Fair game: the Opposition’s sustained attack on the public service

Last night, Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey appeared on Lateline. Among other things, that interview touched on the Coalition’s ‘Direct Action’ plan to tackle climate change. This is a policy that’s been held up as a viable alternative to the government’s carbon pricing scheme announced a few weeks ago – both cheaper to implement, and less damaging to household budgets. Tony Jones zeroed in on a problem with the figures, though – for all the Opposition’s claims, the Department of Climate Change identified that the policy would cost the average Australian household around $720 per year, with no compensation such as is planned under the carbon price.

Hockey’s response? You can’t trust that Department’s figures. They get things wrong.

But then there’s this:

TONY JONES: But are you saying they’re putting out false figures about your direct action plan?

JOE HOCKEY: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

That’s a serious accusation right there. Hockey didn’t equivocate, or use any weasel words – he flat out accused the Department of Climate Change of deliberately falsifying their figures for the sole purpose of discrediting the Opposition.

Sound familiar? It should.

Remember back around the time of the election, when the Coalition dodged the question of getting their election promises costed by Treasury? Their stated reason for doing so was that Treasury couldn’t be trusted to do it right, or do it fairly. Back then, the accusations flew thick and fast. Treasury was ‘incompetent’. Treasury was ‘corrupt’. In essence, the Coalition did their level best to convince the public that the Treasury was little more than a political agent for Labor, willing to stoop to any level to keep them in power.

Remember Shadow Finance Minister Andrew Robb? At the time, he blustered that ‘It could mean that they [Labor] steal an election through the actions of a criminal act. We are not going to be patsies and be played off a break by people who are engaged in criminal activities to create a political problem for us’.

Then there was Opposition Leader Abbott’s sledge at the Solicitor-General. Upon hearing that the proposed minority government arrangement was all in order, Abbott did more than just hint that the Solicitor-General might well be both incompetent and corrupt. Again, the message was clear: that department is part of the public service, and – just like Treasury – should be viewed with at least a measure of suspicion.

Now, it seems, it’s the turn of Climate Change.

Understand, the Opposition are not talking about government ministers here. They’re not out there attacking Greg Combet or Robert McLelland. They’re saying that the Departments are engaging in corrupt and criminal acts – essentially, that major areas of the Public Service are so compromised by some kind of partisan loyalty to the Australian Labor Party that they simply can’t be trusted.

These are not party political organisations. They’re staffed by people who, in some cases, have held their jobs under successive governments from both major parties. To listen to the Coalition, though, you’d be forgiven for thinking these Departments do little more than give jobs to Labor’s mates.

As I said before, these are serious accusations – the kind that need to be backed up by strong evidence. If proven, there would have to be criminal proceedings, and that could potentially see the government – and the country – undermined at its very foundations. So what is the evidence?

The Coalition says so.

That’s right. They’ve offered no proof of falsified figures. They’ve secured no sworn confessions of wrongdoing. There are no memos discussing how best to help the government attack the Opposition. Just unsubstantiated bluster delivered in ringing tones of condemnation.

This is nothing more than the continuation of a smear campaign that started around the time of the election. It’s designed to deflect attention from shaky policy that doesn’t stand up under rigorous scrutiny. By casting doubt on the organisations whose job it is to catch these sorts of errors and omissions, the Coalition hopes to effectively get waved through the gate without a ticket.

It’s also designed to take advantage of a particular gap in most people’s education. We learn at school about how our government works, or at least we can grasp the basics. You vote, a party gets elected, and the one that doesn’t get in make up the Opposition. Then the government makes laws. What we don’t often learn about is the massive bureaucracy that ensures government can work at all. We see the Minister at the head of those Departments on the news, and we identify the organisation with the person. We don’t get told that Treasury, or Climate Change, or the Solicitor-General’s Department is made up of people who have nothing whatsoever to do with the business of winning elections – people who are experts in their fields, administration assistants with long years of experiences, accountants, legal advisors, etc. When the Coalition accuses Treasury of participating in criminal acts, or Climate Change of deliberately falsifying numbers purely to discredit rival policies, they’re hoping that we won’t realise that.

The Coalition is apparently so committed to tearing down everything even remotely associated with this minority government that they consider these people’s good names to be expandable. Moreover, they apparently have a complete disregard for the personal consequences to the people they’re so merrily disparaging.

That’s not clever strategy – it’s a calculated, callous decision to do whatever it takes, and never mind the collateral damage.

The important thing is that we do realise it. The next time Abbott, or Hockey, or Robb stands up in front of a camera and accuses a Department of corrupt or criminal acts, keep it in mind. It’s not the standard political tactic of discrediting a policy by discrediting the Minister in charge. It’s an attack on hundreds of largely unknown people whose only crime is to be working in government administration under the current government.

Those people keep the country working. They deserve better.

So, Mr Abbott, Mr Robb, Mr Hockey – here’s your chance. If you have proof to back up your accusations, deliver it to the Australian Federal Police. Right now. Put up or shut up.

If you don’t, why don’t you take your own advice to Prime Minister Gillard? Go down to those Departments and personally visit every single employee there. Explain to them why you decided that destroying their reputations and their peace of mind was an acceptable part of your campaign to bring down the Gillard government with baseless accusations. Why you decided that they were fair game.

Then apologise to them. Individually. Sincerely. Unequivocally.

It’s the least you can do.


7 Responses to Fair game: the Opposition’s sustained attack on the public service

  1. Bilko says:

    The coalition would drag the country down to their level, if they thought it would bring them closer to the treasury benches. Never let the truth get in the way a beat up. Knocking public servants always goes down well with tha masses outside Canberra. The government needs to take fight to them asap

  2. Common Sense is in Short Supply says:

    It’s really quite a simple equation that underpins the Conservative’s actions in denigrating the Public Service:
    They dismantle the departments, they, say in the case of Treasury, give the jobs that were previously done by Treasury, to their mates in Howarths and KPMG etc., and they stop 2 seats going to Labor in the ACT when all the Public Servants have to disperse away from Canberra and find jobs in the Private Sector, where they will be under Contract and infected by the virulent support of the grateful bosses who have received many new contracts for work from the Conservative government. Or their still ALP vote is diluted with ‘the mob’s’ vote and it doesn’t matter anymore. QED.

  3. Loki Carbis says:

    Are the figures on job turnover for the public service available? It would be interesting to see just how much of the public service were employed by this selfsame Liberal Party in the 12 years prior to 2007, and why exactly Abbott and Co believe that they’ve all become so thoroughly corrupted in a mere three and a half years.

  4. Loki Carbis says:

    I’m afraid I have to disagree with your final statement here: there is less that the Opposition can do, and if you can trust one thing about them, it’s that they’ll find it and do it.

  5. My parents worked for local government and the ABS – 2 of my sisters work for ABS, my brother works for department of education (whatever it is called these days) another brother works for CSIRO, a sister-in-law works for CSIRO – they are all hardworking, not-corrupt people with integrity and it really burns my bread to hear this sort of shit from the Opposition. I know that seem to have an issue with the government funding anything but corporate welfare, but this makes me sick.

  6. Steampunked says:

    I work in the public service, for the BoM (as you probably know!) and yep, we watch this stuff incredulously. I do wonder if people realise that the level of scrutiny in scientific organisations like ours is gigantic, that everything has to pass multiple hoops before we even consider publishing it. There are multiple international standards of accuracy in scientific data…no one is sitting around making anything up!

  7. Catching up says:

    The problem with many in the Opposition is that they have to destroy many facts to allow their policies to be believed.

    The Opposition is not in the business of allowing facts and truths to get in the way of their farcical policies.

    They fawn concern for the alleged thousands that will lose their jobs if carbon pricing is bought in.

    At the same time they proudly boast that they will immediately sack at least 20,000 in the PS if elected.

    Why is a coal miner’s job more worthy than that of a hard working public servant?

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