We Need to Know


It is to be expected that a new government coming into office will take time to settle in, read the files and gradually get used to the idea of being in power. In doing that the Rudd Government is no different to the Howard government, which took the best part of 18 months to settle into the harness.

However the Howard government was not bequeathed the administrative mess of a politicised public service and the moral and ethical conundrum that now constitutes Rudd’s inheritance. With some aplomb Rudd has calmly and methodically put his hands on the levers as if he were taking over a well run and well oiled machine of State.

Nothing could be further from reality.

Howard selfishly used the instruments of State to maintain his hold on power. As a result, what was once a reasonably functional Commonwealth Public Service is now in need of an overhaul from the top down.

Rudd, through the Special Minister of State, Senator John Faulkner, needs to look at a range of misadventures that occurred under Howard and ascertain the processes involved so that they do not reoccur.

These investigations should be undertaken without apportioning blame so that they can be wide ranging and thorough. The loss of $1.3 billion on the ill-fated Department of Defence Seasprite project might be a starting point. How can Australian tax payers be asked to foot that bill at a time of tightening economic circumstances when they are being asked to tighten their belts? What was done or not done that led to the outcome on Seasprite? What processes led to the ordering of the Super Hornet?

On what strategic basis was the Abrams Tank purchased? It’s too heavy and unsuitable for regional use. And what has been the rationale for purchasing the F35 off the plans with all the delays and cost blowouts that can be expected? Wasn’t the experience of the F1-11 in the 1960s and 70s enough? And what is the thinking behind the construction of the airwarfare destroyers and where are they likely to be effectively deployed? Why don’t we have enough trained personnel to man our submarines?

Furthermore, why is Australia purchasing such expensive military hardware? Putting aside the political need to rush to the side of the US in its military adventures as the apparent cost of our insurance, where are we planning to use this hardware and for what purpose? Inquiries instituted by the previous government into the AWB, and the death of Private Kovco provided more questions than answers and the AQIS inquiry into the outbreak of horse flu has poor terms of reference.

The Australian Federal Police investigation into the Haneef affair was little short of a cover up and both the Australian public and the Indian Government await a full and proper investigation. The current review of Homeland and Border security, due on 30 June, must not be allowed to fulfill AFP Chief Mick Keelty’s ambition for the creation of an Australian FBI, incorporating significant elements of ASIO and ASIS and giving dominance over what remains of them.

The issue of how the so called War on Terror has been used politically for bureaucratic empire building – particularly in relation to the AFP and the Department of Immigration – needs thorough investigation.

The Australian people need answers on why it was deemed necessary to break both Australian and International law to detain refugees for long periods under mind shattering conditions and why it was necessary to detain children. They await answers on the apparent public service stuff ups over "children overboard" and an investigation into the sinking of SIEV X.

Perhaps all of the bungles referred to above were as a result of political decisions. If so we need to know why the public service was so ineffectual in the face of an aggressively ideological government. Perhaps many of the bungles were as a result of public service initiatives, if so we need to know how they were arrived at in order to avoid the same costly mistakes in the future.

Through all the rampaging of the Howard government, at a time of economic prosperity, why did so many groups of influence sink into their comfort zones and condone the philosophy of "whatever it takes"? In particular I’m thinking of the media and the public service.

Many of the senior public servants who either drafted or went along with Howard’s profligacy and unlawfulness are advising the Rudd Government. Is this desirable considering how far Australia went off the track over the past 12 years? Australia needs to rebuild social capital. Rudd is off to a good start with his apology to the Stolen Generations, but much remains to be done.

The old brigade of senior public service managers, with a few notable and honourable exceptions, should be encouraged to go. There are many good and younger public servants, with ideas and drive who should be given their day. If they were, Rudd’s ill conceived 2020 meeting would not be necessary.

Many fundamentals of Australian democracy were undermined by the Howard government. We need to know how this happened and how the Federal public service became complicit. Was it complicit or was it forced? Or was the process far more complex and subtle and if so, then all the more reason why we, the Australian people, need to know what was going on. What went wrong and why? If we are to avoid worse abuses and wastages in the future, we need to know.

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