Weekly salon 6/11

1. Staff vs line authority

The question of which minister in Victoria was responsible for hotel quarantine functions can be easily resolved if we look at it in terms of an old question in management, namely, staff versus line. I say staff versus line but it should really be staff and line.

The Wikipedia article outlines the difference:

    A “line function” is one that directly advances an organization in its core work. This always includes production and sales, and sometimes also marketing.[1] A “staff function” supports the organization with specialized advisory and support functions. For example, human resources, accounting, public relations and the legal department are generally considered to be staff functions.[2] Both terms originated in the military.

Staff positions can have four kinds of authority:

    “advise authority,” with line managers choosing whether or not to seek advice from the staff person, and deciding what to do with the advice once they get it; “compulsory advice” or “compulsory consultation” in which line managers must consider the staff person’s advice, but can choose not to heed it; “concurrent authority,” in which the line manager cannot finalize a decision without the agreement of the staff person, and “functional authority” in which the staff person has complete formal authority over his or her area of specialty, such as the Personnel Department in the United States Navy. The Staff Officer in this role is typically a rank of O-3(LT) or O-4(LCDR) and is granted authority over personnel assigned to those specific roles. [5] Common types of functional authority for staff positions include authority over recruiting standards, reimbursement policies and quality standards.

Also:

    Staff workers derive influence from expert authority or “authority of knowledge,” from their control of information which may be vital to line managers, and from their closer access to upper management.

So in practice there can be co-operation, and there can be conflict. And confusion.

Top level staff managers also have line functions within, desirably employing specialists who know more and/or can do more than the top person.

I could now tell you the story of my working life, when I was employed as Supervisor, School Library Service, as a service to the ‘line’ directorates of Primary Education, Secondary, Special and at the time Tertiary (teachers colleges) and TAFE. The Department of Education expected me to install libraries within schools and would hold me responsible for the nature and quality of the service from a position where I had no line authority.

Reality was complex, but it worked pretty well until there was devolution of line authority to Education Region offices and schools in the 1980s.

In terms of Victoria, it seems to me that hotel quarantine was always a police operational matter as the line manager, but health should have been drawn in with “concurrent authority” in how it was set up and supervised. In other words, while the involvement of health should have been mandatory and ongoing, the operational responsibility should have been with the police.

Setting this up should not have been a complex management issue, but it should have been done, and wasn’t.

2. Scotty from Marketing

PM Scott Morrison has done much to annoy me recently. I thought I would highlight his sheer rudeness and contempt for his political opposition, caught in this image by Alex Ellinghausen:

Q&A caught Tanya Plibersek’s reaction. Dave Sharma’s effort to gloss over that behaviour and normalise it did not do anything for me.

Q&A showed Labor front-benchers going hard with their phones.

Plibersek is right. You don’t know what they are doing. They may be, as she says, Tweeting about what is being said.

They were firmly pointed to the front, not using body posture to communicate their disregard. Christian Porter’s body position indicates that what they did was scripted.

3. Tingle on Morrison’s Trumpian disregard for transparency

It’s interesting to see what title Laura Tingle’s weekly articles are given at the AFR and at the ABC. The online titles are often different again. Last week we had PM shows a Trumpian disregard for transparency in the AFR and at the ABC it’s It’s not just public servants feeling the ire of the Morrison Government. However, her ABC site shows We worry about Trump, but Morrison’s lack of respect for transparency should be of equal concern with this intro:

    If this week’s ANZ-bashing conga line [over its policy on climate risk in lending] tells us anything, it’s that it is hard to think of a recent government which has done more to reduce transparency or frustrate inquiries into activities carried out in its name, writes Laura Tingle.

He was fussed about Cartier watches at Australia Post, but unfussed about the three former senior Liberal Party figures on the Board, supposed to look after our interests. Also:

    unfussed about the shocking revelations concerning land near the Badgerys Creek airport site in Sydney for which taxpayers paid more than 10 times the value to former Liberal Party donors, a deal exposed by the Australian National Audit Office and now the subject of a federal police investigation.

    The Prime Minister said he was “disappointed” by the failings in the process unveiled by the ANAO.

Their reward?

    The audit office made these revelations, along with the still running saga of sports rorts, and was rewarded with a $14 million cut in this month’s federal budget (as a result of “efficiency dividends”), which will see the number of its audits cut from 48 to 38 each year.

She details other concerns, including:


    contracts made without competitive tender, including two contracts that combined are worth almost $1 million for 18 months’ work advising the government on aged care financing, given to a man who resigned as the chief executive of one of the country’s largest nursing home chains, which was accused of putting profits before people.

So:

    The more colourful, and outrageous aspects of Donald Trump’s rhetoric have always grabbed the headlines since his rise to presidential politics, and they will dominate these last few desperate days before Americans find out who will be their next president.

    But what has happened to the systems of government in the United States on Trump’s watch is much less remarked upon. Ultimately, that will be the more dangerous long-term consequence of his tenure.

    The arrogant approach of our Prime Minister and his government towards accountability and transparency should be of equal concern here.

4. Integrity commission scam

The new Morrison Government proposed integrity commission has been called a toothless tiger, a “sham” and a “feather duster”.

From what I’ve heard, the real problem is voiced at the end of this article:

    The Centre for Public Integrity director, Geoffrey Watson, a leading barrister, has described the model as a “sham”.

    “The absence of retrospectivity means Australians will never find out what really happened with the Great Barrier Reef fund, with the so-called sports-rorts program, or with the Murray-Darling water buybacks,” he said.

    Former Victorian supreme court judge Stephen Charles, who is also with the centre, said the body was designed to “protect parliamentarians and senior public servants from investigation”. (Emphasis added)

Judge Stephen Charles may be on the money, I think. The Coalition is good at making it look as though they are doing stuff when they are not. This move goes a large step further.

Indi Independent Helen Haines’ bill has had a good reception, also by Labor. See also senior law lecturer Yee-Fui Ng As the government drags its heels, a better model for a federal integrity commission has emerged.

Oh dear, Federal parliament just weakened political donations laws while you weren’t watching, unfortunately with Labor’s help.

Meanwhile at the (un)Australian Scotty From Marketing Declares That The Federal Integrity Commission Will Be Armed With The Warmest Of Lettuce:

    Australian Prime Minister Scotty from marketing has let it be known that his Government’s proposed federal integrity commission will be armed with the warmest of lettuce and they will not be afraid to use it.

    ”My Government takes corruption very seriously,” said Prime Minister Scotty from marketing. ”Take Angus Taylor for instance, he is constantly on the look out for any schemes or anything shonky that he can keep his eye on.”

    ”Rest assured Australia, if there’s anything dodgy going on, my Government is a part of it.”

5. Warwick McKibbin says…

You will have heard that the Reserve bank has lowered interest rated to almost nothing:

    The RBA reduced the policy rate from 0.25 per cent to 0.1 per cent, in addition to lowering the three-year bond target rate and the interest rate on the TFF to 0.1 per cent. The policy also included the additional purchase of $100 billion of five to 10-year government bonds.

Former Reserve Bank board member and world class economic modeller, according to John Quiggin Warwick McKibbin says the Reserve Bank did the right thing in the circumstances, and has done all that it can do.

However, the government has not done all that it can do:


    While the scale of the fiscal response in the recent Australian federal budget is appropriate to tackle the economic fallout from COVID-19, the composition of the package could have been better targeted. For example, income transfers would be a better way to stimulate the economy than tax cuts in the short term. And support for childcare would be a way of maintaining labour supply as well as an income support mechanism.

    The specific lack of support for some sectors based on ideology rather than economic reality contributes to the poor targeting. Over time the key policies that are needed are substantial economic reform and other policies that increase productivity while maintaining domestic demand.

    A vital part of the recovery plan should be policy clarity. The ideal economic policy framework implemented for a sustained recovery would be a bipartisan approach with broad support across the Government and the Opposition on the critical policy platforms. Bipartisan support for the core drivers of economic growth reduces policy uncertainty and gives a less uncertain environment for firms to invest and for households to save and invest.

    A key driver of policy uncertainty is the state of play of climate and energy policy in Australia. While the Technology Investment Roadmap was a good outline of the available technologies that would enable Australia to reach a low emissions future, there’s nothing in the Roadmap that would drive adoption of technologies by the private sector.

Energy policy and climate change, Mr Morrison. Get on with it! Warwick McKibbin says!

6. Australian exporters scramble as fears of more China trade bans grow

Australian wine, lobster, sugar, coal, timber, barley and copper exports to China are being disrupted from today.

    China’s foreign ministry urged Australia to “bring the bilateral relations back to the right track”.