7 October 2020

Jan Carter: “Contracting out became central to the playbook of bureaucracies after the new public management (NPM) theories in the 1990s gripped Australian public services. NPM was the handmaiden of the neoliberal economics that marked the advent of Jeff Kennett’s and John Howard’s leaderships. The idea was that the private sector — profit-making firms and NGOs — could run things more efficiently and cheaply than governments. It was also an indirect way of breaking up those pesky, unionised workforces… Contracting out went hand in hand with … the elevation of the content-free manager. NPM disliked specialist managers, those who were either trained in their field or very experienced, or both. … Over the years the trend has been that specialist managers have been replaced with generalists, often referred to content-free managers. … [K]nowing very little, or sometimes nothing, could be an advantage… [C]ontent-free managers were thought freer to carry through the policies of government more efficiently and effectively. Many specialist managers and potential managers were sidelined, as we have seen in the Victorian case of the DHHS’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton, who, despite his serious legislative powers and central role in keeping Victorians safe, was refused a senior management role in his own department and effectively relegated to middle management. … [T]he cast-iron, twin assumptions that contracting out and content-free management are always the best, need close examination.”