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Monday, October 11, 2010

The retired but not retiring Mr Gleeson

Gerry Gleeson, one time head of the Premier's Department, holder of many other high public and private sector offices, and still highly influential, gave the NSW Government and the state public service both barrels in his Spann Oration and in a follow on interview on ABC Stateline on Friday. Apart from expressing shock and dismay about ministerial standards, Gleeson said
the NSW Public Service, once regarded as one of the leaders in Australia, has lost it coherence, its stability, its unity of purpose, and with tenure so tenuous has lost its capacity to be a genuine source of frank and fearless advice
He spoke about fear, greed and incompetence; nepotism, politicisation through favouritism and ministerial influence in selection processes; lack of capacity for strategic policy and review; failure to attend to professional development; no systematic service-wide approach to identifying and developing the highly talented; the Government and Opposition endeavouring to use ICAC, the Ombudsman and the Auditor General for their particular political agendas; the attitude within government that private sector practices are best, and that by definition outsourcing is more efficient than in-house delivery; few follow up reviews to report on whether projected efficiencies, economies and value for money have been achieved, particularly with private public partnerships; and finally the re-emergence of the Treasury at the top of the power and authority tree.

Sure doesn't sound anything like the world within which Premier Keneally operates. The Premier told Parliament recently that the state has"one of the most stable, integral and respected public sector workforces in the world."

Gleeson puts forward in the Spann Oration a list of changes for the system of government, ministers and the public service all of which warrant consideration.

Freedom of Information rated this mention:
The changes introduced by Greiner and Carr effected positive improvements within the public sector, such as the budget process and FOI, although the release of information has been strictly controlled by Ministers. Also ICAC is a body that is now an essential.
Gleeson wasn't always as well disposed towards FOI. A commitment to introduce FOI was part of the ALP platform before and during the 12 years of ALP Government commencing in 1976 when Gleeson served as head of the Premier's Department. The late Peter Wilenski in a review of public administration for Premier Wran described NSW at that time as the secret state.The story goes that every time Wran raised the subject of where this reform stood, the bottom drawer of Gleeson's filing cabinet creaked open for just a moment before slamming shut. Nothing happened until a new premier Greiner arrived in 1988 and Gleeson departed. Greiner also then introduced the ICAC because of the stench of corruption in and around the NSW government.

I can also recall Gleeson in the mid 1980's making a speech to the Institute of Public Administration claiming NSW led the country in accountability, decrying calls for among other things, more stringent inquiry into executive government activity by parliament through committees such as public accounts ( being pushed along at the time by the committee's then staff person, now Minister for Climate Change and Environment Frank Sartor) and resisting arguments for performance audit powers for the Auditor General. All the time with that "Introduction of FOI" file safely locked away in the bottom drawer.


  1. Anonymous11:44 pm

    Sorry. I just found this article from Gerry Gleeson.

    Without doubt, Gerry Gleeson was an upright, honest and outstanding public servant by anyone's measure.

    But his stated concerns in this speech/article in my view need a comment.

    I know Gerry Gleeson has read the Mason and Allard Royal Commission Report of 1916-18 which clearly spelled out both the potential and actuality of 'fear, greed, nepotism, politicisation and abuse of the Public Service' unless there was independent control and that there was someone independently focused on professionalism, and a trained and skilled workforce.

    That Royal Commission lead to a new Public Service Act that separated lawfully the political from administrative functioning of Government in NSW.

    Mr Gleeson is 'learned' and himself also once the Educational Member of the Public Service Board established to solve those very problems.

    Gerry Gleeson may not have read, but I'd be surprised if he hadn't, the Royal Australian Historical Society Journal of 1960, Vol.45 Part 6 and the article by Wallace Wurth C.M.G, LL.B, LL.D. about the role and value of that Public Service Board

    Yet, Gerry I personally have thought (maybe wrongfully), was a key player in the very end of the Public Service Board that was designed to stop the very problems that he now puts forward.

    I was there the day that Gerry told the Board (PSB) that 'establishment controls' (ie approved positions by the PSB) were to be subsumed by staff number' controls that would be determined by Premiers Department under Gerry Gleeson as Head of that Department.

    Unstated, (by anyone but the then Chief Inspector of the PSB), but believed, was that staffing levels had now become political considerations rather than justified by any independent assessment of need or value for money or work justification.(whether that independent assessment was good or bad).

    To my mind that was the beginning of the end of "of an independent and free speaking Public Service in NSW "

    Then came the amended legislation after Peter Wielenski which further neutered Public Service neutrality in this State. The next step then legislatively was Nick Griener with his "let the managers manage" mantra and repeal of the Public Service Act.

    Unfortunately, Greiner and Wran never talked. If they had, they may have found a middle Ground. To let the Public Sector do its job as it should do. Yet still enable the political agenda's to work. I still think those two people could have done it if they talked.

    The Public Sector today is still inefficient. Not because there are too many "fat cats" or too many people in any sector, but because politicians play games.

    This State needs to re-read and learn lessons from Mason-Allard.

    Funny and also sad , that a report almost 100 years old should apply and resonate today. BUT IT SHOULD.

    End game.

  2. I remember Gerry Gleeson as the Secretary of the Premier's Department during my time there.

    I attended that Spann Oration. The public service has become more political now since his retirement. Public servants are now on contracts and can be terminated if they give frank and fearless advice and a Minister does not like that advice.