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Workaholic public servant driven to depression

I write regarding the current criticism of Commonwealth Public servants for failing to be prepared to work 24/7 to meet the demands of their political masters in light of the excellent piece by Andrew Hamilton.

Over the last 25 years of my Public Service I normally worked at least 60 hours a week, usually more and at times even 90 hours a week. Those who know me and those that I advised can testify that I was an apolitical public servant who gave frank and fearless advice to my Minister and the government of the day, and that as a Commissioner I gave balanced decisions which were very infrequently appealed.

In sum I was a workaholic! The result of my madness in working such hours was to be retired on invalidity grounds on the 31 of December 2004 at the age of 61. I had wanted to work until the age of 65 but I could not as my body became racked with pain causing me to suffer moderately severe depression with not infrequent thoughts of suicide. A number of psychiatrists and neurosurgeons assessed me as 'totally and permanently incapacitated'.

Some three and a half years later, the burden of depression is still with me, as are thoughts of suicide, although thankfully, their incidence has become less frequent. On reflection, it is clear to me that my commitment to work such extreme hours was misplaced and led to the living off an unbalanced life.

Having given over 41 plus years of my life to public service, I can say fairly that there are many many public servants who give of their all, irrespective of who is in power. Certainly some public servants are lazy and/or incompetent, but in my experience they are a small minority. Given my dealings with the private sector over that time, that sector is not immune to such employees either including at the highest levels.

I would also observe that the Prime Minister is bound to acknowledge that Australia has voted to adopt and apply the provisions of the International Labour Organisation's Conventions and Resolutions regarding Occupational Health and Safety. Generally those instruments apply to all employees (workers), employers and governments including the Commonwealth's own employees. A concomitant of being a signatory to those instruments is the requirement that the Commonwealth ensure their implementation.

Furthermore the Commonwealth government and some other large Australian employers are bound by the provisions of the Commonwealth parliament's own occupational health and safety legislation which mandates safe working conditions. ComCare is the lead agency responsible for the implementation of this legislation.

If the PM wishes to follow the unbalanced lifestyle of a 'workaholic', so be it, but he should not and must not expect or require his employees to follow suit. Leaving aside the moral issue of whether sin is involved, for him to make such demands is not only contrary to the extant legislative requirements but is, I would have thought, totally at odds with the principles of the Labor (the workers') Party which he proudly leads.

Finally, whilst no doubt the PM "enjoys" the adrenaline rush which comes with the exercise of power and the implementation of the ALP's policy, may I, as a Christian, be so bold as to suggest that, in addition to the parable of the talents, the Lord's injunction on the need to love oneself first, in order to love one's neighbour, is paramount! I would not wish to see his important contribution brought to an untimely end because of the effects of overwork on his body and/or mind as well as his spirit.

Graham HolmesGraham Holmes worked in the public service for 41 years, including time as a division head in the Commonwealth Department of Industrial Relations, a departmental head in the Victorian Public Service, and a Commissioner of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission.

Topic tags: Graham Holmes, andrew hamilton, Rudd and the sin of overwork, workaholic pm, overwork



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