Sunday, January 18, 2009

Mr Rudd's continued New South Walesing

Back in June 2008 I asked Is Mr Rudd being New South Walesed? My point in that post was that Mr Rudd's approach was beginning to bear some of the style marks so beloved in NSW.

Now, or so it seems to me, Mr Rudd is in danger of becoming a somewhat up-market version of NSW. There are the same tendencies to try to do too much, to moralise, to be reactive, to respond to problems with yet another strategy. If this continues, the Rudd Government will fail.

Since then I have continued to point to what I see as deficiencies in Mr Rudd's approach that bear upon this point.

My arguments are not party political: I still badly want Mr Rudd to succeed for all our sakes. Rather, they are part of a broader case that I have been mounting for basic change to our approach to public policy and administration.

Now I see that the Rudd Government has appointed two former NSW senior public servants as Department heads. This brings to three the number of Federal Department heads coming from the NSW system.

Roger Wilkins was the first appointment. Mr Wilkins was head of the NSW Cabinet Office and was appointed as head of the Commonwealth Attorney General's Department after nearly two years in the private sector.

This has been followed by the appointment of Robyn Kruk and John Pierce as Department heads.

Robyn Kruk was head of NSW Premier's Department and resigned following the ousting of Premier Iemma. She has been appointed as head of Water, Heritage and the Arts. This may sound a strange combination, but that's the way we do things.

John Pierce was head of the NSW Treasury. He resigned - local scuttlebutt said shown the door - after the last NSW mini-budget. He has been appointed as head of Resources, Energy and Tourism.

At this point, the eyes of my international readers are probably glazing. So a little explanation.

In NSW, the Department of Premier and Cabinet (PMC) is one of the two dominant agencies, the NSW Treasury is the second. Between them, these two agencies control or at least influence every Government decision.

It is hard to explain just how pervasive their influence is. They set operational frameworks and become involved at an early stage in every Government decision outside the purely political. Again outside the purely political, it is hard to make anything happen in NSW without their support.

All three Rudd appointees have been key players in these Departments. All three are known for their ability and hard work.

I can understand the Government's desire to appoint people that they know. My problem is that they come from a system that does not work very well and indeed cannot because of systemic problems. All three have been acculturated by that system.

This leads me to my core concern: do they have the capacity to stand outside the system, to develop new approaches, or are they going to simply reinforce Mr Rudd's existing approach? If the second happens, they will simply continue the New South Walesing of the Rudd Government.

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