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Most Talked About - The Ute Affair
letter published in The Australian, 23 June 2009

Leaving aside the issue of who sent and received emails about car dealers, the “ute-gate” episode raises two important questions.

First, why did the Labor government select car dealers and commercial property companies for special help in the recession? Mark Latham’s explanation in his latest newspaper column of the importance of car dealers to politicians’ mobility during election campaigns, the problems former defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon experienced over his friendship with Chinese-born property developer Helen Liu and the corruption in NSW local government, suggest reasons why Labor developed financial relationships with the two groups that may be rather too close.

Second, the episode raises fundamental questions about the role of the public service. How far should public servants be involved in “managing” policies that political parties decide to introduce? Should it be the role of Treasury to provide a financial advisory service to car dealers? Moreover, given the political nature of such schemes, why didn’t the Treasurer front up to the Senate committee hearing into OzCar? Indeed, where was the head of the Treasury?

If we have moved to a US-style politicised public service, this needs to be properly recognised and the implications for the tenure of heads of departments and for the credibility of departmental advice fully examined.

Des Moore
(Former deputy secretary of Treasury)
South Yarra, Vic

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