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My secondment as a project officer is coming to an end, and I return to Toenail branch within a couple of weeks. I’m trying to keep my spirits up by reminding myself that, with the complete lack of important work to do, I’ll be free to look for more career-oriented jobs, and it’s MUCH easier to go to interviews WITHOUT the stench of desperation that comes with being unemployed.

Still, it’s hard to view this as a “learning experience”, even though that’s clearly what it was. I learnt that our large and diverse department has highly fragmented policy, with many units who are semi-coordinated. I learnt that the “policy” section struggles for relevance in this environment, given that individual units can pretty much tell it to get stuffed. Having said that, I haven’t worked in enough other divisions to realize how they might use our “services”.

What I mostly learned is that I really don’t get along well with Statements. You know the ones – Adverb Conjunction Noun Colon Policy Area Statement. Just once, I’d like to see a government release a Statement that says “we will slash productivity, ban exports and ship jobs overseas”. They’d last two seconds but at least it would be a change from bipartisan motherhood faff. (Ironically, there’s a fantastic job being advertised at the moment managing, you guessed it, a Statement. It’s a pay grade above my ability and I’m gnashing my teeth because I know I *could* do it… if it was at my current pay grade.)

So, I need to get into some program delivery. I hear rumors that there’ll be a bucketload of money thrown at the boondocks (there always is, but there’ll be MORE) and they’ll need people to roll it out. In the meantime, I’m feeling unqualified and helpless because I don’t have, and can’t easily get, any kind of qualifications in specialized areas. To make matters worse, I have an alarming tendency to flit from idea to idea like a bumblebee in a sea of daisies. Oooh, courts policy! Oooh, urban planning! Oooooh, gambling regulation! None of which I have any expertise in, and none of which are likely to sustain my interest enough to get a degree in or any bulk of expertise.

Help me out here – am I being utterly precious? Is there a cadre of public service units screaming out for people with enthusiasm and rolled-up sleeves but no particular expertise? It strikes me that being a specialist would be fab up to a certain point of middle management, after which you’d have to go generalist again if you wanted to climb any further.


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Games about the public service are usually lame. This is an unusually hard-hitting documentary.

Screenshot for Zeebarf Comedy Central game "Citizen Ugly"


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Yes Minister meets Alice in Wonderland, Myles Peterson

This piece did ring a few bells with me. I would however like to raise a couple of points:

Our section was under-budget by hundreds of thousands of dollars, necessitating we blow all the unspent money before the end of the financial year. Unfortunately, ”training” did not mean I would finally get some training. ”Training” consisted of hastily booked, dubiously relevant conferences and courses, most of which were conveniently located a long way from Canberra.

Nice work if you can get it – my department is cracking down on employee travel even though we have the same amount of spare budget. We won’t waste your valuable taxpayer dollars on sending lowly public drones to the only place they can get specialised training! (I’m not bitter.)

We were not the only ones wasting money. Associated with our section were those boffins who create public health campaigns, the ones that appear on television with increasing regularity: nights out turning into nightmares, measure your fat stomach, wash your hands – that kind of thing.

I was surprised to discover the minds behind these campaigns were not health professionals. They had backgrounds and degrees in marketing, communications and advertising, not medicine.

This is actually pretty reasonable! When was the last time you changed your behaviour because of a fact? OK, a heart attack is technically a fact, but a health professional isn’t ethically allowed to actually induce a heart attack or emphysema, so they tend to say uncompelling things like “the prevalence ratio of Type II Diabetes in overweight and moderately obese women is 3x that of normal-weight women” (closer investigation revealing that the prevalence is less than 8%, so 92% of overweight and moderately obese women don’t actually have this problem).

Hence it falls to the marketing bods to come up with ever gorier images of your heart or lungs turning black under the influence of your lazy, filthy day-to-day abuse, in the vain hope that you will actually wake up and realise that incremental changes to your lifestyle really do help. I lost over 50lb, not after being informed that obesity will shave 3.6 years off my already-likely-to-be-90+ life,  but because I was the oldest, fattest slob in a graduate intake of spunky young things whose mere existence made me grind my teeth with jealousy. Could those boffins who create public health campaigns could convey that in a 15-second spot?

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I return to my position at the Department of Silly Walks under a minor cloud, having completed graduate rotations at the Department of Knights Who Say Ni! and the Department of The Blessed Cheesemakers. The Knights Who Say Ni! were, how do I put it in HR mumbo-jumbo, unimpressed with my communication skills, personal conduct, hygiene and speculated parentage. Having followed some controversy in my initial rotation, the Department of Silly Walks  punished me by keeping my pay at the Snivelling Shit level, rather than the expected leap to Shuffling Drone. This upset me, not so much because of my limited ability to buy Louboutins as because the Blessed Cheesemakers had viewed me as productive, hardworking and kinda neat, and it was a shock to return to Silly Walks and find that SW regard me as a loose cannon and are effectively charging me $200 a fortnight to demonstrate this.

Having voiced my displeasure to our human resources representative, a multi-talented person who plays the oboemaphone and is not directly employed by Silly Walks, it was suggested that a journal may assist in gathering one’s thoughts, improving one’s outlook and venting one’s spleen. I am not a reflective person – if I was I would be writing poetry in an attic and coughing glamourously rather than project managing internal spam for a provincial government. However, given that one of my problems was and is communication skills – I do not have Asperger Syndrome, but will do if you need someone in a hurry – I felt that a venue to reflect on issues encountered in the workplace would fill the need for truthful monologue, permit self-expression banned in “internal stakeholder relations”, and prevent me from getting bored on the train home.

The title comes from one of the many, many external contractors, of widely varying quality, employed by my government, who suggested that rather than public servants providing “frank and fearless” advice to politicians (an admirable but possibly unrealistic aim), we should instead be “forthright with grace”. One may be frank and fearless if one is utterly charming as one does it. Given that one of my many disabilities is a distinct lack of grace – and comparatively little charm – I feel it advisable to staple a sticky note with this slogan to my eyeballs.

Despite my distinct lack of grace, I did see my former manager of the Knights Who Say Ni! today, and managed not to slap the shit out of the stuck-up little fembot. It’s important to recognise your small victories.

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