Monday, June 22, 2009

Nothing like a scandal to heat up a cold Canberra winter!

After a bit of a break - apologies for that - I am back to blogging, and what a time to return! Last week the "ute-gate" scandal emerged from the depths of winter to give political junkies a scandal to obsess about. The Brits may have heads rolling over perks, but surely it is only in Australia that a Prime Minister can borrow a ute from a mate and see it snowball into calls for resignation over emails, favours, faxes and dust-ups at the Mid-Winter Ball!

In The Australian today several articles deal with the emerging scandal and political showdown. The story centres on whether or not a long-time friend of the PM (and a car dealer that lent him a ute) was given favoured treatment by the government in having his interests represented during a period where the government was trying to assist the car industry.

With calls for resignation flying back and forth a range of interesting questions are being asked: Did a long-time friend of the PMs get special treatment? Is it "normal" for the Treasurer to get faxes about constituents at home? Does the mysterious email exist? Has the PM and/or his Treasurer misled the Parliament? As the Federal Police are called in investigate some parts of the "whodunit" age old questions emerge: what is the proper role of public servants? what is the nature of the relationship between politicians, their advisors, and public servants?

Such questions are nothing new, we now have a new scandal, however, to examine them in. Perhaps most importantly, are public servants acting inappropriately or not? Has a culture emerged whereby public servants are too "responsive" to political actors? This scandal feeds into a very interesting debate which played out in the pages of the Australian Journal of Public Administration between the former head of the Australian Public Service Commission, Andrew Podger and the former head of the Department of Prime Minister of Cabinet, Dr Peter Shergold. the articles are available for free from the journal website.

Over the coming days and weeks we can expect this issue to be dissected to the nth degree, however for those interested in public administration and management this will be yet another (potential) example of the changing nature of the politico-bureaucratic relationship and the questionable role of political advisers who act as agents between the two.

The pollies are back in Canberra this week before the winter recess: expect a feisty week as they play high stakes poker in part with the reputation of public servants.

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