Americanisation of Australian Politics and our Public Service
After 9 years of Coalition rule, a Liberal stampede out of Parliament House means political and social upheaval in the nation’s capital. Out with the old political culture, in with the new. Stephanie Tran reports on the wave of political change.
Once upon a time, a change of government in Australia was an orderly event, at least for public servants. When Gough Whitlam took Labor to power in 1972, he flew from Sydney to Canberra to meet the people known as the ‘’permanent heads’’ of the public service. Men whose names were revered and feared in the national capital: John Bunting, Arthur Tange, Alan Cooley, Keith Waller and Lenox Hewitt. Whitlam had some revolutionary notions for his new government, but he had no intention of challenging those institutions.
Some time in the 50 years since then, the ‘’permanent head’’ has become fiercely aware of his or her (there are women now, unlike in 1972) impermanence as the head of a government department.
Today, the idea that any public servant in the high echelons would have any more permanence than a fleeting political office holder would be seen as laughable. In the case of Gough Whitlam’s top adviser, John Menadue, Menadue even moved seamlessly, despite the drama of The Dismissal, to become Malcolm Fraser’s top aide.
Now, even supposedly independent chiefs in the bureaucracy, let alone politicians’ advisers, are becoming political fodder.