Monday, February 17, 2014

Hating the Abbott government II | Catallaxy Files

Hating the Abbott government II | Catallaxy Files

As I’ve argued before many bureaucrats and government agencies seem to have taken the view that it is their job to take on the government.

No doubt, next week some other government agency will step up and belt the Abbott government for good measure.
To be fair, it has taken more than a week – but, I suppose, we can’t
expect too much over the summer break. Nonetheless it has happened as
Nick Cater explained in the Australian:

In December, at a forum of health ministers from
Australia and New Zealand, assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash made it
clear that she was sceptical about a plan to place a health star rating
on the front of food packets.

She was concerned that the Regulatory Impact Statement, requested by
the Office of Best Practice and Regulation in the middle of last year,
had not been produced. Nash ordered the department to calculate both
costs and benefits and to report back to the forum in June.

The Blob was having none of it. Kathy Dennis, the assistant secretary
in charge of the Healthy Living and Food Policy branch, decided to
press ahead anyway.

Two weeks ago, the department launched a website,, explaining the forthcoming health star
rating system that the minister had yet to approve.

A ministerial adviser contacted Dennis expressing the minister’s
concern, but the website remained in place. Nash’s chief of staff,
Alastair Furnival, called Dennis to reinforce the message. Dennis stuck
to her guns.

The minister was obliged to take the matter to the acting head of the
department, Mark Booth. On Booth’s instructions, the website was taken
down and Dennis was moved to other duties.
That is bad enough – but get the next part of the story:

The excuse for the outbreak of insubordination, if you
believe The Guardian, was that bureaucrats believed they answered to a
ministerial forum (which includes, incidentally, New Zealand’s Health
Minister Tony Ryall) not Nash, the minister accountable to the
Commonwealth Parliament.
The fact that Australian public servants could even imagine that they
are not accountable to the Australian government, or the minister, is
astonishing. That is a huge governance failure. Now maybe the previous
government led them to that view – although I seriously doubt that.

Now Kathy Dennis should be sacked – and several of her mates too for
good measure. At present the Abbott government does not have control
over the bureaucracy. As Nick tells us:

The mutiny at Sirius House is not an isolated case. The progressive establishment clearly has it in for the Abbott government.

Across the board, from the Climate Change Commission to the ABC, the
Human Rights Commission and even Infrastructure Australia, all are
openly hostile to the popularly elected government.
Unfortunately the Liberals have a history of weakness in this area.
Failing to sack Ken Henry in 2007 was a huge mistake – that we all came
to regret, and pay for, through his advice during the GFC, his mining
tax proposal etc.

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