Parliamentarians often invite disdain. Too many times, they use the powers of their office not to carefully review the work of government but to indulge in ridiculous fishing expeditions.
And so, every few months, hundreds of public servants collect answers to questions on notice about how much money their workplace spends on coffee machines, fruit, office plants, recreational facilities – and so on.
Labor and Coalition oppositions do it, keen to reveal how much taxpayers' money is "wasted" on "perks" for bureaucrats. Never mind the fact that these "perks" are usually the bare minimum support that most employees would expect from an employer.
I'm always impressed by the diligence with which public servants answer these stupid questions. It makes me wonder why they battle so hard against transparency in other aspects of their work. Such is the power of Parliament, I guess.
There is an exception: Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd. Last month, his office appeared to demonstrate contempt for Parliament's questions.
The context? The joint committee of public accounts and audit is inquiring into many aspects of government contracting, but particularly the use of contract labour and consultants.
Lloyd has statutory responsibilities to, among other things, "develop, promote, review and evaluate APS employment policies and practices", and "facilitate continuous improvement in people management throughout the APS".
So he'd have to lot to say to an inquiry looking at public service labour trends, right?
Apparently not. These are some of the questions his office was asked, with the answers:
Question: "Please outline what assessment has been undertaken of the impact of growth in use of on-hire labour contractors across Commonwealth agencies, including on APS short and long-term capability."
Answer: "The commission has not undertaken such assessments. Our remit is to report on [APS] staff."
Question: "What assessment has been undertaken and what insights can the commission offer on the extent to which: (a) consultants are being engaged to deliver core APS functions? (b) contractors, including those engaged through on-hire labour firms are being used to deliver core APS functions?"
Answer: "The commission has not undertaken such assessments. The commission has limited information on the detail of consultancy and contracting arrangements ... used by APS agencies."
Question: "What should be done to track the use of contractors and on-hire labour contractors within departments?"
Answer: "This is a matter for agencies to determine in responsibly managing their resources."
In other words, it's no one's responsibility. Good work, Lloyd: Parliament thwarted.
Update: Lloyd responds
The commissioner sent the following response on Tuesday afternoon:
"I emphatically reject your assertion that my office 'appeared to demonstrate contempt for Parliament's questions'.
"Also, I find such comments offensive to the professionalism of my staff.
"We take our responsibilities dealing with parliamentary committees very seriously and never mislead any parliamentary committee."
A protest on Pezzullo's behalf
The Informant suggested in February that Australia's border tsar, Mike Pezzullo, was due a very handsome pay rise. After all, his portfolio has expanded considerably upon becoming home affairs, gaining power over federal policing, intelligence and many other areas of national security, as well as new agencies and thousands of extra staff.
Our guess, based on the pay pecking order in Whitehall, was that Pezzullo's total remuneration of $745,770 would increase by $85,320 (or 11.4 per cent).
Well, the Remuneration Tribunal has indeed bumped Pezzullo up the secretaries' salary ladder, noting "the expansion of functions and responsibilities of [his] office".
But, on the same day that determination was released, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Martin Parkinson signed a letter saying Pezzullo would now be paid on par with the heads of finance and health – not up with the heads of defence and foreign affairs. (Indeed, the British home affairs secretary is paid even more than the latter two).
So Pezzullo has gained a raise of only 5.7 per cent. I protest against this parsimonious decision on his behalf.
I doubt, however, his staff will join me, given their 4½-year wait for their own pay rise.
Markus Mannheim edits The Public Sector Informant.