One of the most passed-over media stories was the Malcolm Turnbull payback on the 13 ministers who challenged the then-prime minister.
Head of Prime Minister and Cabinet Martin Parkinson, or so The Weekend Australian alleged, sent official notices to all the ministerial offices warning staff that all communications, including emails, phone and internet were to be cut off with immediate effect.
Parkinson had grace enough to admit that “this was not the approach the department would normally take”, the report continued, and let it be known he was acting on instructions from Malcolm Turnbull.
The Canberra culture and protocols allows for departing ministers and their staff to be given time to arrange their affairs, informing, through their emails, that change is taking place, time to send personal messages to public servants who may have assisted, in some way, the offices.
According to Benson and Chambers, one minister claimed his newspaper subscriptions had been cut off within hours of his resignation letter being received in the PM’s office. It was a vindictive and ultimately demeaning action by a defeated Prime Minister but more telling was the fact that the Secretary of the Department of PM&C, Parkinson, had not stood up to Mr Turnbull and stated why this action went against normal practice in government.
Parkinson denied the story later that day and demanded a restraction. However, he has long been regarded as one of Turnbull’s inner circle in Canberra and many in his department felt the Secretary went beyond the “loyalty to the minister, apolitical to politics” rule.
There have been many senior public servants who have veered into what could be seen as partisan politics over the last decades but this act, ordered by a departing Prime Minister and actioned by his Departmental secretary has caused talk throughout the public service.
The former head of DFAT, Peter Varghese, embarked on a successful academic career in Brisbane. Martin Parkinson, who for many years diplomatically cultivated many heads of foreign missions in Canberra may, like his boss, be weighing up his options.
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