A significant aspect of transparent and accountable public governance involves a public sector that is not only efficient but fair and not subject to undue politicisation. In that context there is an important story by Christopher Walsh in today’s Northern Territory News titled “Political operatives ordered public service boss“:
“COMMISSIONER for Public Employment Craig Allen took part in initiating a month-long hiring freeze at the request of political operatives in order to consider a restructure of government departments that never eventuated.”
The “freeze” was apparently politically directed to allow then CLP Chief Minister Adam Giles to torpedo the appointment of former ALP Minister Rob Knight to an E level NTPS position for which he was well qualified.
The story emphasises the radical extent of politicisation of the public sector in the NT. To a major extent the public sector in all Australian jurisdictions is heavily politicised, with departmental CEOs typically being employed on a contract basis usually under something called a “senior executive service”. They can effectively be fired (and paid out by the taxpayer) at Ministerial whim.
However in most other jurisdictions the Public Service Commissioner at least (whatever the exact title) is appointed for a substantial term and can only be dismissed for misconduct, incapacity or bankruptcy. In the NT by contrast the Commissioner can be sacked whenever the Administrator (which in practice means the Chief Minister) “in his or her absolute discretion, at any time, otherwise terminates the appointment.” (see s9 Public Sector Employment and Management Act) . In other words the CPE has absolutely no security of tenure. It is hardly surprising that he appears to have done exactly what the then Chief Minister’s staffers told him to do. He was in an invidious position.
There has so far been no suggestion that Labor Chief Minister Gunner proposes to change those arrangements to restore the institutional integrity and independence to the Commissioner’s office that are taken for granted in the rest of Australia. Nor it appears has the local CPSU said anything about this situation.