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Public Sector Informant : PSI
First in Canberra Call us! With over 26 years experience in the Canberra Government recruitment market we know how to match the right people with the right jobs. For a complete list of available positions visit www.PCApeople.com • Now specialising in Investigative & Security Intelligence • Accounting & Finance • Office Administration • Legal Services • Temp Talent • Human Resource, Marketing, Communications • Government Temp Recruiting • Government Policy & Programme Management • Bulk Recruitment & Scribing Services • Executive Search www.PCApeople.com Ph 02 6257 1010 Level 3, 40 Marcus Clarke St Canberra City ACT 2601 6257 1010 HUB1439 First in recruitment. Free Skills Assessments with over 140 different tests...you choose! [MAY 2010] THE PUBLIC SECTOR INFORMANT 9 Watch your back: Prime Minister Kevin Rudd stripped Peter Garrett of responsibility for energy efficiency in February. Cabinet (overseeing the whole nation-building and jobs plan), the Department of Education, Employ- ment and Workplace Relations (responsible for advice on training), Medicare (providing the repayment network) and the Australian Taxation Office (advising on compliance). The public service showed impressive flexibility in mobilising relevant skills and resources from a range of different agencies; a whole-of- government approach in action. Contrary to media portrayals of incompetence and chaos within the Environment Department, its of- ficers, in many respects, appear to have acted professionally in handling a difficult, and, in hindsight, imposs- ible, task. For instance, the depart- ment promptly introduced several major adjustments to the program as successive problems came to light, particularly after the deaths of young, inexperienced installers. It progress- ively tightened registration require- ments, instituted more safety checks and tightened installation guidelines. In the end, inherent design features in the scheme, including the post hoc compliance and audit structure and the reliance on self-assessment and self-regulation by the installers, meant that temporary suspension, and then complete abandonment, were the only responsible options. These design faults, as Hawke makes clear, were almost entirely due to the speed with which the program was rolled out. Equally clearly, the pressure for speedy implementation came from outside the department, from those pushing the program's economic stimulus objectives in PM&C, particularly the office of the coordinator-general. The office's overriding concern was always that the key spending milestones be met on time. The department's own objective of environmental efficiency could easily have tolerated (and, indeed, benefited from) a much more measured approach. But the Government's overall strategy could not be kept waiting, even if that meant taking some risks. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's recent claim, in response to accusations made on Four Corners, that ''safety has always been the No 1 priority'' of the program strains credulity. The department can be criticised, perhaps, for not realising sooner the scale of problems that the scheme would generate. But, without full disclosure of communications between the department and PM&C (and the parallel correspondence between ministers), we cannot judge how far it was guilty of poor risk management and how far it was simply steamrolled by the centre. Meanwhile, the accountability pic- ture remains confused. As the depart- ment's minister, Peter Garrett took most of the early heat from the Opposition and in the media. How- ever, as is now much clearer, the responsibility did not lie solely with the department or its minister. The program was a whole-of-government initiative, driven by the Govern- ment's economic strategy. The department had carriage of the program and therefore convened and coordinated the project team. But major responsibility lay at the centre, with PM&C, and therefore, politi- cally, with Rudd. In retrospect, Garrett's readiness to assume the entire political respons- ibility for the implementation of the roof insulation program seems an act of collegial self-sacrifice more than an admission of incompetence. Al- lowing his blood to flow into the water kept the Opposition sharks concentrated on himself, thus provid- ing valuable cover for Rudd. By the time the Opposition and the media had destroyed Garrett's reputation and began looking elsewhere, Rudd was able to regroup and take charge in the guise of effective trouble- shooter. Whole-of-government initiatives raise genuine dilemmas for political accountability. For administrative convenience, as in this case, such projects are regularly left under the wing of one lead department whose minister then answers for the whole. But the concept of whole-of- government would suggest that no one department or minister can be in charge or fully responsible. Indeed, improved coordination of whole-of-government policies is one of the suggested roles for the new Secretaries Board proposed by the Moran report on public sector reform. Logically, if such a board, chaired by the PM&C secretary, takes adminis- trative responsibility for whole-of- government policies, political res- ponsibility should rest with the whole-of-government minister, the prime minister. At present, prime ministers like to cherry-pick respons- ibility, taking the credit for good news and leaving the bad news to portfolio ministers. As government becomes more centralised and the role of prime ministers ever more prominent, they may no longer be able to afford that luxury. Richard Mulgan is an emeritus professor at the ANU's Crawford School of Economics & Government.
PSI - September