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A tangled web

September 28th, 2007

This story of a DFAT employee sacked for the “unethical” action of responding to an email from a Labor party staff member, and reinstated yesterday by the IRC seemed to be just another example of the politicisation and rule by fear that characterises the public service under the current government*. But digging into the story a bit further, my wife found an amazing tangled web, in which the government’s star witness was entangled in drug dealing, money laundering and blackmail. This naturally qualified him to be part of the team that successfully oversaw the actions of AWB in Baghdad, and, in 2002, to have his security classification restored

The original reason that the DFAT employee, Trent Smith, was targeted was that he was under suspicion for leaking minutes of meeting in early 2003, in which Alexander Downer stated what we all now know to be true, that, despite its protestations the Australian government was committed to war with Iraq**.

* Of course, this process started before the current government

** Subject of course, to the need to keep Saddam sweet as long as possible so he would keep buying our wheat.

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  1. conrad
    September 29th, 2007 at 13:47 | #1

    Its funny that people don’t seem to care much about this rule by fear approach that seems to be becoming all the more common in various places. I think all Australians should have to do a stint in China or somewhere like that to see what the actual end consequences of this are, where what should be little chains of corruption/little problems/stupid ideas never get fixed because no-one is willing to say anything.
    More cynically, if you don’t have any vested interested and work in places with this sort of rule, its fun to watch the millions lost by the idiots on top.

  2. Jill Rush
    September 29th, 2007 at 21:04 | #2

    It is good to hear that the DFAT employee has been reinstated. That he has had tremendous trauma to reach this stage however is a black mark on a government which preferred to believe a witness who lacked credibility to persecute someone who had done nothing wrong.

    The Public service has been politicised and it would be good to know that under Labor this would be reversed. However like so many things there is no commitment to do so and it suits the incumbent government to continue the trend. What happens when there is no IRC left? Howard has a lot to answer for – not least of which is that frank and fearless advice is not given nor wanted and therefore poor policy has been the result.

    Imagine if anyone had bothered to ask DEWR whether WorkChoices was a good idea instead of forcing it on the workforce. Even DEWR staff have resisted it as they know that it is poor legislation from the worker’s viewpoint – one shared by the majority of the workforce who have only been interested when no other choice is left.

    The DFAT case is one of manifest unfairness. However in the Howard years hundreds of public servants have lost their jobs through redundancy – usually to be replaced by less knowledgeable and less skilfull staff. It shows in the eagerness of junior staff who are ambitious to meet the political goals of their masters who reward the compliant and punish alternative viewpoints.

  3. Fred Argy
    October 2nd, 2007 at 16:39 | #3

    John, I believe many middle class swinging voters are happy with Howard Government’s competence and performance. This is in good part due to luck – see my AFR article today- but most voters will understandably give the credit to Howard and Costello.

    Furthermore, it is hard to detect much policy difference between the two major parties except in rhetoric.

    So is there any reason for the more sophisticated swingers to change sides? I think the answer lies in the excessive concentration and abuse of power under Howard, with the intimidation of public servants only one of many examples.

    Rudd (a bit autocratic himself) may go the same route as Howard. But many voters will give him the benefit of the doubt, especially as he has promised to improve governance standards. Their attitude might be a little like mine: ‘clean out the stable to see what skeletons lie hidden in the Howard cupboard” and worry about Rudd later.

  4. 2 tanners
    October 4th, 2007 at 07:20 | #4

    Nice to see that the Government is standing by its model litigant policy. Having been told by its own Industrial Relations Commissioner that the ‘offence’ was not a breach of the public service code and the dismissal was harch, unjust and unreasonable, DFAT is ‘mulling its response’. Poor bloke hasn’t been reinstated yet, by the sounds of it.

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