Jack Waterford’s editorial for syndication by the Fairfax press on Department of Human Services’ baleful chief, Kathryn Campbell, is a rare pleasure to read.
In the era of inarticulate, anti-grammatical social media clicks and grunts that has subverted even nominal writers, Waterford’s considered prose paints a fairly stark picture of a narcissistic, sociopathic, top-down manager unduly influenced by her career as a defence force reservist general.
Instead of repeating Waterford’s excellent points, they are taken as read here, though extended beyond his intentions.
If the ‘absence of empathy’ was rightly offered as a definition of evil by Nürnberg war crimes trials consulting psychologist, Captain Gustave Mark Gilbert, Campbell appears not just to join infamous company, but to strive to do so.
Waterford’s editorial is far too polished and fair-minded to use pejorative language, or to breach the sacramental Godwin hymen. But he paints a picture of a public service careerist whose management toolkit consists solely of blunt, martial weapons, and incorporates the execrable American trend of treating the public in her department’s regulatory purview as enemies of the state.
If there was ever a public service ethic that focused on serving the public, Campbell is at the vanguard of an overtly political movement to subvert it. To change it into one of persecution and prosecution.
In short, Campbell is an evil bitch using her power to demonstrate how the public can be effectively criminalised without parliamentary power for accessing services they voted into existence.
How it is possible, in the 21st century, to appoint a senior bureaucrat with an antiquated, uninformed command-and control management mentality is a mystery in itself. One that a previous Labor Government must explain. Is it possible that a thoroughly mediocre public service careerist got the job because she was a woman and her appointment served an ideological agenda?
It’s not a question on which I think there will be any consensus agreement either in parliament or in public.
But what cannot be denied is that under her administration she has reversed the liberal democratic legal tradition that the burden of proof lies with the accuser, not the accused, and that telling lies with impunity need not be the career destroying sin it ought to be. She has lied so consistently about the robo-debt policy that one has to wonder what else she lies about habitually. Quite possibly because she sincerely believes that a military use of disinformation and propaganda is appropriate to civil administration.
That she gets away with conduct unbecoming at all is probably a reflection of the low intellectual wattage of Australia’s parliamentary representatives. They are arguably the least capable and skilled MPs since Robert Menzies retired.
So, it is likely they will not understand the gravity of Waterford’s most acute observation:
Though the government has yet to appreciate the full size of the disaster – and some ministers are still trying to defend it – it is clear that the whole affair has severely damaged the reputation of the public service generally. In addition to the burden of endless waits in telephone queues making customers testy, cranky and uncooperative, will be the reinforcement of the notion that a public servant is a citizen’s enemy, and will treat you as one.
The root problem is that Australia’s deficit in public policy ideas and talent has led to the fallback of adopting American examples at a time when the American examples are mongs the worst in the Western world.
Both the Coalition and the ALP have uncritically adopted policy measures which, in the USA, fit into an overall dismantling of liberal democratic institutions and freedoms. Australian politicians seems entirely unaware that by picking at bits and pieces of this vandalism, other areas of policy are directly and indirectly affected. The end result is the same vandalism as the USA, but under the delusion that it is not.
Kathryn Campbell is right there to exemplify that trend and that delusion.
Perhaps the last great Australian public benefit policy architect, Paul Keating, recently stated that Australia’s society was better than America’s.
We’ve had a 50 per cent increase in real incomes in the last 20 years, median America has had zero.
We’ve had universal health protection – from the cradle to the grave.
We have a retirement income system, with superannuation.
We have high participation rates in schools.
We don’t shoot our children in schools and if they were to be shot, we’d take the guns off the people who shot them. The Americans do not do this.
This is a better society than the United States. Therefore the idea we should get around like Uriah Heep like we’re some subordinate outfit that has to get a signal from abroad before we think, is of course a complete denial of everything we’ve created here.
Under the last four governments, there has been a distinct move to undermine most of the benefits Keating spoke about.
More than any politician, Kathryn Campbell is the symbolic figurehead of that catastrophic reversal of good governance, ethical public service, and an egalitarian Australia.