Yes Vice Chancellor

Niall Cook blogs an amusing (and surprisingly honest for a leftie) appraisal of the Public Service:

The tribal wisdom of the Dakota Indians, passed down from generation to generation, says that when you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to immediately dismount. In the Public Service, however, a whole range of far more advanced strategies are often employed, such as:

  1. Change riders;
  2. Buy a stronger whip;
  3. Do nothing: “This is the way we have always ridden dead horses.”;
  4. Visit other countries to see how they ride dead horses;
  5. Perform a productivity study to see if lighter riders improve the dead horse’s performance;
  6. Hire a contractor to ride the dead horse;
  7. Harness several dead horses together in an attempt to increase the speed;
  8. Provide additional funding and/or training to increase the dead horse’s performance;
  9. Appoint a committee to study the horse and assess how dead it actually is;
  10. Re-classify the dead horse as “living-impaired”;
  11. Develop a Strategic Plan for the management of dead horses. Intensely workshop this plan;
  12. Rewrite the expected performance requirements for all dead horses;
  13. Modify existing standards to include dead horses;
  14. Declare that, as the dead horse does not have to be fed, it is less costly, carries lower overheads, and therefore contributes substantially more to the bottom line than many other horses;
  15. Promote the dead horse to a supervisory position.

My first draft of this post included a diatribe about various aspects of the tertiary education bureaucracy that currently employs me. Instincts of self-preservation caused me to have second thoughts. I suspect anyone who’s worked for a public sector bureaucracy will identify fairly strongly with Niall’s list, although there are bureucracies and bureaucracies.

The private sector is just as susceptible to inefficiency and self-delusion, but the prospect of bankruptcy usually eventually provides a stern reality check. Is this an argument for the neo-liberal ideal of privatisation? I haven’t made up my mind.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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2022 years ago

I’d be fascinated to find out where this classification of ‘leftie’ comes from, considering you say it’s surprising that someone like myself, who classifies himself as more a ‘centerist’, can agree with such sentiments. Perhaps I agree because I work in the public sector?

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago


I used to classify blogs as left, right, centre on my blogroll. I got sick of it, mostly because I agree that people tend not to fit neatly and consistently into those sorts of stereotypical positions, even assuming their meaning is clear in the first place. Nevertheless they’re not completely meaningless classifications, and I’d certainly place you well and truly on the left if I was still maintaining that system. Of course, your post about the public service doesn’t fit the stereotype, but that’s just an example of what I observed above. I see that Stewart Kelly, who still maintains the left-right-centre blogroll division, also places you on the left.

2022 years ago

I’m prompted to ask “so what?” Stereotyping of anything, let alone people, has to be somewhat judgemental, wouldn’t you agree, Ken?

2022 years ago

I agree: you’re a lefty, Niall, at least insofar as such labels make any sense.

(Which brings up the “surprisingly honest for a lefty”… hmmm?)

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago


Of course I meant honest about the shortcomings of the public sector. The left tends to regard it as a sacred cow. I certainly didn’t intend to suggest that lefties have a general tendency towards dishonesty. That would be a silly statement even by my loose standards.

Ron Mead
Ron Mead
2022 years ago

Interesting list. My short experience in the NSW public service (I was finance manager at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney in the early 90s) suggests that if these 15 “solutions” were placed in order of priority then number 15 would be well and truly number one.

Stewart Kelly
2022 years ago

I class Niall as a lefty largely based on his ability to get a reaction out of Tim Blair, Yobbo and company, more than anything else.

But yes, the left-right spectrum is somewhat limited in it’s usefulness.

2022 years ago

The Horse Whisperer:

Annie: I’ve heard you help people with horse problems.
Tom Booker: Truth is, I help horses with people problems.

2022 years ago

Niall is certainly much more coherent when he simply lifts material, and doesn’t try to write his own words.