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You take the bullet, we'll make a soft landing: Ministers and their advisors

By James Baker - posted Thursday, 18 March 2004

While it is generally acknowledged that Premier Beattie's sacking of Queensland Ministerial Media Adviser Teresa Mullan over taking a bottle of wine into a dry Aboriginal community was a gross over-reaction, that is exactly what ministerial advisers are for.

That's harsh, but it is an immutable fact of modern political life. Volumes of recent commentary have focused on the collective shudder that¹s run through the public service about the summary career execution of one of their own.

That is utter nonsense. Ms Mullan is no more a member of the public service than is Premier Beattie or his Chief of Staff.


Ministerial advisers are political appointments. The proof of that pudding lies in the fact that at election time, if there is a change of government, those same advisers are also turfed out, or re-employed as opposition staff.

The only ministerial staff who don't suffer that fate are the Department Liaison Officers career public servants - sent to be the main coordination point between a Minister's office and their Department.

But even most of those would not survive a change of government and would be immediately reassigned back to their home departments, as the incoming government generally won't want people in their offices who have been so close to the previous regime.

Unlike public servants, most ministerial advisers aren¹t appointed because of high levels of achievement in a particular field (with occasional exceptions).

Instead, they are selected more because of a convergence of party affiliation (or at least ideological symmetry) urgent need, personal knowledge and/or recommendation, loyalty and a proven general level of ability to work in a political environment.

They usually have not spent years learning the ropes of a portfolio and the subject matter they are to deal with.


They are generally much younger than their equivalent rank in the permanent public service.

And most significantly, they wield enormous power, sitting on the right hand side of God, as it were - the Minister that public servants are meant to service.

A bad relationship with a ministerial adviser can bring a promising public service career to a grinding halt, with a posting to "Siberia" to stamp licences a distinct possibility.

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About the Author

James Baker is the Principal Consultant at Media Savvy Australia Pty Ltd, and a former media advisor to federal and state politicians.

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