Standing up for Canberra

Defending the Public Service - Constituency Statement (September 2011)

Today, I once again rise to defend the Public Service from irresponsible, unwarranted and ad hominem attacks. Some weeks ago I chastised the opposition for its continued attacks on the independence and integrity of the Public Service. Today I wish to speak about comments made by the Leader of the Australian Greens political party, Senator Bob Brown. Two weeks ago, on 8 September, the ABC reported comments from Senator Brown in which he stated that Immigration staff should be sacked for the content of their advice. Specifically, he was quoted as saying:

As far as the bureaucrats, these turkeys, out of the bureaucracy in Canberra who are prognosticating somehow or other about Australia becoming Paris or London burning—they should be out on their ears.

Senator Brown went on to say: They should be removed from that position and put into something where they can twiddle their pencils without causing so much harm to the integrity and decency of Australia's projection in dealing with asylum seekers.

The role of the Public Service is to provide frank and fearless advice. In that context, these statements are, quite frankly, outrageous. They also show a completely lack of understanding about the nature of the Public Service and display a stereotypical ignorance of what public servants actually do. In my decade in the Public Service and my decade consulting to the Public Service, I met men and women who protect our borders, who provide assistance to the aged and disabled, who make sure our cities are lit and safe, who oversee justice. I did not, at any stage, meet pencil twiddlers. The staff of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship are dedicated and professional men and women who offer the best advice they can on the information available to them. They work hard to make a difference, and Senator Brown should not disparage them because he does not like the tenor of their advice.

It is not my intent today to canvass immigration policy. I know there are disagreements about that issue and I know there are no moral absolutes. My purpose is to once again put on the record my view that members of the Public Service should be lauded, not derided. They should not be targeted for political gain or because parliamentarians do not like the message. I am not asking Senator Brown to blindly agree to all the advice he is given. Indeed, it is our responsibility to have a healthy level of scepticism about what we are told. However, to so blatantly attack the messenger because you do not like the message is truly outrageous, and to do so for the purpose of a natty sound bite is completely unacceptable. We have been elected to this position of privilege to debate ideas and policy. We have not been elected to this position of privilege to throw insults at the dedicated men and women whose job is to serve the public. Senator Brown is entitled to disagree on the contents of the policy, but he should play the ball, not the public servant.

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