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.


    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.


    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”.

29 thoughts on “Weekly salon 6/11”

  1. Brian: ”Rest assured Australia, if there’s anything dodgy going on, my Government is a part of it.” And wants to make sure that it gets its share without a pesky commission catching them out?

  2. Brian: “Australian wine, lobster, sugar, coal, timber, barley and copper exports to China are being disrupted from today.”
    Time to have a hard think about the benefits/problems associated with free trade and who our reliable customers and suppliers are.
    Free trade favours large economies because they are better able to absorb temporary fluctuations in currencies and production costs.

  3. John, the “ Free Trade” you speak of is regulated under WTO rules and guidelines.
    China has never met the standards for admission to the WTO, continues to violate the rules and should be ejected.

    We’ve played fairer than any other Country and should call for their expulsion.

    All I here on the ABC is “ biting the hand that feeds us “ crap, no, we feed them.

  4. I think the idea in trading relations is one of mutual benefits, Mr J.

    So each side “feeds” the other in some way (s).

    Somewhat similar to a sturdy independent contractor doing a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay; good workmanship, a satisfactory end result for the customer; mutual benefits.

  5. True Mr Alistair Carr, but if a customer demands things that are unrelated to the trade that go against your moral position then kick them out of the shop and tell them to shop elsewhere.

  6. Fair trading would always be voluntary, Mr J.

    (Just as duress in industrial relations, or market domination
    – monopoly power – would be outlawed in markets inside Australia.)

  7. Jumpy: Good to see you have principles when it comes to someone suggesting that you must do something you think is wrong to get a contract.
    It would be like insisting I had to support Libertinism to get a contract.

  8. OK, J.

    On trade with China: what should we (on principle) refuse. …..

    * no goods made in prison workshops?
    * no goods made in Uighur re-education camps?
    * no goods that breach copyrights held outside China? (stolen IP)

    Anything else?

  9. I’ll post this here, because it’s mostly about Australia.

    In my email feed Dennis Atkins article showed as US election turmoil shows the danger of Morrison’s Trumpian tendencies. Then on the web it shows as After watching the US election, Australia really is the lucky country … for now.

    On Morrison he says Morrison is the most Trumpian political figure Australia has seen:

      Morrison has never seen a cultural war he doesn’t want to wage, fights total political war on as many fronts as he can manage and has swallowed the Marshall McLuhan thesis – the medium is the message.

      Morrison echoes Trump in deploying rhetorically-charged immigration policies that demonise and imprison thousands of dispossessed and tormented asylum seekers and recognised refugees.

      The Prime Minister thinks nothing of bald-face denial of reality – whether it’s the simple matter of cutting $1.2 billion from aged care funding in his first budget as Treasurer or a small matter such as his office dodging questions about a Christmas holiday in Hawaii.

    Atkins outs Frydenberg for promulgating a lie about Bill Shorten’s plans for death taxes.

    In the rest of the article he outlines the shortcomings of Biden and the Democrats, and Labor in Australia.

      The ugly way the Democrats had to go about winning a contest that should never have been in doubt should give Labor in Australia serious pause for concern, especially with an opponent as formidable as the one they face with Scott Morrison.

  10. Noticeable in both the US and Aus is the way that the right has gained traction with the workers despite the workers being worse off, in part because of policies pursued by the parties of the right including a weakening of unions and weakening of the payment of awards.

  11. John
    Perhaps workers have noticed their local industries destroyed by unions that promote greed, laziness and uncompetitiveness.
    Maybe they don’t mind a bit less pay, actually take pride in effort and not see there jobs flow to workers in other countries.
    There’s the possibility the workers are not as stupid as Uni educated Admin people, who’s crap they have to overcome and fix all the time, think they are.

    All conjecture of course, no hard evidence.

  12. Jumpy: “Perhaps workers have noticed their local industries destroyed by unions that promote greed, laziness and uncompetitiveness…….)”
    Could be lots of things. In the Pilbara the unions lost out because of union officials arrogance and demarcation rules that locked people into boring jobs.
    But these days I see reports of workers being screwed, underpaid etc. I think the pendulum has swung too far away from what I had to deal with in the Pilbara. Keep in mind that underpaid workers haven’t got the money to boost business.
    I thought Howard was in a position where Hawke had bought the unions under control and there was an opportunity to provide protections for workers that didn’t depend on strong unions. He and his heirs have failed and it may come back to bite us.

  13. John, what puts you in a position to decide what is underpaid, overpaid or payed exactly the correct amount ?

  14. Jumpy, I’d suggest you start with the Harvester Case 1907:

      [Judge] H.B. Higgins declared that “fair and reasonable” wages for an unskilled male worker required a living wage that was sufficient for “a human being in a civilised community” to support a wife and three children in “frugal comfort”…

    Instead of ‘male’ make it adult human.

  15. All conjecture of course, no hard evidence.

    The hard evidence, of course, points to unions being beneficial for business. I’ll leave it to Jumpy to provide the evidence which proves his conjecture. (Not holding my breath)

  16. Jumpy: “John, what puts you in a position to decide what is underpaid, overpaid or payed exactly the correct amount ?” Paying at least award rates and conditions is a start. Of late there have been far too many cases where employers were paying under award. If anything, the LNP appears to applaud these cases of underpayment.

  17. Breaking news – Joel Fitzgibbon has quit his shadow cabinet position.

    I have to work today, so I don’t have time to research whether he resigned or was pushed, or what that will mean now. Many in the ALP will be pleased about the news.

  18. Interesting.
    1. The touted “compromise ” of last week wasn’t the peace deal it was said to be?
    2. I wonder if the arrival of Pres Biden has emboldened the renewables camp in Labor?
    3. Perhaps Joel can find a consultancy with Chinese business interests?
    4. Who’s going to stick up for regional jobs now?


    PS: Louise Milligan didn’t cover herself in glory with 4 Corners.
    Her book on George Pell assumed his guilt : acquitted 7-nil in the High Court.
    Her effort last night was pathetic.
    More later.

  19. Amongst many difficulties faced by universities, today’s news has the merde hitting the fan at Swinburne University in Hawthorn, Melbourne.

    A motion of no-confidence by Swinburne staff was passed 199-1 in an online meeting.

    Zut alors! The VC, Mme Pascale Quester, wants to cut subjects and courses. (Lots of other Australian VCs wish likewise in their Unis.)

    Professeuse Quester is only recently arrived at Swinburne.
    I looked up her online profile at Adelaide and found (inter alia):

    Pascale’s list of publications includes 98 refereed papers, 2 leading textbooks (each in its forth edition), 9 case studies listed in a leading European case study clearing house and more than 65 non-refereed conference papers, professional articles and case studies. In addition, Pascale have presented more than 40 seminar papers or working papers at conferences as well as, on invitation, at a number of Australian and European universities.

    Pedantic points
    Per’aps she mean “fourth” edition?
    Per’aps she “has” presented more than 40 ……

    This is a direct quote from an Australian University website!!
    peut-etre per’aps Eenglish not ‘er first language? Well, get someone to at least proofread the text before it’s published online.


  20. There was strong critique of the Govt’s “robodebt” program on this blog, years ago.

    Today the Federal Govt has agreed to pay $1200 million to thousands of our fellow citizebs ensnared by what was in essence a Govt financial fraud.

  21. Apparently PM Johnson has a plan to make Britain the first G7 nation to decarbonise road transport.

    Sale of petrol and diesel vehicles to be prohibited by 2030.

    No sign, at first glance, of “meeting this target at a canter”. (No, they’re not returning to horseback and high drays. Pity.)

  22. After a long and detailed search, an official inquiry has found credible evidence of unlawful killings by Australian special forces in Afghanistan (including but limited to SAS troops).

    Credible evidence in 23 instances; 39 deaths.

    That was thirty-nine .

    Rest in peace civilians who’ve died in the course of armed conflict, and prisoners unlawfully killed.

  23. Ambi, I think the legal problem now is that some who gave evidence were compelled to do so, and this evidence cannot now be used in criminal proceeding because of the self incrimination factor.

    Morrison has apologised to the Afghani head of state and people, and says in Australia we fix these things.

    Not sure we will, or can.

  24. The International Criminal Court requires adherent States to investigate and prosecute alleged war crimes or crimes against humanity, committed by that State’s forces.

    Only when a State is unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute, does the ICC have jurisdiction.

    However slow and difficult the Australian investigation in this theatre of war has been, this State is following the spirit of the ICC statute, and that’s a start.

    From what I’ve read, some of the alleged murders were witnessed by other Australian soldiers and/or by other Afghan civilians; thus self-incrimination might not be an insurmountable legal hurdle in court proceedings. We shall see.

    Meanwhile a VC medal winner is suing Nine newspapers et al. He has been mentioned in various negative reports of lethal acts carried out by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.

  25. I couldn’t possibly comment.
    It is all sub judice .

    We shall see what transpires.

    Q: if a VC medal, valuable as it is, were used as collateral for a substantial loan, but subsequently said medal were taken from its holder by the Govt, what would become of the collateral? Curious minds are asking.

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