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Seeking responsibility and accountability



Currently 57 portfolios are held by 22 ministers, crammed into only eight departments. Four of these departments have 70per cent of portfolios, while some ministers are spread across multiple departments. In the Health Department, nine portfolios are held by six ministers to whom just one departmental head is supposed to be accountable. At a minimum, that department needs to be divided into two – health and human services.

Prior to Jeff Kennett’s time, it was one department head to one minister which made lines of accountability clear-cut. While a return to that structure is unlikely, there is room for substantial improvement in accountability in the departments of environment, health, justice and jobs. No wonder Daniel Andrews admitted he was unsure which department was responsible for hotel quarantine.
Thomas Hogg, former head of two Victorian departments, East Melbourne

Government services must best serve the people

I applaud Lindsay Grayson’s article. From my experience as a public servant, I agree Victoria has an obsession with outsourcing rather than developing in-house expertise. Plus it does not save money. Many bureaucrats seem to be ‘‘project managers’’ without a background in the field they are administrating. Grayson points out that there are non-medical bureaucrats in the DHHS and we can add non-educational bureaucrats in the Education Department and a lack of engineers for building new schools.

The Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions is such a mishmash, I do not know where to start. I would hope it has urban planners and that there are agricultural scientists in the Department of Agriculture. Similarly for the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, we need environmental scientists and engineering hydrologists. We do not need expensive reviews, but we do need our government services to best serve Victorians, especially in these uncertain times.
Eva Youl, Lorne

Departments must develop in-house expertise

Thank you, Lindsay Grayson, for a clear-sighted analysis of what is wrong with the Department of Health and Human Services’s structure, and how it has led to the catastrophic failures in Victoria. The response to this health crisis has been led by non-medical, career bureaucrats instead of qualified medical personnel. I applaud his call of a change in health mindset from an obsession with outsourcing to developing in-house expertise. The mantra of outsourcing has infected all levels of government and mostly delivers substandard results at inflated costs to taxpayers. It is time governments took executive responsibility for health, education, aged care and social services for the benefit of a civil society.
Tony Roche, Richmond

The importance of public health functions

There has actually been a whole history of restructure of health services, going back to 1978. Many restructures involved separating out the department’s ‘‘human services’’ side or, conversely, integrating them back in with the health side. The department’s public health functions have often played second fiddle to the funding and administration of public hospitals (particularly after the introduction of Casemix funding). Now, in a pandemic, we can see how vital this function can be. Another restructure of the department should be considered in light of the long history of integration and separating out the two sides of the administration.
David Fry, project officer at DHHS for 43 years, Moonee Ponds


An unacceptable ‘excuse’

The government is encouraging us to believe it is OK not to accept responsibility for any adverse reactions that occur simply by stating we have no memory of the event. It is unlikely that any authority would accept this explanation and we would suffer accordingly. The government should accept the same standard that applies to us. The outcome of the hotel quarantine inquiry must determine responsibility for the voters to deliver their verdict.
Morris Trytell, Glen Iris

Guilty? No, it wasn’t us

The inquiry reminds me of a scene from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado. When three key bureaucrats are trying to explain how they accidentally executed the heir to the throne, they respectively declare: ‘‘We had no idea. I knew nothing about it. I wasn’t there.’’ Life imitating art, or the other way around? It would be funny if the consequences were not so sad.
Lyndell Whiting, Greensborough

A true-life TV story

I have just watched a repeat episode of Utopia. I am looking forward to the next series to find out how the Nation Building Authority managed Victoria’s COVID-19 hotel quarantine program. Many prospective cast members have auditioned for the show at the inquiry this week.
Daren Fawkes, Forest Hill

Buck stops with ministers

So Police Minister Lisa Neville is now crying ignorance regarding who was in charge (The Age, 24/9). Government ministers may not be responsible for the stuff-ups that happened. But they sure as hell are accountable and need to acknowledge that fact.
Paul Davies, Frankston

Our dishonourable times

Once upon a time, many years ago in the Land of Down Under, a minister quietly fell on his sword because he had not registered a Paddington Bear gift for his son. Many years later when a miasma was spreading among the people, such honourable ministerial actions seemed to have become lost in the mists of time.
Elizabeth Meredith, Surrey Hills

The voters’ dilemma

Question on notice for our leaders. As a Victorian who is trying to do the right things in the COVID-19 era, should I be more worried that our ministers and senior bureaucrats are obfuscating, or that they are telling the truth?
Douglas Shirrefs, Heathmont

Blame the guests, too

Why is it that in all this furore regarding hotel quarantine, the returned travellers are never mentioned? They knew why they were being kept in hotels; their selfishness in leaving them has contributed to this mess.
Caroline Whiteside, Glen Iris

Selective memory loss

I bet the state ministers and public servants do not forget their partners’ birthdays. They wouldn’t dare.
Olivia Cuming, Hawthorn

A serious lack of training

It seems obvious that with all the interest in whose decision was responsible for mistakes made, the underlying cause is lack of pandemic preparedness. The last large-scale training was held in 2008 and the recommendation was that such training be held every two years. Successive federal and state governments have failed to give the subject sufficient attention due to their shortsighted priorities. When the pandemic reached Australia, it was apparent that the necessary chains of command were not in place, federally or in NSW and Victoria where vital decisions (enabling the spread of COVID-19) appear to have been made in haste due to lack of training.
Ruth Mitchell, Leopold

A streamlined system

The pandemic has caused great division and ill feeling between the states. It has highlighted the difficulty of running a country with states governed by different political persuasions. Surely it is time to look at doing away with state governments and have the country governed by one body. Imagine one body for education, health and transport. How much would we save and how much more efficient would it be?
Merrie Harkness, Toorak

Victoria, the garden state

Daniel Andrews says the detail of restrictions due to be eased next week is not yet settled. Could he please include a salient point in his considerations? The remedial influence on mental health of gardening is well documented. We get a relatively short spring in Melbourne and time is fast running out to prepare and establish beds before the north winds herald the arrival of the next punishing summer. As nurseries are mostly outdoors and everyone is masked, surely it is time to reopen them.
John Mosig, Kew

The joy of a new haircut

I am a very senior citizen. I have learnt to bank and pay my bills online, I have learnt to order my groceries online and I have learnt to wear a mask when outside my home (which isn’t often). I have learnt to have Zoom meetings with family and several organisations but, oh, for a hair trim and some colour. That would do more for my mental health than anything. Please, Daniel Andrews, don’t make us wait till the end of October for masked hairdressers to open.
Ella Keesing, Melbourne

Restrict overseas students

The return of international students to our schools needs to be treated with caution. The letter from principals to the state government (The Age, 24/9) cites the benefits but ignores other impacts. Victorian schools have serious shortfalls of adequately qualified teachers in areas including mathematics and physical sciences. At a minimum, a strict quota on the number of students allowed into schools would seem appropriate. And perhaps a levy on each student to assist with programs to improve teacher supply. The cost of doing nothing to control this grab for money will be more students, especially those in poorer and rural schools, not having the teachers they deserve.
Jan Thomas, North Melbourne

Our most precious flag

Nova Peris is right when she calls on the government to seize the copyright to the Aboriginal flag (The Age, 24/9). It is a national icon and a clothing company should not have an exclusive worldwide licence for the use of it on apparel. It is the most important flag we have and when, in the future, Australia decides to become a republic, it should take the place of the Union Jack in the top corner of our national flag.
Spencer Leighton, Torquay

Pain of low interest rates

We run a self-managed super fund for our retirement and the Reserve Bank’s interest rate cuts have decimated our income. Compared to earnings from interest in 2018-19, last financial year’s income dropped 12per cent, this year it will be 51per cent, and next year 71per cent. So, while (big) business might get a 10 to 20 per cent cut in some borrowings, retirees get smashed – again.

With the economy heading for recession, the small punters would have been less worse off if the Reserve Bank had refused to cut interest rates, and forced the government to spend (invest) and forget tax cuts and budget surpluses. The one useful outcome from COVID-19 has been that the government has finally been forced into a Keynesian mode. Another interest rate cut cannot be tolerated. Retirees with adequate income are most likely to be spenders – not savers.
Andrew O’Brien, South Yarra

Putting the party first

Industry super fund HESTA has written to ASX200 companies, asking them to reduce carbon emissions, employ more women in top jobs and crack down on executive bonuses (The Age, 23/9). Assistant Minister for Superannuation Jane Hume basically told super funds to mind their own business.

Surely encouraging businesses to be socially, economically and environmentally responsible is everybody’s business, especially if you have a vested interest. Senator Hume has an impressive resume in banking and super, so I am curious why she has taken this approach. Is she a bit slow in relating one with the other, or has she taken this line as part of the government’s position on climate change, equality and egalitarianism – for the good of the party rather than the good of society?
Daryl Vorbach, Carlton

What’s good for goose…

Industry superannuation funds advocating responsible investing is just an example of ‘‘market forces’’ at play. What? Did you think the game was so stacked in favour of the wealthy that us workers couldn’t play too?
Sarah Bone, Wonthaggi

The unique Keating wit

You may not always agree with what he says, but you have got to love the way he says it. When I read Paul Keating’s comment on the Reserve Bank’s ‘‘dalliances with indolence’’ – ‘‘‘Reverse Bank’ must find gear stick’’ (Comment, 24/9) – I laughed out loud.
Sue Tuckerman, Kew

Where the truth lies

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher: ‘‘This is part of a $4.5billion investment that NBN is making, financed by borrowing in the private sector market, so it doesn’t hit the budget bottom line’’ (ABC News, 23/9).

The man on the street: ‘‘This is the fancy new stuff I’m getting, with money from a loan shark down at the pub rather than the bank, so the wife doesn’t find out.’’
Peter Rooke, Hawthorn

Guess who to blame?

In response to your headline, ‘‘What’s wrong with the Pies’’ (Sport, 23/9), reader Gary Oraniuk says, ‘‘Try Nathan Buckley’’ (Letters, 24/9). I suggest ‘‘Try Eddie McGuire, who has failed to recognise a use-by-date for at least 10 years.
Barry Toll, South Melbourne

The NBN fiasco

Surely the sad reflection on the Coalition’s NBN policy planning (The Age, 23/9), is not that it has decided to upgrade to fibre (inevitable) but that it crowed about buying a whole lot of copper line very recently (stupid).
Rob Ward, Lake Tyers Beach


Credit:Illustration: Matt Golding


Responses from bureaucrats at the inquiry would do Yes Minister proud. Heads should roll.
Graham Reynolds, Soldiers Hill

The next batch of car number plates should carry the slogan, ‘‘Victoria the State of Amnesia’’.
Jill Robinson, Malvern

Who had responsibility? Who signed the contracts?
Barry Culph, St Leonards

The farcical responses from highly paid leaders and bureaucrats shows what largesse there is in upper levels of government.
Thomas Nathan, Canterbury

If a group of people decide on a course of action by consensus, who made the decision?
Laurice Paton, Heathmont

I did it. I am responsible for the hotel quarantine stuff up. (I am Spartacus.)
John McTernan, Surrey Hills

Will the amnesia of bureaucrats evaporate when performance bonus payments are applied for?
Martin Newington, Aspendale

Uncut lawns and weeds. If my area is any indication, Victoria is no longer the garden state.
Merrilyn Beeny, Kew

A big cheer for those who manage to jog, run or cycle with a mask on.
John Simmonds, Collingwood


NBN: National Bungled Network. National Backflipped Network.
Kyle Matheson, Mont Albert

Keating criticises the Reserve Bank. This is the fellow who gave us ‘‘the recession we had to have’’.
Barrie Dempster, Balwyn

Is Greg Hunt, minister for health or economic recovery?
Peter Brady, Mount Martha

If Biden wins by a whisker and Trump ‘‘proves’’ the election was compromised, what will happen? Be afraid.
Bob Whiteside, North Warrandyte

Re the airport land sale. There’s nothing new in the game of taking government to the cleaners.
Raymond Reaburn, Box Hill

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