CPDS Home Contact Professionalism: Chronological Summary


Mr Terry Sweetman,
Sunday Mail

'Terrors within' are not limited to the Immigration Department

You (probably) hit the nail on the head in your recent article which suggested that unquestioning bureaucrats are exercising blind authority on behalf of the public and that the results are being concealed from public view.

My interpretation of your article: "Do we any longer have a public service or are we prisoners of a faceless bureaucratic bloc blessed with some kind of immunity from public scrutiny and accountability". Civil liberties have been thrown out the window, and people are now often denied their rights. People are locked up, and subject to dawn raids; children are removed from schools; people who have never been charged with terrorism are stripped of their passports and put on surveillance. People can be held without being charged, and it is an offence to talk about undemocratic detention. There are cases where innocence has been over-ridden by high-handed bureaucrats and where helpless people have suffered gross injustices with no possible appeal or redress. Immigration Minister has refused to order widening of inquiry into Cornelia Rau case - though she admits to a cultural problem in the Immigration Department. The government does not admit the enormity of the crimes committed in their names. Anti-terrorist hysteria has driven the Immigration Department beyond control and accountability. It is easier to talk about tough immigration policies than to confront the reality. Do people rest comfortably because unquestioning people exercise blind authority on their behalf and conceal their excesses from public view? (Sweetman T., 'Blinkered from terrors within', Sunday Mail, 15/5/05)

However such problems are unlikely to arise from the risk of terrorism or to be confined to the Immigration Department. The risk of terrorism may simply provide a framework within which an internal culture of coercion, which now now seems to affect public services generally, can impact on the community. However in future the community will probably be affected in many other areas unless something like the 'Westminster' tradition of professional independent public services is restored.

There has been a serious loss of professional accountability in public services as they have been politicised (ie obliged to comply unquestioningly with at-times-poorly-informed public opinion, rather than encouraged to do their jobs professionally). This is likely to be the cause of Queensland's health system fiasco no less than of the problems in the Immigration Department that your article highlighted (see [draft] Intended Submission to Health System Inquiries). The latter document points out that in the case of Queensland's health system also the responsible minister has noted the existence of a cultural problem in the Department and that inadequate inquiries have been established to conceal the real problem.

The growth of a coercive culture within public services has been a direct consequence of political bullying of public services (see The Growth of Public Service Bullying). I have direct personal experience of this phenomenon - in a case which involved the Queensland Premier's Department and resulted in advice from the Ombudsman that Queensland's parliament had (in effect) legislated to (a) make it unnecessary to really consider professional competence in making public service appointments, and (b) to outlaw natural justice (ie the right to a fair hearing before judgement is made). In other words (as suggested in your article), parliament enabled high-handed bureaucrats to inflict gross injustices with no possible appeal or redress.

The organisational 'reforms' that gave rise to bullying of (and within) Queensland's public service have also afflicted the federal government (see Decay of Australian Public Administration - which referred to the effect of centralisation and politicisation of decision making). Moreover the resulting dysfunctions in both cases (and in other Australian governments about which information is less available) have been similar - see The Growing Case for a Professional Public Service.

I wish you well in your efforts to stimulate the restoration of more effective public administration in Australia.


John Craig