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Public Sector Informant : PSI - September
For course outlines and registration forms go to www.learn4results.com.au or email email@example.com For enquiries, call 03 9889 5150. 10-11098/2 OCT NOV DEC Learn4Results Workshops Program Duration Dates Location Cost BUSINESS WRITING FOR THE PUBLIC SECTOR 1 DAY 13 OCT CANBERRA ESSENTIAL SKILLS FOR EAS & ADMINISTRATORS 1 DAY 14 OCT CANBERRA PRESENTING WITH CONFIDENCE 1 DAY 20 OCT CANBERRA PROJECT MANAGEMENT FUNDAMENTALS 1 DAY 21 OCT CANBERRA MINUTE TAKING WORKSHOP 1 DAY 10 NOV CANBERRA SELECTION CRITERIA & INTERVIEWS 1 DAY 11 NOV CANBERRA COACHING SKILLS FOR LEADERS 1 DAY 24 NOV CANBERRA EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE AT WORK 1 DAY 25 NOV CANBERRA MINUTE TAKING WORKSHOP 1 DAY 1 DEC CANBERRA BUSINESS WRITING FOR THE PUBLIC SECTOR 1 DAY 2 DEC CANBERRA THE NEW TEAM LEADER / SUPERVISOR 1 DAY 7 DEC CANBERRA MANAGING WORK/LIFE PRIORITIES 1 DAY 8 DEC CANBERRA MANAGING DIFFICULT CLIENTS & CUSTOMERS 1 DAY 9 DEC CANBERRA [SEPTEMBER 2010] THE PUBLIC SECTOR INFORMANT 7 make dangerous bedfellows Like the ban on political advertising, the new grant guidelines did not last even one electoral cycle. When facing the pressures of re-election, Labor proved to be no more scrupulous than its predecessor. sports complex; Tony Abbott at Tasmania's Mersey Hospital, which the previous Coalition government bought. couraged corner-cutting in terms of due process. Under cover of the need to spend money quickly, Albanese's advisers were able to take effective control of the spending decisions and were free to apply partisan political judgments in the allocation of grants. By doing so, they effectively bypas- sed both the department and the government's own newly-minted pol- icy on awarding discretionary grants. In 2009, in response to a strategic review of the administration of grants, the government introduced a new set of guidelines that required ministers to obtain departmental advice on the merits of each proposed grant before making any decision. In the understated language of the Australian National office Office, the subsequent decision not to involve the department in the assessment of strategic projects applications against the assessment criteria did ''not sit well with this requirement''. The new guidelines were a reaction against long-standing disquiet over the former Howard government's handling of the Regional Partnerships Program, the predecessor to the current Regional and Local Com- munity Infrastructure Program. In opposition, the ALP had joined public criticism of the Coalition government for abusing the program for partisan purposes, for skewing the distribution of grants to its supporters in the regions. At the request of the Senate Finance and Public Adminis- tration References Committee, the ANAO began examining the admin- istration of the program in 2005. Its final report was eventually tabled in December 2007, just after Rudd government was elected. In this earlier report, the ANAO took a very strict line against the use of discretionary funds for partisan purposes. Ministers certainly retain ultimate responsibility for allocating grants but they ''are expected to discharge their responsibilities in accordance with wide considerations of public interest'' and ''without regard to considerations of a party political nature'' (my emphasis). The legal framework that covers discretionary grants requires ministers to undertake ''reasonable inquiries that demonstrate that the proposed expenditure will make efficient and effective use of public money''. In practice, ministers should always act on departmental advice about whether applications for grants meet the official cri- teria established for the program. Earlier in the same year, the ANAO had also criticised the admin- istration of another grants program, the Volunteer Small Equipment Grants, by the Department of Famil- ies, Community Services and Indi- genous Affairs, for similar reasons. Before the previous election in 2004, the then minister, Larry Anthony, had not only rejected a number of departmental recommendations but had required his departmental offici- als to change their original recom- mendations to be in line with the minister's, thus giving the false appearance that the final decisions proposals had the department's approval. As the Auditor-General commented, such compromising of due process was ''below the standard expected of Australian Government agencies in administering grant programs''. The incoming Rudd government, as part of its commitment to improv- ing the integrity of government processes, tackled the partisan use of discretionary grants. It established the new guidelines which required ministers to seek departmental advice on the merits of each proposal and, implicitly, to follow such advice unless good reason could be provided to the contrary. However, like the ban on political advertising, the new guidelines did not last even one electoral cycle. When facing the pressures of re-election, the Labor government proved to be no more scrupulous than its predecessor. The economic stimulus may have pro- vided a pretext. But ministers and their advisers were quick to grasp the chance of bypassing departmental advice and imposing their own parti- san priorities. Politicians, perhaps, cannot be expected to resist the pork-barrelling opportunities offered by discretionary grants programs. Those with longer memories will recall the ''sports rorts'' affair of the early 1990s and the downfall of a minister in the Keating government, Ros Kelly, fa- mously undone by disclosure of her whiteboard. The incident has a fam- iliar ring. Once again, it was sparked by a critical report from the then auditor-general, who complained about the lack of documents and justification given for the minister's decisions in allocating sporting facili- ties. Once again, government-held electorates, particularly marginal seats, had been much more successful than opposition-held electorates. Again, too, the partisan factor was not part of the official criteria and could not be openly acknowledged, thus forcing the minister and her officials into implausible hypocrisy. The ANAO remains the standard bearer for a more honest approach to discretionary grants. If party political considerations are not formally listed in the criteria (which they never are), such considerations should be irrel- evant to the allocation decisions. On the other hand, discretionary grants programs under ministerial control offer an overwhelming temptation to incumbent governments. Moreover, voters in government-held marginal seats expect their share of spoils and are not too fussy about the process involved. Public servants can be awkwardly caught in the middle, owing loyalty to their political mas- ters and yet called on to act as guardians of public integrity. Richard Mulgan is an emeritus professor at the ANU's Crawford School of Economics and Government. firstname.lastname@example.org
PSI - October