Tuesday 17 Jul 2018 | 12:22 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 17 Jul 2018 | 12:22 | SYDNEY

Understanding your government


Sam Roggeveen


26 June 2008 17:13

It occurred to me while reading this pretty unremarkable press release from Trade Minister Simon Crean that it may interest some of you to know a little of how such documents come about. Before I joined the public service, I myself was pretty mystified at how the flat, colourless phrasing we often read from ministers in press releases is generated. Do they really talk that way? And do they actually say the words you see on the page?

Let's examine the above-cited example, about the Government's bold and fearless decision to double its developing country capacity building assistance, to $1 million:

...The Fund helps some of the world’s least developed countries to take part in and benefit from the Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations.

“As a strong and effective rules-based organisation, the WTO continues to attract membership,” said Mr Crean. “It’s in our interest to strengthen that unique structure. The fact that countries continue to want to join the WTO is recognition of the value of our efforts and underlines the importance of securing progress in the current round of world trade talks.”

When you've been in politics as long as Simon Crean, you probably do have a tendency to talk like this, but chances are these exact words never passed Mr Crean's lips. The were likely written by a junior public servant and polished by her boss — these people just make up the quotes, usually based on something similar the minister has said already.

The document then goes up to the minister's office. Up to now it has been handled by public servants who, in the best Westminster tradition, are apolitical and thus, although they can trumpet the achievements of the government, they cannot slag the opposition, media or any other critics. That's a job for the minister's staff, who are employed by and loyal to the minister. Once they've injected the partisan politics, it is run by the minister (or at least, his chief of staff), and then released into the electronic and paper in-trays of journalists, lobbyists, fellow MPs and other interested parties.

And in the case of releases like the one above, it will then be promptly ignored by everyone.