Mike Pezzullo: Colossus of ever-failing policy and political embarrassment

Jun 29, 2024
Mike_Pezzullo_joined_by_officials_at_the_Five_Country_Ministerial,_Washing_DC,_September_2016._c U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) - https://www.flickr.com/photos/dhsgov/25096108845/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=133680714 Official DHS photo by Jetta Disco.

Mike Pezzullo once bestrode the federal public service like a colossus, or so some fancied. He may have thought so too. Sundry journos we’re in the habit of describing him as the most powerful public servant in the land; he never was.

Whatever he was, Mike fell to earth last year when he was sacked for more than a dozen breaches of the Public Service Act’s code of conduct. He’s now contrite but thinks his offences didn’t warrant dismissal, a self-judgment that may not be widely shared. While the old “integrity culture” in the public service ain’t looking flash at least its eye was not blind to Mike’s indiscretions.

The lad cut his bureaucratic teeth in the Department of Defence where he got to be a Deputy Secretary. He claimed to be the “author” of the 2009 Defence White Paper. While it’s a mystery why anyone would want to be burdened by an association with that document the authorship claim is horseshit. Properly deferential officials make suggestions about what such papers should contain and help with drafting them although the government is the author of Defence White Papers. Mike is no more author of any Defence White Paper than any Secretary of the Department of the Treasury is the author of any Commonwealth Budget.

In 2014, Pezzullo rose, as a beneficiary of the judgment of Prime Minister Abbott, to be the Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. In 2017 he was a natural to be the inaugural Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs. Alas, giving a department a silly, meaningless name signified now more than the organisation was a structural Frankenstein incapable of being more than an ever-failing policy, administrative and political embarrassment. Some say Pezzullo played a part in its creation, a legacy to live down if true.

Anyway while Secretary of these departments Mike didn’t miss a chance to make speeches, dozens of them, composed of more or less equal doses of intellectual pretension and fatuity. In one nasty, brutish and long specimen, Mike, never afraid to tackle big names, put the 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes in his place. It’s a crying shame these speeches seem now to have been erased from the Home Affairs Department website. No doubt pristine, autographed copies have been tucked into an appreciative crevice of the National Archives.

Speechifying is, of course, addictive so it must have been a blow when Mike’s public service soapbox was reefed from under him – as bad as losing his job. Thank goodness he retains his Order of Australia.

The deprivation would seem to be rankling as since his enforced retirement Mike has made several notable public speaking forays, in a manner of speaking.

Most recently he’s been riled into a froth of indignation at the visit of the Chinese Premier Li Qiang who came with a couple of panda bears in tow. In a breathless and seeming straight laced article in the Australian Financial Review, Mike is reported as huffing that “I’m not going to accept the image and the ceremonial character of the panda exchange, with the pandas coming when they [the Chinese, not the pandas] are ramming vessels into the Filipino coast guard.” No doubt the Pezzullo bon mots have given the Chinese something to chew on. Meanwhile Mike says we should have “nothing warm to do with their government” and we should take the “regime..on forcibly in ideology, values and mores.” It’s not difficult to imagine Comrade Ping adjusting the lines of his “thought” to accommodate a stricture or two from Mr Pezzullo on values etc.

The cashiered former Secretary is also reported as telling a function described as a “defence and security industry ‘Meet the Chiefs’ event” (oh to be a fly on the wall at that) he’s “revised his estimate of the risk of conflict [with China] upwards from 10 percent to 20 percent…”. Disappointingly the article does not betray the arithmetic behind the precision of this calculation which no doubt spreads over more than the back of an envelope.

Still the 20% prospect reportedly leads Mike seriously to propose a Defence Production Commission headed by a “triumvirate”, if you don’t mind, comprised of a director-general from the private sector and the Secretaries of the Defence and Industry departments. Presumably consistent with Australia’s “ideology, values and mores”, Mike wants the body to be exempt from “Commonwealth governance and accountability laws” and to be loaded up with “requisition powers”.

The goal, Pezzullo says, is to “mobilise the entire economy [presumably down to the last fish and chip shop] in the face of looming peril ensuring that the entire spectrum of capital, innovation, workforce and scale across the Australian economy was brought to bear”. Where the pandas might fit in is not reported although they might form a useful fifth column when the unhappy day comes for them to return to their homeland.

So relatively fresh from the bracing disaster of the Home Affairs portfolio, Mike wants to create another of its type although with Chinese government anti-democratic characteristics. It can be a funny old world when Mike gets a hold on it.

Share and Enjoy !

Subscribe to John Menadue's Newsletter
Subscribe to John Menadue's Newsletter


Thank you for subscribing!