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Labor veteran hits back over public service politicisation


Former Labor minister Kym Mayes says his Unley successor Mark Brindal is wrong to blame John Bannon for the politicisation of the state’s public service.

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Mark Brindal’s article ‘Taking the politics out of our public service’ warrants an immediate and strong denial with regard to John Bannon’s alleged politicisation of the South Australian public service.

I was at the 1985 post-election celebration and I’m absolutely sure that John would not have said or thought what Mark is suggesting.

I recall from my first Cabinet meeting, in 1985, John stating to cabinet that there would be NO witch hunt conducted by the Government against the public service. I can recall his comments on the day with absolute clarity.

As for John’s alleged instruction to ‘Pol Pot’, as his chief-of-staff Geoff Anderson was ‘affectionately’ known amongst cabinet members, it seems totally out of character. Most junior ministers believed that Geoff’s role was to make our lives miserable by telling us how bloody hopeless we all were and that we were a dead weight around the Premier’s neck!

As Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, I inherited Dr John Radcliffe as Director-General and Mr Richard Stevens as Director-General of Fisheries from Frank Blevins. Neither could be described as card-carrying ALP hacks and both had appointments prior to the Labor administration. I had wonderful relationships with both Director-Generals and never was there any talk of them moving on; they gave me honest advice without fear or favour.

Professor Rob Lewis was appointed after Richard retired to greener pastures. Rob was an outstanding public servant who again provided independent and impeccable advice. I know Rob has never had any political links with either major political party.

When I moved to Environment the Director-General was Dennis Mutton. To suggest any of these were political appointments is an insult to their integrity and intelligence. Never was there any discussion about removing these wonderful public servants. I can assure you they often disagreed with my view or opinion, but I cherished their independent advice and invariably it proved correct. There may be one exception and that was the Grape Vine pull!

I believe the structural changes to the public service began when the Hon PJ Keating removed the ‘continuity of employment’ clause from the Department Secretaries’ contracts of employment and introduced fixed-term appointments with the right to sever.

That was a critical change.

Kym Mayes was a Labor minister from 1985 to 1993 in portfolios including Agriculture, Fisheries, Sport, Housing and Construction, Public Works, Aboriginal Affairs, Emergency Services and Environment. He held the seat of Unley, subsequently held by Mark Brindal, from 1982 to 1993.

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