Government

Australia’s new Commonwealth government has pledged to initiate a ‘universities accord’ and build consensus on higher education policy questions. This follows a period of torrid relations between universities and the government where constructive dialogue was patchy at best. We may have heard little from Labor about universities over the course of the past nine years, but its ‘universities accord’ election pledge at least recognises that, for the good of Australia and its people, it’s time to reopen constructive channels of communication.

... (read more)

It is a famous parable. If a frog is dropped in boiling water, it will immediately leap out. But if placed in tepid water that is gradually heated, the frog will not notice the increasing temperature until it is boiled alive. The parable may be biologically inaccurate, but it remains instructive in the context of civil liberties ...

... (read more)

In the interests of national security, my luggage was recently searched at Los Angeles airport. The culprit: Spy Catchers. The uncorrected proof copy was so bulky that it triggered an alert. I declined to tell the Customs and Border Protection officer (in no mood for irony) that one chapter in the offending item was entitled ‘Keeping out Undesirables’. David Horner’s first volume in the history of ASIO is a big book – big on detail, broad in scope, and, overall, impressive in achievement.

... (read more)

A few months after the 2010 federal election, Geoff Gallop delivered the annual Hawke Lecture at the University of South Australia. In an address focused upon political engagement, he canvassed some possible reforms to the Australian political system. Among a number of other proposals ...

... (read more)

Ministers, Mandarins and Diplomats: Australian foreign policy making 1941–1969 by Joan Beaumont, Christopher Waters, and David Lowe, with Garry Woodard

by
May 2003, no. 251

Important political issues sometimes cut across traditional party lines, making it harder for us to confront and debate them. The ‘children overboard’ affair, for example, raised important questions about the relationship between public servants and their ministers. Some of these questions were blurred in the subsequent debate, however, for a simple reason. Since the 1970s, governments from both sides of politics have had, in effect, a common policy of restricting the independence of the public service, especially of heads of departments, in the name of accountability and responsiveness. Ministers now have departmental secretaries who can be dismissed for no stronger reason than that they have lost the minister’s confidence. The powerful mandarins who, it used to be said, ruled Australia from the lunch tables of the Commonwealth Club in Canberra are a distant memory. Political influence now affects appointments down to middle managers in ways that those mandarins would have thought totally improper.­­­

... (read more)

This book is about the role played by ministerial staff in Australian federal government. It is particularly concerned with the potential influence on policy making that this group may have through their capacity to advise ministers. It is, then, about the nature of the relations between personal advisers and their principals – a general issue that can be explored through history, and in countries other than Australia (see chapter 2). From the outset, however, it is important to differentiate between advice to ministers and advice to government, and the term ‘adviser’ does not sufficiently alert us to that differentiation. Indeed, the term ‘adviser’ is traditionally used to signify public servants, who are formally charged with the responsibility of advice to government. I have therefore elected to borrow the term ‘minder’, a term that is creeping into journalism and into the vernacular to refer to a member of a minister’s staff. We can thus distinguish at once between minders (personal advisers) and mandarins (public servants).

... (read more)