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Public service and moral responsibility

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by: Bakchos
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In my previous post I spoke about to the Théâtre de l’Absurde which is a term coined by Martin Esslin for the work of a number of playwrights, working in Europe in the 1950s and 1960s. The term is derived from a short story written by Albert Camus, the Myth of Sisyphus. In his Myth of Sisyphus, written in 1942, Camus defined the human situation as basically meaningless and absurd. Man’s true state, he believed, is that of an alien or stranger in an indifferent world. The Absurd is located in the clash of these two distinct realities— the human desire to explain everything rationally and a world that is irrational and inexplicable.

In the public sector the absurd is the clash between what the government would like the public to think is reality and the reality which is the self-interest and irresponsibility of the average public servant.

In a response to my last post The Theatre of the Absurd a former employee of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) observed that:

Nobody in Canberra cares about Indigenous Policy unless there is something in it for them i.e. at election time or when it is negative. The unofficial policy in PM&C under Howard was who cares. I understand that nothing has changed under the Rudd/Gillard Governments.

I believe that this observation accurately reflects the political realities in Canberra today. On the one hand we have a government that spruiks about inclusiveness and about all Australians being equal while on the other hand it maintains the intrusive incursions into Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory commenced in the final days of the Howard Government, in a vain attempt to hoodwink the Australian public into giving his vacuous administration a further mandate. Here the absurd is between the government’s protestations about inclusiveness and the realities of the intervention.

The same commenter identified only by the sobriquet ‘Well Wisher’ also observed that:

The real problem is the culture in the modern public service. The letters that [name removed by moderator] wrote to Ernst & Young and the ANZ Bank would never have been approved when accountability was taken seriously. [Name removed by moderator] in my view committed fraud in using ACT Government resources to achieve an end which he could not have achieved otherwise. The AFP won’t act partially because they are restrained politically and partially because of the systemic racism within its ranks.

This comment goes to the very core of what is the Théâtre de l’Absurde in the public service in Canberra. While there are any numbers of weighty tomes circulating within the public service discussing what public sector accountability is, no one enforces the concept. In fact a former colleague and senior public servant commented to me over lunch today that current public service culture is about self-interest which is inherently destructive and manifests its destructiveness in substandard advice which ultimately translates into substandard government.

Where else but in an absurd world could an employee write to the chief executive of a department requesting that a colleague be sacked because he is an Aborigine and consorts with other Aborigines, and not be reprimanded. In fact he was promoted. There is no accountability in this, but you and I and every tax payer in Australia is asked to foot the bill for this absurdity.

While workers in Sydney and Melbourne are struggling to pay mortgages and support families, the author of the letter requesting that his colleague be sacked because of his Aboriginality is currently pulling in over $150,000 a year, for what? Well you might ask for what and that is a question we should all be asking of our politicians.

Added to the Théâtre de l’Absurde which is today’s public service, we have a police service which is prepared to ‘fit-up’ ‘political undesirables’ in furtherance of party political agendas. While we may never know how much Mohamed Haneef has been awarded in compensation after he was wrongly detained on terrorism related charges in 2007 which were later dropped amid allegations that the Australian Federal Police bungled the case, what we can be sure of is that you and I and every Australian taxpayer will foot the bill. Likewise we will be asked to foot the bill for the compensation that will be ultimately be paid to Mr. Martin who spent 940 days in jail because the Australian Federal Police bungled yet another prosecution.

Likewise we shouldn’t forget that we the Australian taxpayers footed the bill for the ‘bribes’ that the Australian Federal Police paid to witnesses in their, yet again, bungled prosecution of the former Attorney General for the Solomon Islands. The list of Australian Federal Police crimes and incompetence is absolutely mind boggling and we are paying for it. While I would like to be able to explain why, I can’t, because it is basically irrational and inexplicable.

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