This Coalition’s Home Affairs super ministry shake-up’s folly

Even the re-organisation of the machinery of government in July 1987 has been the most important, wide-ranging and potentially beneficial in the history of the Commonwealth. Better focused about coherent and associated purposes, the number of divisions has been reduced from 28 to 18 and arranged in 16 cupboard portfolios supported in several cases from non-cabinet ministers.

The re-organisation has been conceived in secrecy from the then Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and also a couple of the staff. The Prime Minister signed off it three days after the 1987 election some thing if indulged could well have killed off the entire scheme, at official or ministerial levels without apparent consultation.

Peter Dutton will head the new Home Affairs ministry.
Peter Dutton will go to the new Home Affairs ministry.   Photo: AAP

A new Administrative Arrangements Order was issued by ministers and serves. While the distribution of resources and staff took further time, the depth of the entire deal was understood on the day it was announced, Bastille Day.

The new cupboard and structures had been unaffected by the ugly empire construction aspirations of officials and ministers and also intrigue and also they have been consistent with commonly accepted machinery of government rules.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the creation of a new Home Affairs department last month.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the creation of a new Home Affairs department a month.   Photo: Andrew Meares

On the 30th anniversary almost to the day of those momentous changes, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a goal to make an “Home Affairs portfolio of Australia’s immigration, border security and national security agencies” such as “ASIO, the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre and the Office of Transport Security.” He also outlined the government’s answer to the L’Estrange-Merchant inspection of the Intelligence Community.

While decisions on the AIC inspection are solid, ” the Prime Minister’s statements (and also those of a few of the ministers) on the Home Affairs proposition are full of cliché, wishful thinking and ignorance. Flaws could be excused in the event the proposal was meritorious; it is not. Sensible machinery of government rules are violated, the stench of politics and empire building is abroad, there is no revised Administrative Arrangements Order and, regardless of the avowed urgency of terror and security risks, the newest show will not come into effect for approximately a year. The comparison with the more important 1987 changes could not be more stark. Home Affairs starts because a shambles and also will end as you. It is little wonder that the reception has diverse from lukewarm to puzzled to stringently adverse.

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Have any of those involved with advancing the cause of the Home Affairs portfolio ever bothered to familiarize themselves with texts that were important on the machinery the Coombs Royal Commission and the 1918 Haldane Report along with the academic literature? They have ignored the lessons should they have. It is more likely they have not. Even the proponents of this portfolio appear to have created it up since they have gone along faking for justifications none of which are values and beginning the breath of a toad.

Machinery of government literature doesn’t provide advice as Newton’s laws of motion. Indeed, the Haldane Report warns from the application of its dictums with “absolute rigidity.” There’s also the demand for administrative prescriptions as an instance, the skills and needs of ministers.

Nonetheless, there’s enough agreement in the literature where the Home Affairs suggestion could be tested to distil principles. Let us take a few.

To begin with, Haldane says that functions ought to be allocated by “specifying the field of action in the case of each section based on the specific service it renders” instead of the basis of “persons or classes to be handled.” That is re-iterated from the Coombs Royal Commission which says that “sections ought to be organised around a coherent function.” The 1987 changes sought to do this with divisions managing foreign affairs and health, trade and community services, business services and the like rather than kids, the unemployed or the ill. Turnbull says that the proposed Home Affairs portfolio is about “entrenching collaboration between agencies which has assisted individuals thwart 12 terrorist attacks and stop 31 people smuggling ventures.” That is to say, he is wanting a business based mostly on what he sees as overlapping classes of people to be coped with — “terrorists” and refugees. It is unlikely to work and to use the strategy as a general principle in government administration would be catastrophic.

Second, important functions that are associated ought to have a department that is stand-alone. Since the Second World War’s conclusion, immigration has been among the most essential Commonwealth purposes and its effects have been highly consequential. It’s very likely to be subordinated at the Home Affairs portfolio whose objective now appears more to be more about keeping people out instead of getting them in. Through gritted teeth that the big failure in the re-organisation, Attorney-General George Brandis, says that the Home Affairs portfolio will provide a ministry “whose exclusive focus is about national security.” Really? Hence immigration, a nation building feature, might have to fit below a ministry whose exclusive focus is based on “national security”. It is awful that a fantastic section, the Department of Immigration, is to have its role further distorted and its position in the scheme of things reduced by the perceived imperative of pandering to exaggerated anxieties about individuals who try to get into the country on rickety ships.

Third, departments ought to be composed of such as related purposes. On this foundation the consolidating of immigration and customs was an error that no amount of muttering about “border protection” could make great. Arranging to migrate to Australia is from viewing that duties are levied on imports and that prohibited imports of products are averted an action. Which might be the Export Council is reported as calling for visa coverage and customs to be transferred into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Apart from difficulties brought on by the distractions of its own re-organisation and the obnoxious policies it has needed to employ, it’s no wonder that the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, composed of functions as distinct as immigration and customs, has been so plagued with controversy and administrative failure. Including a array of safety functions is going to impede the administration of all of them.

Police and prosecutorial functions ought to be kept at a step removed from activities they’re likely to be required to investigate. That is why the Australian Federal Police Act has been administered from the Attorney-General at which the AFP can operate properly, independently and impartially carry out its role across the wide variety of Commonwealth purposes and that is why it is wrong for them now to be put with customs and immigration.

Fifth, intelligence gathering ought to be kept apart from coverage purposes that were associated so that coverage predispositions don’t prejudice intelligence collection and evaluation. The CIA’s intimate engagement with decisions by President George W. Bush to invade Iraq in 2003 seems to have affected the character of intelligence advice. The head of the CIA, a statutorily separate firm, told the President that Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction was a “slam dunk” whether some British official reported back into the Blair government that in Washington intelligence “details” were being fitted around the coverage. With the best will in the world, after a government policy is put, there is a natural trend for officials to look for “details” to support it. Setting distance between coverage and intelligence gathering helps to minimise this risk. That is to say, it is unwise to include ASIO in the new Home Affairs organisation notwithstanding its statutory freedom, particularly given the capacities and inclinations of its Peter Dutton.

Overall government duties ought to be spread between ministers. The Home Affairs suggestion goes significantly in the opposite direction.

Seventh, a few observers have remarked on the apparent intention for the Attorney-General to keep his role in issuing warrants and authorisations for ASIO which will not be in his portfolio, though that’s unsure since the Prime Minister has stated that the Attorney’s role “in ASIO surgeries” is to be reviewed. Having warrants are approved by the Attorney etc might not be important though it is a return to the bad old times of ministerial matrix management making for responsibility and confused operations.

More could be said however it needs to be obvious enough that the Home Affairs suggestion is inconsistent with pretty much all typically accepted principles of the government of machinery.

In his announcement, the Prime Minister made a lot of the precedent of the UK’s Home Office. That is an ill-advised improper and unconvincing contrast. Even the UK has a system of government for example those functions done in Australia by country governments and which may be assembled. Moreover, in its form it hardly seems that this institution is worthy of copying or emulating, it having lately undergone a plague of scandals publicity and failure.

Additionally, it is worth noting that a Home Affairs portfolio was not recommended in the L’Estrange-Merchant report on the AIC. There has been a suggestion that a proposal would have been outside the terms of reference. Certainly it would not have been, the details of the review needing it to report on “how effectively the AIC [the Australian Intelligence Community] serves (and is placed to serve)…. The needs of policy makers” and “whether the AIC is organised appropriately, for example in ensuring effective coordination and contestability.”

In commenting on the Home Affairs proposition that the head of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Peter Jennings, has been reported as stating that “I don’t believe the situation was as compelling as it could have been” and that the government’s choice was that a “line chunk telephone”. As the poet Pope wrote, “Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer. And without sneering teach the rest to sneer”. The simple fact is that there is no obvious compelling situation for the suggestions of the government. In the improbable event Jennings has just one in his back pocket, then let’s bring it on.

If he were to do so, he would need to deal with former Queensland National Party senator and Treasury Secretary, JO Stone that slagged off on the proposal utilizing a quip he falsely credited to the Roman courtier, Petronius, to the result that “we tend to meet any new situation by re-organising, and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralisation”. While there’s no signs any such thing was stated by Petronius, the thoughts are apposite.

The late Peter Wilenski, secretary and a couple of million years after Petronius Public Service Board Chairman and convincingly, referred in the UK Civil Service of which were, the two Main conclusions:

  • Which re-organisation constantly generates cost escalation (expressed as the iron regulation of prodigality), also
  • that it has little visible impact on operations (expressed as the iron law of inertia).

They stand an outstanding likelihood of being made more plausible , while these observations are hyperbolic, at the maturation of the Home Affairs proposal’s hapless circumstances.

When there’s a good thing, if unredeeming, even in this business, it is that if something goes wrong on the front, then everyone will know who to ask why: Peter Dutton. However, don’t expect a direct answer or even any answer if he is true to form.

Paddy Gourley is a former senior public servant.