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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

ministerial staffing « Previous | |Next »
July 27, 2007

Anne Tiernan's thesis in Power without Responsibility: Ministerial Staffers in Australian Governments from Whitlam to Howard is that "in constitutional and managerial terms, the ministerial staffing system is out of control". Staffers are now more numerous and more ruthlessly partisan than ever. Some, she argues, are "de facto assistant ministers", more influential than many senior public servants and elected parliamentarians. Yet as staffers' power has increased, both they and their ministerial masters have become less accountable.

SlaneC.jpg
Chris Slane

She says:

The contemporary ministerial staffing system is large, active and partisan - far larger and further evolved than any Westminster equivalent. Ministers' demands for help to cope with the pressures of an increasingly competitive and professionalised political environment have been key drivers of the staffing system's development. But there has not been commensurate growth in arrangements to support and control it. The operating framework for ministerial staff is fragmented and ad hoc.

She says that though things are improving, ministerial staff receive little induction or professional development. Mostly they learn on the job. There are no 'how to' manuals, no briefings from former office-holders, no television shows or films.


An extract from the book at Australian Policy Online. In it she says that:

while institutions and actors have adapted to their presence, ministerial staff remain controversial; an important but somewhat awkward third partner in the traditional dance of executive advisory arrangements. To many they remain completely unaccountable. Their involvement in a series of controversies has raised questions about how effectively Australia’s Westminsterstyle political system accommodates their presence. These cases have exposed limitations and deficiencies in the minimalist framework developed to regulate the rapidly evolving roles of ministerial staff. Governance arrangements have not kept pace with ministers’ demands for more staff, and more active roles for them. Political practice has outstripped constitutional theory, creating uncertainty and confusion for public servants, for ministerial staff and ministers themselves.

They are “statutory orphans” and there is a lack of clear and shared understandings about the boundaries and parameters of their roles. What is needed is “a comprehensive set of standards for political staff… supported by appropriate mechanisms for reporting, oversight and sanction.”

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 4:56 PM | | Comments (4)
Comments

Comments

How are ministerial advisers to be made accountable? Should they be inducted as temporary members of the public service. What are the alternatives?

Wmmbb,
They are different from the public service as they live and work in the space between the public service and the government. Hence they are exempt staff” ( exempt from certain provisions of the Public Service Employment legislation). These political animals are more of the government than the public service.

Tiernan suggests responses such as better training, greater accountability and a clearer delineation of roles and responsibilities as means to address the ongoing problems with governance and accountability issues she so clearly identifies.

Yep Gary - another spot-on post.

Tiernan suggests responses such as better training, greater accountability and a clearer delineation of roles and responsibilities as means to address the ongoing problems with governance and accountability issues she so clearly identifies.

Yep: but I'd only allow "executive" appointments a VERY limited role - akin to the single Weasel in Yes Minister. IMHO the insulation of ministers from the last few frank-and-fearless public servants actuall increases the risk of a minister getting into trouble through poor decisions.

Dave,
I missed this when I was in Canberra conference going. I don't have major problems with political staffers. The commonwealth ones receive their training and experience in the states and the good ones are very good.

The minister should be responsible for their actions as they act as the arm of the minister. Its a tough rolem since if things go belly up--as they often do--the advisor is sacrificed to protect the minister.

It's a tough gig.