Flat White

The new Home Affairs Department should be welcomed

18 July 2017

11:42 AM

18 July 2017

11:42 AM

The Prime Minister has today unveiled a national security ‘mega-department’, to be called, as guessed by the commentariat, the Department of Home Affairs, with Immigration Minister Peter Dutton at its head.

Some objections have also been raised from – yes, you guessed right – academia and the judiciary, who opine that such a mega-department, through its combined resources,  would exert greater powers of surveillance, containment and control.

That is just the point of such a department, and the Prime Minister is wise to push for it, overriding the objections of any frontbenchers who, in the best Yes, Minister-style, did not wish to see sections of their fiefdoms whittled away.

Against these bureaucratic objections must be considered the tragic loss of life at the Lindt Café siege may – repeat, may – have been avoided if military snipers had been allowed to take down Man Monis earlier.  They were never asked to do so by the NSW police, who believed they could handle the situation with the resulting terrible outcomes.

Mega-departments are nothing new. The federal Department of Human Services is comprised of several merged departments and agencies including Centrelink and the Office of Children’s Services, Aged Care and the like.

The Department of Education was previously merged with various work and training agencies including the old Commonwealth Employment Service and youth affairs initiatives, going through a number of name changes reflected in its acronyms: DEET, DEETYA and so on. Only Treasury and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet appear to be exempt from name changes, although both have had agencies move under their umbrella and reform within them.

Speaking as they say, from ‘lived experience’ your correspondent, recruited to the Department of Productivity, then when that was abolished was transferred to Canberra to the then-Department of Industry and Commerce.

DIAC at the time also contained the former Small Business section and Business and Consumer Affairs, the last a moveable agency which travelled to Treasury and finally found safe harbour in the ACCC.

The newly-formed Department of Defence Support formed out of the post-war Department of Supply enjoyed a short, successful life before being ‘subsumed’ into the Department of Defence, another prime example of a mega-department.

There is a little-known taxpayer benefit to mega-mergers, visible only to those in the public sector. With the mergers come renewed opportunities to chop dead wood and offer, if not ‘redundancies’ then transfers or ‘backfilling’ at lower levels. The anguished moan ‘They rewrote the selection criteria and made me apply for my own job’ may yet again be heard among the filing cabinets.

All in all, a newly created federal Home Affairs Department should be welcomed.

And good luck to Peter Dutton. He’s earned his spurs.

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