The following appeared in the Age today. (Mon Feb 22, 2010)
Yes Minister meets Alice in Wonderland
February 21, 2010
Midway through last year I was head-hunted by the federal Department of Health and Ageing to write speeches for their ministers - a surprise as I had no experience or qualifications. As far as the department was aware, my limited skills were derived from reviewing video games for The Canberra Times.
Perplexed and amused, I dusted off the suit and attended my one and only interview. ''I'll be writing speeches for who?''
''Minister Roxon,'' answered my interviewer.
''And you're going to pay me how much?''
''Eighty thousand a year. Will that be enough?''
So began my journey down the public service rabbit-hole. I would soon learn that swine flu and a raid on staff by another department were to thank for my recruitment.
Compounding the staffing crisis was a high turnover rate. A recent survey had revealed staff satisfaction was the lowest of any section, for any department, anywhere. I pondered the figures as they stared down at me from a huge poster, plastered opposite my new desk.
''What does that 35 per cent mean?'' I asked a colleague. There was no answer, a response I would get used to.
I was given my first speech to write. I was not given an induction, training, an occupational health and safety lecture, a security clearance, a standard operating procedures manual, a style guide or anything you would expect when starting a job with the federal government of Australia.
As promised, the speech was for Nicola Roxon, Minister for Health and Ageing. The topic was macular degeneration and I was instructed to mention Ita Buttrose. Despite being completely lost, without an inkling of how to proceed, I quickly learnt not to ask any questions. Nobody would answer them with anything other than an annoyed glare or dismissive quip.
I wrote the speech. I muddled my way through the maze of acronyms that indicated who my departmental researchers were while I attempted to learn the procedures on the run. I emailed the final copy to the Minister's office and winced, waiting with dread for the inevitable criticism that should come pouring back.
Nothing happened. My speech was swallowed by the public service ether. Did the Minister ever read it? I do not know. Did the Minister even look at it? No idea. The following day I was given a second speech to write.
The sad saga continues here:
After reading this I am almost ready to throw in the towel. The incompetent led by the ignorant and the stupid.
At least the author was honourable enough to leave!
The chances for Health Reform and e-Health in Australia must approximate zero!