Thursday, April 12, 2007

Proper education

My first reaction to seeing that convicted heroin peddler and reformed addict Michael Coutts-Trotter - aka Mr Tanya Plibersek - had been appointed NSW Director-General of Education, was naturally, as the seasoned, serious political commentator I am: "Hmm - kinda cute for a senior public servant." Between mum and dad, the Trottersek spawn has scored some quality genes.

Anyway, I was unsurprised by the hysterical shrieking of the Terror set. Helen Lovejoy would be heartened by all these Concerned CitizensTM begging us to PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN!! In fact, the Terror's surpassed itself with this headline: "Drug school boss 'inspires' wife". I'm pretty sure he hasn't just been appointed to head any drug school - indeed, I'm not even sure would a "drug school" would be - but whatever.

The appointment is dodgy, but not because of the guy's history with smack. If we're to give up on any idea of prison as a means of rehabilitation as well as punishment, we may as well never let convicted felons outside again after we've locked them up - an idea that no doubt appeals to many Terrorists (readers of the Terror), but with little grounding in reality.

Trotter has done remarkably well to reform and turn his life around. He's served his time, has not re-offended since and is a working model of how there can be life after a drug addiction. Having seen members of my own family overcome this nightmare drug and function again in society I know just how difficult it can be, and credit should always be issued where it's due. Condemnation of Trotter as a convicted dealer, not merely user, is irrelevant - most users invariably peddle the shit around themselves to free up some cash for their own next hit.

Furthermore, I'm pretty sure Trotter won't come into direct contact with the kiddies - he'll no doubt be fairly safe and protected from everyday reality in the high ivory tower of public service, as most senior bureaucrats usually are. But even if he's not, I think he's actually an ideal model to present to children, or at least young adults who may themselves be battling drug addictions.

And again, none of this of itself should be an impediment to Trotter enjoying a successful career in whatever he chooses. He's done the crime, he's done the time. Even new Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell says: "Of course I have a problem with the drug background … but my first starting point in who heads up education are what are the qualifications for the job … I am happy to believe in redemption."

(Side note: This is the second time now I've heard O'Farrell say something fair and sensible for a senior Lib. I can see myself warming to this guy. Well - more so than I ever did with Frank Spencer, anyway.)

Having said all this, I still think the appointment is dodgy. It certainly reeks of "jobs for the boys", although let's not be naive and pretend such appointments are only the terrain of NSW Labor - plenty of Howard's mates have scored sweetly in the last decade too. Plus it would appear Trotter is not entirely qualified to run Australia's biggest education department. His CV covers press secretary and chief of staff to the former treasurer, Michael Egan, and, most recently, the director-general of the Department of Commerce. As the Smuh puts it in today's ed:
Assuming there was good reason to replace the previous director-general, Mr Andrew Cappie-Wood, was there really no better candidate than Mr Coutts-Trotter? Was there no one with stronger qualifications and experience in education, or in managing a large organisation? Or an executive who combined both, as did Dr Ken Boston, a former NSW director-general of education now prominent in Britain? How are the Ken Bostons of the future to emerge when, instead of a doctor of education, NSW schools get a former spin doctor?

And further:
Such an appointment deserves very careful consideration, especially when public schools are bleeding students to the private sector, and school education is under attack from a doctrinaire federal education minster. Headhunters should be approached, and candidates' credentials and experience measured against demanding criteria.

Sadly, in both the state and federal arenas, such top appointments are instead decided behind closed doors by governments with no obligation to explain their thinking.

So let's be critical of this appointment by all means. But let's make sure it's for the right reasons. And hey, give the guy a fighting chance first - he may prove to be an outstanding D-G after all. Stranger things have happened.

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7 Comments:

At 12/4/07 12:25 pm, Blogger Denys said...

I was gonna post on this subject Sam but I might just refer people to here.

I agree, the appointmant is dodgy and it once again looks like an often used Labor line of "It's sorted mate, no worries."

Having said that, I think the guy needs to be given a go even if he hasn't worked in education before. Anyway wasn't he hired to "shake it up."

 
At 12/4/07 12:39 pm, Blogger Sam said...

I think the entire NSW public service is in desperate need of a shake-up Denys - hence my concern that appointing an existing NSW bureaucrat to the position was not the most sensible option.

Will be interesting to see who the new Ed minister is now that Carmel's looking after her kiddy, too.

 
At 12/4/07 5:26 pm, Blogger James said...

If we're to give up on any idea of prison as a means of rehabilitation as well as punishment, we may as well never let convicted felons outside again after we've locked them up - an idea that no doubt appeals to many Terrorists (readers of the Terror), but with little grounding in reality.

Didn't I see a proposal for exactly that mooted in Victoria recently? Something about keeping anyone who'd committed murders, sex offenses, and possibly arson (I'm foggy on the details) in prison indefinitely?

Side note (pun intended): I'm in your blogrolly thing over there on the left? I'm flattered! Thanks!

 
At 12/4/07 7:05 pm, Blogger Sam said...

I disagree about Trotter being cute. He looks like a recovered burns victim.

Aah, the joys of superficiality.

 
At 14/4/07 2:19 pm, Anonymous marcelproust said...

Sam:

Everyone sensibly agrees that the drug question for Trotter is a furphy, but there must be a real jobs-for-the-boys question.

The real story is to contrast the favourable consideration of the possibility of redemption for Trotter with the absolutely shameful treatment dished out to John Lewthwaite.

I know the gay movement (is there a gay movement? not really, but you know what I mean) likes to distance itself from pedophile monsters, but there is every indication (and I think gay people of that era can certainly understand) that Lewthwaite's crime was mixed up with mental disturbance which he suffered as a young gay man in darker times than now. For God's sake, he managed to stay out of trouble for 7 years after spending practically all of his adult life in gaol.
The revocation of his parole for relatively discreet nude cavorting in the nude was certainly a gay issue. This was not a sex crime, and even if it was, it was not a sex crime which indicates some kind of recidivism in relation to the the monstrous crime of his youth. That is definitely a slur on gay people.

The subsequent flashing charge was ludicrous: just a bye-blow of the Telegraph-induced frenzy of public fear and (for him) notoriety. Tor that he spent another 5 months inside.

Altogether, Lewthwaite went back inside for basically a year for one crime for which he has only been fined $1000 (even that fine was, in my view, unwarranted). He is now out of gaol but the commissioner for corrective services (not in any way a charming man: read his lips and do a little googling if you are in doubt) now proposes to subject him to a monstrous and surely unnecessary probation regime.

So: one (sensible, possibly unduly favourable owing to politicisation of the public service) rule for Mr Plibersek; another for Mr Lewthwaite. I want to scream about the injustice, and I hope a lot of other people will too.

 
At 18/4/07 4:48 am, Blogger Miss Eagle said...

Dear QP, thank you for the info re the new Director of Ed in NSW. While believing in redemption & rehab, was a bit gobsmacked. One thing to be a political adviser and then head a commercial dept but education? Your info re the Plibersek connection made all clear. Being south of the border, I hadn't picked up on that. I thought your post well reasoned.

 
At 18/4/07 4:50 am, Blogger Miss Eagle said...

cDear QP, thank you for the info re the new Director of Ed in NSW. While believing in redemption & rehab, was a bit gobsmacked. One thing to be a political adviser and then head a commercial dept but education? Your info re the Plibersek connection made all clear. Being south of the border, I hadn't picked up on that. I thought your post well reasoned.

 

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