Treasury Secretary Ken Henry has offered support to the Government on climate change and water allocations. His Malthusian theme is that we are depleting our resources, a course that we cannot reverse because of "free riders".
The political nature of his comments illustrates the partisan nature of the Treasury today. The Prime Minister's departmental head, Terry Moran, is seeking innovative policy advice with the launch of his blueprint for the ''world's best public service''. But that is anchored in the Westminster tradition, which leaves the adoption and the promotion of policy advice to the elected government. Should he wish to take part in the political campaign he favours, Mr Henry's appropriate route is to seek representational office as a Labor or Greens Party member.
Aside from the role of providing "frank and fearless" advice on policy approaches to ministers, the second role of public servants involves service delivery - carrying out the government's policies. In terms of numbers and expenditures, the latter role has long been vastly more significant.
Hard-core political advice has traditionally been confined to Ministerial staffs. These and the Opposition's staff are, like the public service, also paid for by the taxpayer.
Over recent decades ministerial staff numbers have quadrupled. Moreover, we have seen a progressive fracturing of the advice provision and policy propagation walls.
Nobody nowadays bats an eyelid when the Victorian Government environment department puts out soothing ads promoting its desalination plant. Lost is the irony that the ads seek to persuade the people paying for them about the merits of the expenditures the government has incurred, ostensibly on their behalf. Few even delve into their message which promotes a project that provides water at five times what it would cost from a new dam and involves a wasteful $3.5 billion investment.
The address by Treasury Secretary Ken Henry shows another dimension of the descent into the corrupt use of the taxpayer's money. Public servants are now out there promoting the agenda of the government. Ken Henry's activities in this direction are in fact dwarfed by those of public servants in other agencies like those of the one-dimensional Department of Climate Change.
But Ken Henry's foray into politics highlight the degraded nature of Treasury, which was once a rock of impartiality, but is now removing itself from the "frank, impartial and non-partisan" which are the bedrock qualities according to the Blueprint for Reform of Australian Government Administration. The Treasury has already been a willing participant in conjuring numbers that hide the costs of the government's carbon reduction program. And in that same process it has sought to obscure the triviality of the economic effects of global warming even if it is taking place.
Perhaps epitomising the Commonwealth Treasury's fall from grace was its job advertisement for a speechwriter with a remuneration of $157,505 per annum. That's not a bad salary for writing some flowery language to tell 'We the People' how astute government is at spending the money it takes from us.
This raises the issue of just what do public servants contribute. Mark Steyn has commented that, "The new class war in the Western world is between 'public servants' and the rest of us." The struggle is between those who earn income from supplying goods and services which people will willingly pay for, and those whose income depends on revenues forcibly extracted from taxpayers.
Unfortunately the electorate is unaware of this struggle. Thus, in the Rudd/Abbott health debate Mr. Rudd's favourability soared whenever he said the government will work to fix the health problem and used homespun phrases like "little one" or "mums and dads want practical action now". It mattered little that Mr Rudd's proposals simply mean shuffling the funding from state to Commonwealth bureaucrats and in the process further duplicating areas of bureaucracy.
Though few people want to interest themselves in politics they believe that government can fix problems nagging at them. Even the recent pink batts and school buildings fiascos have not persuaded them of the innate inefficiency of politically and bureaucratically operated activities.
If governments are to have such roles, this elevates the role of the impartial administratively competent bureaucrat.
Unfortunately, not only do we have bureaucrats camping on the political turf but that's become the path to advancement. Those heading up most agencies now largely come from the central agencies of Treasury, Finance and Prime Ministers and are appointed because of their policy acumen and political reliability. Those same people are seldom well-equipped to manage service delivery. Hence, not only are "we the people" paying for bureaucrats as well as politicians to propagate their views to us, but the process paves the way to an undermining of administrative efficiency.
There's the future challenge for the Australian Public Service.