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Troubleshooter with a sense of fun

PETER COLE-ADAMS talks to a new departmental head. He is a nice bloke, did well in philosophy, and does not run when the going gets tough.


confirmed yesterday as the next head of the Department of In dustry, Technology and Regional Development, represents a new breed of Public Service mandarins.

'He is just 46, but in the past few years has-become one of the best-known names in the Commonwealth Public Service, a bureaucratic trouble-shooter who has specialised in lough assignments.

For nearly three years, from 1988 to 1990, he ran Bob Hawke's personal office in Parliament, as principal adviser to the Prime Minister. More recently, he has been the senior Public Service player in the unfolding drama of Mabo. Paul Keating holds him in high regard; so does just about everybody who has worked with him. He is, incurably, a nice bloke.

The Hollway style is relaxed, but as colleagues and some of those who sat opposite him during Mabo negotiations attest, he is a man with formidable intel lect, focused determination and an im mtfhse capacity for hard work. He has the good diplomat's knack of being open without being indiscreet. He also has a

sense of fun.

,His career is the antithesis of the cli ched stereotype of the bureaucratic, time serving paper-shufiler of Bronwyn Bish op's nightmares.

,David Alexander Hollway — nobody calls him anything but Sandy — has spent his adult life, if not looking for trouble then seeking challenges. He found a corker when, after leaving Hawke's office to become DeDutv Secret

ary at the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, he took over the bureau cratic running of arriving at a govern ment response to the 339 recommenda tions contained in the report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

That job took him 18 testing months and, because the High Court's Mabo judgment was handed down at almost the same time that it was ending, he found himself ofiicer-in-charge of the Public Service team seeking a resolution of the

native-title issue.

The two and a half years in which he Has! been immersed in Aboriginal issues wjjl end on Friday when, the Green Sena tors permitting, Parliament will finally pass Keating's Mabo legislation. Hollway is due to take up his new job on Monday, and will immediately throw himself into overseeing preparation of the industry report that is due to be released early next


The Mabo operation, he says, has been the most extraordinary bureaucratic ef fort in which he has ever been involved. "It's been a matter of sheer, slogging hard work, servicing the Government with ad vice, negotiating, meeting continuous deadlines for documents for a year under tremendous pressure. I am very proud of eyeryone involved.

• "The pattern has been starting at the crack of dawn, working in the office until late, at night, dragging home a briefcase full of other work, and just keeping go ing."

' The experience has left him with a high fegard for the Aboriginal negotiators. "The indigenous people of this country are throwing up a spread of leaders who

bandy Hoilway: An efficient and capable public service is a precondition of the standard of living and quality of life to which Australians aspire, just as an efficient private sector is."

rapidly comprehend issues and identify what they believe to be the interests of their people. This is fundamental to the concept of empowerment. It's a jargon term, but the concept is dead right. These people know their own minds. I've found them tough, direct but friendly in their dealings."

Sandy Hollway is an adaptable man through training, experience and inclina tion. He graduated from Sydney Univer sity in 1968 with first-class honours in philosophy, with a bit of economics thrown in. He won a scholarship to do a master's degree in philosophy, but decid

ed he did not want to wind up in acade mia and joined the Foreign Affairs De partment instead, serving in Islamabad and Bonn before returning to Canberra in 1975.

There he found himself working on international commodities issues during the hectic days of the first oil crisis and this led to his being assigned to work on uranium development and export-safe guards policy at a time when it was one of the hottest issues in Australian politics.

"After that I was Deputy High Com missioner in Ottawa in 1979 and 1980 before moving down to Washington as

political counsellor, doing congressional liaison. A wonderfully interesting time."

Back in Canberra in 1985, he found himself working on international eco nomic issues again before getting in volved in arms-control and disarmament issues. "Remember the South Pacific Nu clear Free Zone? I was one of the Austra lian officials who went around the world with a group of South Pacific Islanders encouraging the nuclear-weapons powers to sign up to the treaty."

Hollway left Foreign Affairs in 1986, not because of dissatisfaction, but be cause the family wanted to settle down in

one place. He seized the chance to run the international division within the Depart ment of Prime Minister and Cabinet, travelling frequently with Hawke as de partmental foreign-policy adviser.

At a Christmas party at the Lodge in 1987 Hawke offered him the job of run ning his office. Hollway accepted without


"It's a fascinating experience for any public servant. I would always encourage any officer whose family circumstances permit to take a job on the hill, with a minister or indeed with the Opposition. It's terrific to see how that end of the

political system works, and you are going to be a much better public servant when you come back to a department.

"It's increasingly important to learn something about the surrounds of gov ernment: the media, interest groups, the Parliament, the whole milieu around Parliament House."

Hollway saw the principal adviser's job as a management challenge. "The way I did it was very much concerned with making sure the place operated coherent ly so that there were smooth processes for the Prime Minister to manage his govern ment and make policy. The office had to

be robust enough and morale high enough to make the most of the good times and endure the bad ones.

"The overwhelming thing for anyone who runs the Prime Minister's office is time management. There is an avalanche of paper, a kaleidoscope of issues and pressures. How many commitments should a Prime Minister make? How long is a piece of string? The role of the person running his office is to ensure that the stuff that goes in to him, the way his day, week, month and year are structured, make sense. As well, of course, one can buy into policy issues if one wants to."

Is the Prime Minister's job possible? "Yes, and it's possible to do it well, but as the issues become more complicated, nu merous and technical, it puts a very great premium on good management and sup port. This has got implications for the Public Service too. I believe, as I go to be Secretary of a department, that Australia has a fine public service by international standards, and that's important. An effi cient and capable public service is a pre condition of the standard of living and. quality of life to which Australians as pire, just as an efficient private scctor is.,

"In the time I have been in the Public Service it has gone through major changes, on the whole for the better, just as the country has. It's an adapting insti tution, and it had better be, because the pressures these days on the elected repre sentatives who exist to govern are im


Apart from greater mobility between departments, what have been the big changes since Hollway joined the Public Service in the dying days of an era domi nated by such legendaiy mandarins as Sir James Plimsoll and Sir Arthur Tanpp?

"Well, some of them just jump out, particularly through the 1980s. People of my generation are modernists. There is a tremendous emphasis now on getting an. outcome. It isn't just a matter of taking a paper out of the in-tray and processing it and putting it into the out-tray. It's a matter of what you are actually trying to achieve and plotting a way of getting there. Of course, it should always have been so, and to some extent always was, but now it's doctrine.

"Another thing is more devolution and decentralisation, the catch-cry being, 'let the managers manage'. There is less cen tral control and people are much more given their heads, even to take some risks. That, again, has become doctrine.

"I'd also say that, by orders of magni tude, there is less fighting over turf, less departmental rivalry than there was. To some extent, rivalries were internalised by the creation of much larger govern ment units in 1987, but it's more than that: I think my colleagues genuinely think that, while this country has colossal potential, it faces great challenges and responsible public service is not consis' tent with running guerrilla warfare over departmental territory. The job is tougher now, harder. The post-mandarin mandarins — the Mike Codds and the Michael Keatings — have understood the need for efficiency, cost effectiveness, delivering results, not just delivering ac tivity."

Life could become pretty interesting in the Department of Industry as from Monday.