I’ve had a tenacious ‘flu bug this winter, which has put me out of action for quite a while, so I’m working through my backlog. Because of this, I haven’t been able to attend adequately to the new release from SDIP giving the go-ahead for the Yeerongpilly TOD. At the last YDRA meeting, though, Lionel Tighe, a former officer of the YDRA, drew my attention to overlooked aspects of the Fitzgerald Report, published in 1989. My thanks to Lionel.
I’ve been looking at Fitzgerald as a guide to our response to the TOD pantomime. A copy of the report can be obtained from the Crime and Corruption Commission, newly minted by the Newman government from the remains of the the Crime and Misconduct Commission.
In Section 3.5, The Administration, the first subsection is 3.5.1 Politicization. I will quote from it almost in its entirety.
The Westminster system of parliamentary democracy is based on the proposition that Governments answerable to the people decide policy, and public servants implement it…
The boundaries between the creation of policy, in which political considerations may legitimately be taken into account, and the application of that policy, in which political considerations have no place, are however, easily blurred.
Ministers and their senior officials share a common interest in success, which can lead to more influence for the Minister and the department, and improved prospects for its senior officers. They also share a basis for mutual antagonism towards the Minister’s political opponents, whose criticisms may reflect on the department as well as the Minister.
There is a natural human inclination for a subordinate to seek to give effect to the wishes of a superior, and policy can be sufficiently broad and elastic to allow public servants to exercise considerable discretion. With the passage of time, it probably becomes easier for bureaucrats to claim, and even believe, that dubious considerations are either coincidental or covered by what has become an established approach to policy.
A system which provides the Executive Government with control over the careers of public officials adds enormously to the pressures upon those who are even moderately ambitious. Merit can be ignored, perceived disloyalty punished, and personal or political loyalties rewarded. Once there are signs that a Government prefers its favourites (or that a particular Minister does so) when vacancies occur or other opportunities arise, the pressure upon those within the system becomes immense. More junior public servants rapidly become aware of the need to please politicians and senior officials who can help or damage their careers, and not to provoke displeasure by making embarrassing disclosures. The advantages of co-operation and discretion and the disadvantages of any other course are manifest.
One of the first casualties in such circumstances is the general quality of public administration. …
Of course, politicians are entitled to political advice from staff appointed for that purpose, but that is not the job of bureaucracy. Its role is to provide independent, impartial, expert advice on departmental issues. Public officials are supposed to be free to act and advise without concern for the political or personal connections of the people and organizations affected by their decisions.
Public servants used to dealing with a particular Government tend to give advice which supports predetermined policies. People who seek to enter the walls of the forbidden city, where politicians and bureaucrats live in harmonious control, are resented and treated as impertinent outsiders. The process of giving advice becomes incestuous. …
When a Government creates a bureaucracy peopled by its own supporters, or by staff who are intimidated into providing politically palatable advice, the Government is effectively deprived of the opportunity to consider the full range of relevant factors (including but not confined to political considerations) in making decisions.
As a result, wrong decisions are made. When problems crop up because of such decisions, the politicization of the bureaucracy means that the Government is unlikely to realize their extent and significance. The bureaucracy can also help the Government to hide what is happening if that is what is wanted.
Inevitably, with time, the problems assume such dimensions that they cannot be contained and they create major political difficulties. The community and the Government pay the price for the short-term political benefits by failing to recognize or respond to the problems.
Other major consequences of the politicization of the bureaucracy are that reliance upon inappropriate considerations in the decision-making process is made easier and more frequent, and the prospects of disclosure and political embarrassment or worse are reduced.
Not only are wrong decisions made, but some are tainted by misconduct. That has been amply demonstrated by the evidence before this Inquiry. …
The vastness and complexity of public administration make misconduct difficult to combat. Each department has internal systems and controls concerned mainly with financial integrity… These internal mechanisms are very unlikely to expose errors or improprieties in the decision-making process, especially if those decisions are made at senior level. Department records will justify the decisions by reference to legitimate considerations, and factors such as personal financial interest or political bias may not be known to anybody except the decision maker. Often it will be unclear whether political advantage is the sole or a dominant motive for a decision or merely an incidental consequence.
Whatever standards are practiced or accepted by politicians will strongly influence the standards of public officials. If politicians practise (as distinct from claim and preach) high standards, their example and commitment to ensuring similar standards for others will significantly reduce impropriety by public officials. If politicians’ standards are low, that will likewise be mirrored in the conduct of all but the most principled public officials. A Government which is self serving and cynical will have a bureaucracy which wholly or partially reflects the same attitude… The aspirations of those outside the elite circle are converted to frustration and indignation. Discontentment, dissatisfaction, misconduct and inefficiency expand.