Hank Jongen, the general manager who isn’t

When a PR man presents himself as the boss of the organization he spruiks for, you are well advised to disbelieve anything he says. Hank Jongen “general manager” of Services Australia and its predecessors (such as Centrelink) has been doing this for years, most recently here . In reality, Jongen is the agency spokesperson.

The trick is that “General Manager, Function X” is a title given to lots of middle-ranking public servants. By contrast, Jongen’s statements never qualify the term, sugggesting that he is general manager of the entire organization. In fact, it’s unclear what his actual job title is. According to this org chart, Jongen works for the General Manager, Communications, a position currently held by Susie Smith.

But Jongen and Services Australia are happy to give the impression that he is the boss of the organisation, and never attempt to correct puff pieces that describe him this way, like this one, headlined Dear Hank: Centrelink boss offers personal email as complaints over ‘fraud accusations’ soar

The trick is that Services Australia hands out the title of General Manager to lots of mid-rank executive, seemingly with the sole purpose of enhancing Hank’s apparent status. It’s as if you got a call from the CEO of a major company, personally offering you a special deal, only to discover that sales staff were accorded the title of CEO.

As was said by in the famous feud between Mary McCarthy and Lilian Hellman[1], every word Jongen says is a lie, including “a” and “the”. He is lying from the moment he announces himself.

The same is true of Services Australia. Any statement issued by this organization is tainted by the dishonesty of Jongen’s byline.

fn1. On which I don’t have enough evidence to form an opinion, or interest to pursue such evidence. Just pinching a good line. Here’s the details from when Jongen was the face of robodebt.

18 thoughts on “Hank Jongen, the general manager who isn’t

  1. Is hateful Hank a representative or delegate for the Secretary when presenting himself this way? I lost a legal point on this once in arguing against a DSS position with a tribunal member. The terms representative and delegate occur in various places in the rather lengthy legislation. One might think the context there of a particular instance may give an indication of a particular meaning in an ordinary sense. “Represent” was neither here nor there, iirc. It was all about “delegate” and some crafty definitions of that made in a couple of landmark NSW Supreme and Federal Court matters. They could pull this trick out of a hat rather like Humpty Dumpty and have the word mean or not mean whatever they wanted, or both! I was always going to win in the matter, but this became an engaging mind twisting side issue, the use of which allowed cover for grave departmental and particular employee errors. Not only that! The member engaged in various hops back and forth across time to give DSS what it wanted at the same time as giving me what I wanted for the person I represented, that is, all except findings about certain actions that would see someone’s head on a stake. This tribunal member, like many, came from the department and probably wished to return there at some later time for profit… like many a bench sitter.

    The point is that at any time hateful Hank may well be delegated standing in the shoes of the boss, or not, or both. When in the shoes of the boss he is as good as being the boss if that’s how they and he want it. It can be in writing from the Secretary or mostly not and certain delegates may have certain powers to delegate further… It depends on how, if ever, it is argued on the law after the fact – and the law indeed is an ass. (And bureaucracy looks after itself and it’s own – another law.)

  2. You’re off the mark here, JQ. “General Manager” is standard designation across the APS and has been for decades, and accurately conveys a persons position within the bureaucracy. Think of it as Canberra-specific jargon. Anyone saying he is “the” General Manager is misrepresenting his position, and the media are indeed doing so, probably by accident. But is he or Services Australia doing this himself?

  3. Are “Accounts Managers” the same sort of sham? They used to be called “Tellers” but today if you work for a bank then the rule is: “Don’t tell.” So you can still manage to account for why you talked someone into a more expensive loan option as long as you don’t “tell” the truth.
    I was in a suburban branch of a well known bank when a pensioner was being given “advice” by one of these account managers. As a trained financial advisor and having done accounting and finance at university, I noticed that all the “advice” given would cost the pensioner more money than was necessary, over the full term of the loan facility being offered. Caveat emptor!

  4. Wow, JQ, that sounds like something I would fear to blog even from pseudonymity. I “met” Hank Jongen long ago being on the floor when he spoke to a gathering of staff. Then as now, I viewed getting a CEO for Centrelink (Sue Vardon at that time) and a media spokesman in Hank Jongen as symptoms of what was going wrong with the organization and nation and which continues today: namely neoliberalism and generic managerialism. Indeed, I began reading a lot of John Quiggin articles around that time along with a number of writers J.Q, referenced. Micheal Pusey’s “Economic Rationalism in Canberra” was also very illuminating. These helped me understand what was going on.

    https://www.whitlam.org/publications/2017/7/12/economic-rationalism-in-canberra-twenty-five-years-on

    Sadly, I soon realized that understanding what is going on is of little use when most other people don’t understand what is going on. I noted the lack of critical thinking in the majority of my work mates and their conservativeness, timidity and unwillingness to show union militancy and implement strong enough industrial actions. I noted what happened overall as the country de-unionized. The workers and the poor got shafted… of course.

    We have the government we vote for. We have the bureaucracy we vote for via the government we vote for. We have the poor pay rates and under-staffing rates we vote for and then accept by not being more unionized and militant. The responsibility rests with the people. If the system is poor, the responsibility finally is ours. I understanding venting and I do quite a bit myself. But in the end it’s not much good simply getting angry with functionaries and flak-catchers.

    Now, we are in a crisis where packed mass gathering actions are foreclosed in the minds of sensible persons on both sides of the political divide. But many other distanced and cyber mass actions are still possible. It’s time to get creative.

  5. Secret civil servant. Thanks for this. The title must have come in after my departure from the APS, which was quite a few decades ago. I’ve corrected the post, and also put in more evidence that the title is being used with deceptive intent and effect.

  6. A dismal soul, one of the first hatchet-people recruited to the public service as we rolled into the neo liberal era.
    All of the cruelties practiced by the current government and public service follow a template first established by this individual decades and decades ago.
    I often wonder that some people can go through an entire life without self respect or conscience.

  7. I agree with Secret civil servant here John – you don’t really know what you’re talking about in this post.

    And I would lay quids it is the journos who are abbreviating Hank’s full title, not Hank – you should be going after them for misrepresentation by omission. Further, as a public servant Hank is not in a good position to publicly defend himself against this sort of personal attack.

    Now perhaps my defence of the man is slanted by my knowing him personally. Like most people I find him a very likeable personality, though perhaps not always the sharpest tool in the shed. In no way is the man a sleaze, though I do think his genuine enthusuiasm for the organisation he works for leads him to say that which really is not so from time to time.

  8. Derridaderider, I guess you have never been on the receiving end of the psychological warfare inflicted on the unemployed, DB and others over decades. From the point of view of millions of people, the next time he tells the truth will be the first. He has had plenty of chances.

  9. Hank is a PR person and a public servant. It’s his job to present whatever line the department and the Minister’s office decide will make them look good (or not awful). Many a public servant has to stay mute. PR people don’t have that choice. Think of him as a lawyer defending a sleazy client.

  10. no one is holding a gun to hateful hanks head yet

    you imply he has no choice

    lawyers may always choose to walk yet

    if your analogy doesn’t fall like some hateful leaden dirigible

    it is obligatory yet

    as you say this is the ‘public service’ and upon such sleazy stairway to heaven words not sometimes but always have two meanings

    yes there are two paths you can go by yet

    in the long run there was a time to change the road travelled on

    and it makes me wonder yet

    to be a rock and not to roll

  11. “And I would lay quids it is the journos who are abbreviating Hank’s full title, not Hank ” You’d lose. On a page where the role is spokesperson, SA nonetheless describes him as “General Manager”

    https://www.directory.gov.au/portfolios/social-services/services-australia/strategy-and-performance/agency-spokesperson

    And clearly they saw the stories where he was explicitly described as the boss of the organization, and did nothing to correct the error they had encouraged. That wouldn’t have happened if an error put them in a bad light.

  12. Svante – I did not say he has no choice. Hank could ask for a transfer, or resign. That he does not says something about him, as it does about people in similar positions.

  13. Services Australia is what we got when we permitted neoliberal ideology to rule Australia for 30 years plus. Countries where neoliberalism has gone further, like the USA and UK, have just about destroyed the ability of their government to provide any worthwhile health and social services. This disgraceful collapse in the face of the COVID-19 challenge, a tricky but still moderate pathogenic challenge in the scheme of possible dangers, shows how abysmally incompetent their governance systems have become under neoliberalism. If they, and we, don’t throw out neoliberalism and all neoliberal functionaries, then total, disastrous collapse is our future.

  14. Echoes here of the vanity titles adopted by various neoliberal types. I recall the estimable Jane Halton passing herself off as Professor Halton before the University which conferred the honorary adjunct title reminded her that it was verboten to use it to mislead people. She signed off her last annual report at the federal Department of Health as “Professor Jane Halton”. Here in Van Diemen’s Land a self-regarding architect, a darling of the white shoe brigade now moving into Tasmania’s national parks, is regularly referred to in press interviews as Professor on the strength of the odd guest lecture to tertiary students and adjunct status in the past.

  15. Heh heh. Jane Halton maintained she couldn’t control what people called her, comparing being called Professor with being called ‘mum’ at home. This was nonsense. Anyone visiting her sanctum at Scarborough House would recall being confronted with a directing sign on the wall that said ‘Professor Jane Halton’. She would have walked towards it, and past it, every day. If she’d wanted it changed, it would have been gone in an instant.

  16. Love this: “Quick feedback

    Let us know what you think of this page. Your ideas and feedback are encouraged and will be used to help us prioritise design fixes and new features.”

    (No this is not a suggestion to spam that feedback form, rather a suggestion that prominent displayed feedback forms – and this is by far the largest one i´ve ever seen built into a site, even on every subpage it seems – tend to be negative correlated with actual responsiveness to real problems)

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