28 November 2023

Was it easy for the PM to sack Pezzullo?

| Chris Johnson
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Michael Pezzullo at estimates.

Mike Pezzullo was always going to be fired, but the PM always had a choice in the matter. Photo: Screenshot.

It could be said that Anthony Albanese had no choice but to sack Mike Pezzullo from his powerful job at the helm of the Department of Home Affairs.

The obvious truth is, of course, he had a choice – prime ministers always have a choice in such matters.

And the current prime minister made the right choice in this instance after following a proper and thorough procedure.

A good question, though, is whether the same decision have been made if Pezzullo had been caught red-handed sending a thousand-plus party political texts to an ALP powerbroker.

Once it was revealed that Pezzullo’s texts to Liberal Party insider Scott Briggs mentioned such names as Malcolm Turnbull, Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton, it wasn’t a difficult decision for a Labor prime minister to sack him.

The fact that the texts were sent during the short tenures of a couple of Liberal prime ministers also made it less embarrassing for an incumbent Labor PM.

But it was a tad embarrassing for Albo because this obvious wannabe kingmaker, who had been secretly acting in the interests of the conservative right, was still a very senior official in his government.

The Pezzullo texts were blatant attempts to influence policies and appointments, and they were most unbecoming of a public service leader obliged to be apolitical.

The impartiality of the public service was neither something Pezzullo accepted nor exemplified.

His was a total disregard for how the public service is meant – expected – to interact with politicians and political players.

But while this is a stark and excessive example of the Australian Public Services’ values and code of conduct being breached, we shouldn’t kid ourselves that Pezzullo was/is the only culprit.

He just got caught. He was outed.

READ ALSO Home Affairs secretary Mike Pezzullo sacked by PM after breaching APS code of conduct

The PM stood him aside immediately and instigated an inquiry into the matter.

Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet Glyn Davis and Australian Public Service Commissioner Gordon de Brouwer, following the conclusion of that independent inquiry by Lynelle Briggs, recommended Mr Pezzullo’s appointment be permanently terminated.

The PM advised Governor-General David Hurley and the deed was done. Pezzullo was gone.

The conclusion came after proper procedure was followed and Mr Pezzullo was given a fair hearing.

The PM stated that Mr Pezzullo cooperated fully with the inquiry.

But let’s suppose for a moment that it was a Labor Party powerbroker Pezzullo was caught texting persuasively.

He did work in years gone by for both Kim Beazley and Gareth Evans.

What if he had sent hundreds of texts to either of them urging them to use their influence on the current government to get the ‘appropriate’ people appointed to the ‘appropriate’ ministries to push a certain agenda?

I’m not for a second suggesting that he did any of that, or that either of the former Labor ministers would engage in such activity.

But let’s just allow ourselves a moment’s fancy to pretend it did occur and – more importantly – that those texts were leaked as well.

How quickly would the current PM have acted if that were the case?

Or if it were a different department secretary caught texting any number of ALP insiders?

Would there have been an immediate standing down? Probably.

Would there have been an independent inquiry into the matter? Possibly.

Would the Prime Minister have accepted a recommendation to sack the secretary? Hmmm. Good question.

We might never know the answers to these questions, but then we kind of already do.

Prime ministers of both persuasions only take strong and decisive action against their own side when it becomes politically dangerous not to do so.

Until then, they usually make excuses for their political mates, try to bury the issue, and refuse to relent to pressure to do the right thing.

Because prime ministers always have that choice.

Original Article published by Chris Johnson on Riotact.

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