‘Buy local like me,’ says the ice cream man
Papua tense as elected governor replaced

Government unfit for purpose; Army required

“The Australian National Flag should not, therefore, be displayed with the Union Jack down on any occasion except as a signal of distress” (anzacday.org.au)


ADELAIDE - I think the tone of John Menadue's recent piece in PNG Attitude, ‘General Alarm: Militarism is Australia’s New Norm’, is slightly overwrought.

But I do think he has a point, at least as it relates to the government's dismal performance in relation to the vaccine roll-out.

As the Delta variant of Covid-19 spreads in Sydney, we may be about to reap the reward for the Australian federal government's apparent inability to organise an effective national quarantine and vaccination program.

Having survived thus far largely unscathed, another wave of this appalling disease would be proof that prime minister Morrison's airy assertion that the vaccination program "is not a race" was not only more of his marketing rhetoric but also totally wrong.

So, enter the military.

It is the only federal organisation with the necessary know-how and resources to manage the logistics of rapidly distributing vaccine across the country.

The federal health bureaucracy lacks the program management knowledge and expertise to do this, as well as the being bereft of the necessary resources.

As John Menadue points out, this is the long term consequence of 'dumbing down' the federal public service which has been a goal of successive conservative governments.

Congratulations to them: it worked. It is just a pity that their mates in private industry have been unable to deliver when it matters.

At the state level, the boring necessity to actually deliver services to the punters has meant that the dumbing down process has been less severe but even then a rapid build-up of resources has been needed to try to manage the consequences of the pandemic.

The true value of public services is very frequently only appreciated in their absence.

Ask any Papua New Guinean about what the lack of an adequate health or education system means for them and, more importantly, their children.

Australian conservatives have far too often been resolutely stupid in pursuing the neo-liberal economic agenda in the utterly mistaken belief that 'the market' will always deliver the optimum outcomes.

This is egregious bullshit of course, but it remains their mantra.

As long as we persist with a weakened and degraded public sector, as PNG is obliged to endure, we can reasonably expect the same sorts of outcomes.

In the meantime, we must accept that our military will remain the last line of defence against the mendacity and sheer incompetence of a federal government that is not fit for purpose any longer.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Philip Fitzpatrick

What was the Block Review Paul?

I tried looking it up on the internet but all I could get was stuff about some ridiculous television program - which I guess reveals something about the Australian consciousness.

You were in the middle of it so I'll defer to your judgement.

I don't think we've had a decent federal government since Chifley and Curtin and maybe Menzies.

Who the hell do we vote for in the upcoming election, the least bad of the options is still horrible?

Lindsay F Bond

Back to the news of today, where 'unfit' is a dread. The question is whether folk under 40 years of age might be encouraged to seek this or that vaccine soas to be better enabled to withstand Covid-19 in its several variants.

If words of poetry are challenging as to meaning, then the prose of political advocacy and admonition are waxing to a stunning effect.

Bernard Corden

The consultants engaged often include the big four (PwC, KPMG, EY and Deloitte) and McKinsey, whose fingerprints are all over some of the most devastating debacles in the US such as the collapse of Enron and the Purdue Pharma opioid epidemic involving the Sackler dynasty:




These organisations are paid a fortune to develop and implement corporate strategies and are often brought in at further expense to taxpayers to unravel the inevitable train wreck and socialise the loss.

Paul Oates

It’s funny Phil but from a practical viewpoint, that’s not how I saw the changes in the departments I was working in and had to implement the new personnel policies.

There were major changes after the recommendations of the Block Review were implemented that really started what I saw as the rot.

I guess it’s inevitably in the eye of the actual operator.

Philip Fitzpatrick

If you read the chronology, Paul, you'll see that in the mid-1990s Keating was bringing in measures to strengthen the public service and keep politicians' influence on a range of issues at a minimum, including promotion and recruitment.

Howard completely reversed that and ushered in the outsourcing of services and the rise of private consultants.

His first step was to sack half a dozen departmental secretaries and replace them with his own people. Then he got stuck into each department and privatised as much as possible.

Those acts of vandalism by Howard have contributed to our disastrous management of Covid-19 in areas like aged care and quarantine.

Howard was a disaster as prime minister and has only been outdone for incompetence by Morrison.

Paul Oates

I think it goes back further than Howard, Phil. Both sides were and still are complicit.

Here's a chronology of significant changes in the Australian Public Service since 1975. I'm not sure that the 'both-sidesing it' argument quite stacks up. The period from 1996 is particularly interesting - KJ


Philip Fitzpatrick

John Howard oversaw a virtual bloodbath when it came to the public service.

See the 1996-2007 section of the chronology in the link below. It's when the foundations for all of Australia's subsequent problems were laid.


Paul Oates

Having served the vast majority of my working career in the public service of PNG and Australian Commonwealth and State governments, I believe I have a modicum of practical experience in fingering where the problem lies.

When I returned from PNG and rejoined the CPS, the basis of advancement and promotion that had previously been seniority was slowly being phased out.

The new methodology (circa 1976) being advanced was for selection and promotion to be based on seniority and merit. This was quickly changed (circa 1979/80) to merit alone.

The ethos of public service departmental staff was still that they put into operation what they were instructed by the government of the day but that had always to be in line with the public interest test. Any diversion from this basis would and should be picked up by internal and external auditors.

A public servant’s salary was all that should be expected given that it was regular and most held permanent positions with a good pension scheme. Public servants were not in the business of running a business that made a profit.

Then in the late 1990’s, a certain PM metaphorically spat the dummy when he found he couldn’t get his own way and demanded that as the public had voted him, not his Party, into power, he demanded obedience. He promptly instituted political appointments at any level required to enable him and his successors to be able to make decisions based on what they wanted to achieve (i.e. their own perspectives).

In addition, after instituting a broad review, which of course had a previously set agenda, short term contracts and business applicants were brought in to 'help' the PS achieve what their political masters wanted. To help soften the blow of joining the PS, financial ‘incentives like publicly funded vehicles and ‘gifts’ based on annual ‘efficiency’ dividends and so called ‘Business acumen and achievements’ were also offered to selected business appointments.

No government has ever considered changing what has now become rusted onto every public service. Political decisions are demonstrably made about who is promoted and who in senior positions will have their annual contract renewed.

Most Australian Public Services are now almost totally politicised without demonstrating merit as the sole basis for promotion and appointment. So called business arrangements are imposed on public servants when the ethos of public service is not and should never be based on business and making a profit.

The fact that this corruption hasn’t happened (yet!) at the operational level in the Defence Force indicates there is still some available operators who can and do manage well, when called upon.

Irrespective of anyone’s political leanings, the issue of public service competency will only improve when the only basis of promotion and appointment is proven efficiency and merit. All else is clearly putting the public’s interests in jeopardy due to political considerations and policies alone.

But you’ll never get any serving public servant to say this for obvious reasons. Either they will then be ‘white anted’ and/or suffer a career limiting transfer/demotion.

Lindsay F Bond

As every public servant might be or become aware, bringing on military brass is verging on crass.

Not that militarisation of service delivery may be in any way incorrect, but it hints, if not evinces, lack of management if not also trust.

Menadue's point of militarism is now a main topic.

For the good of Australia's population at large, it is hoped public servants will graciously continue the tasks at hand while, of Morrison's cohort, the lead has waned.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)