Labor leader Anthony Albanese has sounded a warning to the top of the Canberra bureaucracy, accusing the Morrison government of politicising the public service and refusing to guarantee the jobs of public service chiefs if the ALP wins power at the next federal election.
The position on departmental heads would put Mr Albanese on the same trajectory as former Liberal Prime Ministers John Howard and Tony Abbott, who both sacked numerous chiefs with hours of assuming office. Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd pointedly retained all department secretaries after the 2007 election.
In an interview with The Canberra Times, the federal opposition leader heaped praise on the public service as an 'honourable profession' that needs independence and to be valued.
But he said the reality for the bureaucracy under the Morrison government has been very different.
"I think there's been too much contracting out. And we need to value, independent quality public service advice. It's an honourable profession and it hasn't been treated that way in recent times," Mr Albanese said.
"Under this government more and more contracting out, rather than the respect for the expertise that professional public servants bring to positions."
Mr Albanese saves particular displeasure for the practice of putting public servants in charge of leading inquiries over political matters.
This is explicit criticism of the appointment on February 17 of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet head, Phil Gaetjens, to lead the review into what the Prime Minister's staff knew about the alleged assault of former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins.
Mr Gaetjens has long been opposed by Labor for departmental posts as he is the Prime Minister's former Chief of Staff.
"How can it take so long?" Mr Albanese asks. "The Australian Federal Police have conducted their inquiries into the allegation of a sexual assault.
"And [they] have laid charges on that basis and they were quicker than the Prime Minister asking his office what they knew.
"That's the inquiry that should have taken hours, not months. And I think that puts the head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in a very difficult position."
Asked by The Canberra Times, "Does Labor promise not to, when it comes in, sack departmental heads?"
Mr Albanese said, "No".
He was asked again to confirm, "You don't promise that?" He responded,"No".
The Labor leader insists he has utmost respect for the public service and has good memories of his relations with departments while he was a Labor Minister.
And he does not see an immediate need for any money saving cuts to the public service.
"I think that, overwhelmingly, the public service operates efficiently is my experience," Mr Albanese said.
"Of course, you can always work on greater efficiencies. And we should do that. Departmental heads should do that.
"But the public servants who worked for me, some of whom are still there, including Stephanie Foster who was a Deputy Secretary. She's now a Deputy Secretary in PM&C. She was very professional."
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