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The Seven Dwarfs and the Age of the Mandarins

The Seven Dwarfs and the Age of the Mandarins: Australian Government Administration in the Post-War Reconstruction Era OPEN ACCESS

Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    The Seven Dwarfs and the Age of the Mandarins
    Book Description:

    In the history and folklore of Australia’s Commonwealth Public Service, the idea of the ‘Seven Dwarfs’ has been remarkably persistent. Originally a witty epithet applied to a powerful group of senior public servants, the term has come to represent the professionalisation of Australian government administration during the Second World War and post-war reconstruction era, and into the following two decades of expansion. This was a period when, for the first time, talented university graduates entered the public service, rose to senior levels, and exerted great influence over the affairs of the Commonwealth. With the secure tenure of being permanent heads of departments, they defined the age of the public service mandarin. This book explores the lives and influence of the Seven Dwarfs and their colleagues, bringing together the leading researchers on post-war Australian administration. Featuring four thematic chapters and ten biographical portraits, it offers a fascinating insight into the workings of the Commonwealth Public Service during a critical period in its history.

    eISBN: 978-1-925022-33-9
    Subjects: Political Science, History
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Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations
  1. Preface (pp. xv-xxii)
    J.R. Nethercote and Samuel Furphy
  2. Part I
    • Nicholas Brown

      The persistence of the idea of the ‘seven dwarfs’ in the fairly thin soil of Commonwealth Public Service (CPS) history testifies to its usefulness – although just as the actual composition of the group remains a matter for debate, so does the question of their significance continue to prompt varied interpretations. In a general sense, the term is well enough understood. The expression, ‘seven dwarfs’, refers to the careers and characteristics of a group of men who secured great influence and authority within and around the CPS from the 1940s until, in some cases, well into the 1980s. They represented...

    • Stuart Macintyre

      Post-War Reconstruction is a term with a distinct Australian resonance. All of the participants in the Second World War had aims that informed their planning of arrangements for the end of hostilities. Among the Allies these goals found expression in the Atlantic Charter of August 1941, whereby Churchill and Roosevelt affirmed the principles on which their countries based ‘their hopes for a better future for the world’. The principles included the assurance that ‘all the men in all the lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want’. The two freedoms were drawn from President Roosevelt’s State...

    • Alex Millmow

      When the Nobel prize-winning economist Joe Stiglitz visited Australia in 2010 he commended the Rudd Government’s policy response to the Global Financial Crisis as a proper and effective pre-emptive measure. The stimulus, which staved off any creeping sign of recession, bore a considerable Treasury imprint; and it could be said that the official family of economic advisers, that is, the Treasury and the Reserve Bank of Australia, were in their concerted action never so Keynesian in practice. It is appropriate then to visit the Keynesian revolution in post-war Australia recalling that three of the mandarins, Roland Wilson, John Crawford and...

    • John R. Martin

      The passage of more than half a century allows us to view the period following the end of the Second World War until the 1950s genuinely as history. Research materials, principally in archives, are supplemented by official histories, and biographies, with a few interviews enriching the story. I have been struck by the number of leading public servants of the period who were still in office during the 1950s and 1960s and who influenced the public service in which I spent 35 years. I was privileged to have known a number of them.

      In this chapter, after sketching the political...

  3. Part II
    • David Horner

      Sir Frederick Shedden occupies an interesting and perhaps unique place in any consideration of the great mandarins of the Commonwealth Public Service who flourished, exercised their power, and helped to build modern Australia in the quarter of a century after the end of the Second World War.¹ In many respects he fitted neatly into this characterisation – he was the secretary of the Department of Defence from 1937 until 1956; he wielded great power in the Defence group of departments; he was a key adviser to the prime minister; and he helped shape many of the instruments of government. But...

    • Selwyn Cornish

      When Roland Wilson was inducted into the military cadets at age 14 he weighed scarcely 25 kg; at full height he was only 158 cm.² He was clearly a person of slight build and short stature. But he frequently reminded those who drew attention to these facts that his endowment of brainpower was more than adequate compensation. He could run intellectual rings around ministers, business leaders, academics, public servants and journalists. Yet he was not only highly intelligent; he also possessed moral courage and had a biting wit. According to Douglas Copland, Wilson at an early age exhibited ‘force of...

    • Tim Rowse

      It is a commonplace fact that H.C. ‘Nugget’ Coombs was among the first enthusiastic Australian Keynesians. Groenewegen and McFarlane, in their biographical sketch, call Coombs ‘a leading figure in the implementation of the “Keynesian Revolution” in economic policy’.² I would not dispute this, but I do not find it very helpful either, partly because in none of the 13 references that Groenewegen and McFarlane make to the ‘Keynesian revolution’ do they tell you what that ‘revolution’ consisted of. To label Coombs a ‘Keynesian’ is only the beginning of an effort to understand him as an intellectual.

      The transformative impact of...

    • David Lee

      Sir John Grenfell Crawford was one of the most significant of the seven dwarfs – the group of diminutive senior Commonwealth public servants active in the period from the 1940s to the 1960s. Agriculture and trade, the two issues with which Crawford engaged as a Commonwealth public servant, were closely connected. In 1948–49, immediately before Crawford was appointed secretary of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture, agricultural commodities still amounted to 85 per cent of Australia’s exports. Moreover, wool alone made up between 40 and 50 per cent of the total in the 1940s and 1950s. Until the Second...

    • Peter Lawler

      Allen Brown was described - I suspect by Fin Crisp - as Nugget Coombs’ Vicar-General. This is an insightful and appropriate ecclesial analogy. Allen’s appointment as Vicar-General marked the beginning of a 16-year career as one of the key players at the centre of Commonwealth Government administration. This was a watershed time of change in the reach of federal government and the nature of its administrative arrangements. When Coombs was commissioned to create the Department of Post-War Reconstruction, he already knew Allen Brown as a staff member and colleague in the wartime Rationing Commission. He had evidence of Allen’s strength...

    • Ian Hancock

      On 16 July 1975, Sir Frederick Wheeler, secretary to the Treasury, was summoned before the bar of the Senate to be questioned about the Loans Affair. Asked to state his name and occupation, he replied: ‘Frederick Henry Wheeler, public servant.’ Four years later he attended the magistrate’s court in Queanbeyan to give evidence in a private prosecution brought against four former ministers of the Whitlam Government. Asked to state his name and occupation, he replied: ‘Frederick Wheeler. Superannuated public servant.’ On both occasions Wheeler was not merely identifying himself, he was asserting his identity. His career, his perspective, everything about...

    • Geoffrey Bolton

      Assessments of Dr H.V. Evatt’s performance in the formative years of the United Nations from 1945 to 1947 have drawn on the critical comments voiced by Paul Hasluck in several publications.¹ Hasluck wrote with the authority of one who served in the Department of External Affairs with Evatt for more than five years, and had a justified reputation as a scrupulous historian whose judgments tried to avoid political bias. This essay, drawing on unpublished material in the Hasluck family archives, will show that for much of their association at External Affairs, Hasluck’s outlook on foreign policy was closer to Evatt’s...

    • Adam Hughes Henry

      John Burton was part of a young generation of talented recruits into the Australian public service during and after the Second World War. This influx was mainly due to the manpower shortages caused by the strains of war. By late 1941 and certainly by 1942, the unfavourable strategic circumstances of the war encouraged the John Curtin Labor Government to seek more self-assertive and independent foreign policy relationships with Great Britain and the United States. This attitude would be continued after the war by the Chifley Labor Government. The new direction of Australian foreign policy and its brash spokesperson Dr H.V....

    • Peter Edwards

      Sir Arthur Tange was remembered, especially in Canberra, long after his retirement, but very largely for his last position, as secretary of the Department of Defence throughout the 1970s. There are many in the military who have still not forgiven the author of ‘the Tange report’ and the instigator of ‘the Tange reforms’, which resulted not only in a fundamental reorganisation of the Defence group of departments but also in major changes to Australian strategic policies. Particularly among left-leaning journalists, there was a longstanding belief that Tange was the crucial link between the CIA and the Governor-General that led to...

    • Jeremy Hearder

      James Plimsoll’s life and career had similarities with others featured in this volume, but also significant differences. The main difference was that for two-thirds of his time he was abroad. Dwarfs and mandarins succeeded in part because they had effective communication with the ministers for whom they worked; that is, mutual comprehension, trust and respect. For the mandarin based abroad this was more difficult, given distance, poor communications, and being less aware of the atmospherics at home. Provision of frank and fearless advice was hard from afar, when such advice clearly was not going to be well received and even...