I agree that Tasmania needs an independent watchdog. Only with an external independent perspective will it have the ability to challenge the powerful, demonstrate its own integrity, and be believed. The federal nature of Australia’s constitution enables an integrity commission to report to a federal body until sufficient trust has been established on the island itself.
It has been proven time and again that the appointment of external individuals, however talented, is insufficient to take on “the culture” - not just of the public service but of the Tasmanian system of government.
I think the jury is out on whether these appointments are political window-dressing and a genuine desire for change, or the creation of suitable scapegoats made all the easier because they are not local, don’t vote, and are therefore expendable however costly their exit. Such action saves the face of teflon-coated Tasmanian public servants - those who should be the ones removed as it was their mismanagement that required the external appointments in the first place.
The cycle continues:
A. local ineptitude,
B. external appointment,
C. new solutions found that threaten the locals,
D. undermining of appointees to avoid the threat,
E. exit of external appointment,
F. continue as before.
The only way to survive this cycle is for an external appointee to either do nothing or simply go to Tasmania to retire. The only way to break the cycle is for Tasmanian leaders to demonstrate political strength and courage - but as most Tasmanians actually know what is going on that may not be as tough as the political populists may fear.
A truly independent integrity commission has not yet been created because of a lack of political leadership. That leadership has been undermined by a lack of confidence because no one has yet felt clean enough to cast the first stone without reproach. Tasmania needs a government with the courage to do what is necessary and the foresight to know what that actually is.
It is possible however for a strong government to change the way politics works in Tasmania and to change the way the state makes its decisions and delivers on them. It can create a system of cabinet government that supports political leadership to not just deliver on its promises, but to provide the confidence of its convictions and control over its departments.
However, ministers will not control their departments as long as one minister manages more than one large portfolio, or where one department reports to more than one minister.
The Justice Department is just such an example where the secretary of justice reports to four ministers and can duck and dive between them as desired. Equally the minister of corrections also runs education and forestry- but each portfolio is large enough to require full-time attention. This is one reason why everything takes so long to resolve in Tasmania and why there exists an undermining in people’s confidence that things can really change.
The systematic lack of political oversight of public servants is creating the power vacuum that enables cronyism, nepotism and corruption by officials. The overt politicisation of the civil service is both the result of this vacuum and the cause of much of the problem.
In short, good managers do things right - but good leaders do the right things. Tasmania does not lack good leaders but it fails to provide those leaders with the system of government to do enough right things for long enough, and to make real, lasting change possible.
As a result three things need to happen for Tasmania to break the cycle of political optimism followed by institutional inertia, economic decline and personal scapegoating.
1. Improve the system of political oversight,
2. Establish an independent integrity watchdog,
3. Depoliticise the public service.
1. Improve the system of political oversight.
Ministerial control over departments needs to be strengthened so that ministers, not officials, decide how things are run.
The current system of ministerial management is weak. Where you have more than one minister responsible for the work of one department, or one minister manages a number of vast portfolios, the level of ministerial scrutiny, oversight, management and responsibility is weakened. This means senior officials are not held sufficiently accountable, and it results in a power vacuum filled by political public servants who act like politicians with the inevitable cronyism, nepotism, factionalism and corruption. It is a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Greater ministerial oversight requires a change in the political system - that is, its system of making decisions and delivering them.
More ministers means either the need for more elected representatives or the flattening of the public service to enable operational heads of services to report directly to ministers. Both would reduce the power of those teflon-coated political appointees who so undermine integrity in the state - not least by their objection to a truly independent integrity commission.
The upper house’s attempts to streamline departmental scrutiny and accountability, especially over budget management, are to be welcomed. It would be all too easy at present for the wool to be pulled over legislative eyes - and that is a danger for democracy as well as the economy.
2. Establish an independent integrity watchdog.
Lack of integrity and trust is a whole-of-island cultural issue. Tasmania cannot have a local integrity commission reporting to the very people who need to be challenged. Justice does not only serve the just - but can only be delivered by the just.
One of the best ways to permanently change culture is to subsume the bad into something bigger. Tasmania is a place where to facilitate change you need to change the people involved, but that is not possible because you are an isolated island community. Being part of something bigger enables the movement of people in and out, and an external perspective often gives that insular culture a much needed boost of rules, integrity and trustworthiness. Hence to be truly useful the integrity commission needs to report to a federal body external to local public service management.
All ombudsman and local-scrutiny bodies could then report to the integrity commission thereby maintaining their own independence instead of currently reporting to the bodies they are supposed to be holding to account.
On a smaller scale for example, the woes of the prison service could be overcome by combining it with the community corrections service into one operational body, thereby saving money and focusing the prison on rehabilitation whilst adding public confidence to community corrections. While you continue to solve the prison’s problems in isolation, and fail to seek new people at the top, it will not change. The trouble is that such a solution threatens senior public servants’ own positions and therefore it’s likely to be dismissed in the cycle of change - no change.
3. Depoliticise the public service.
Any new Liberal government should keep to its promise and remove the politicised and controversial appointments across the whole of government - including the very public intention to improve justice in the justice department.
If merit-based, non-political appointments were made then any future need to change personnel after each election would be removed, and this would improve the effectiveness of the public service.
Coalition government has weakened strong leadership while encouraging department policy to be created by political intrigue, and this should be avoided at all costs.
These are transitional steps which can help kick-start a real change in Tasmanian culture. External scrutiny can be replaced by internal controls once a basic sense of fair-play has been established locally.
Tasmania is one of the great places in the world!
It is truly unique and should protect itself from wrong external pressures, however it faces its greatest threat from within because its leaders have lacked the courage to demonstrate that integrity is ultimately more important than personal loyalty if it’s desired to create a safe and decent, fair-shares place to live.
Popularity is the curse of a small community. Blood is thicker than water - but you survive by drinking the water.
• David Obendorf, in Comments: Follow up on comment #6: Do you all remember this caper was also used in Forestry Tasmania? Bob Gordon’s contract was re-signed even before its expiry ensuring a large payout on his resignation. Cute hey? Remember the Ta Ann [CEO Evan Rolley] and Gunns Ltd [former CEO Greg L’Estrange] long-term Wood Supply contracts with Forestry Tasmania again were signed off [out to 2027] by the Tasmanian Government before their expiry date - setting up the play for a massive Commonwealth-funded compensation pay-back when these forestry companies agreed to end native forest logging and/or reduce their wood supply quota. Is this an orchestrated game played by a few individuals that run Tasmania? Follow the money trai and the lines of patronage and ask yourself whether this fits the definition of ‘white-collar’ (questionable behaviour).
• Examiner: Greenberry to be quizzed Mr Greenberry returned to the Britain after leaving the role last year, but may have to travel to Tasmania to be afforded parliamentary privilege for statements made during the public hearings, which could take place as early as next month.