • This is the type of unhelpful rhetoric to which I referred. Baseless and inflammatory.

      Commenter
      Irene
      Date and time
      February 14, 2013, 7:55AM

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