Okay, I can report first hand that the Victorians are right! The Wheeler Centre is indeed a fantastic cultural institution. Part of the Victorian government’s ‘City of Literature’ initiative, and collocated in a renovated wing of the State Library of Victoria, the Centre hosts a dazzling array of events that celebrate writing, books and ideas.
Sally Warhaft hosts The Wheeler Centre’s popular live journalism series, The Fifth Estate. On 14 October 2014, David Epstein (former Chief of Staff to PM Kevin Rudd) and I, together with an audience of more than 100 Melburnians, joined Sally to discuss prime ministers’ chiefs of staff – what they do, how they work and why, over time, they have become both more important and increasingly visible.
In a discussion that ranged far and wide over Australian governments from Whitlam to Abbott, we explored the skill set of the chief of staff, the challenges they face and why they describe the job as ‘pest controller’ and ‘shock absorber’.
David shared some fascinating insights about the competing responsibilities of chiefs of staff to support and advise the prime minister, while being loyal and maintaining important networks within the party or “body corporate”. Through the audience Q&A, we uncovered some of the less well-known duties of chiefs of staff, including managing the prime minister’s family arrangements, a task that far exceeds what most people would consider within the ambit of the chief of staffs’ office.
The podcast of the event is now available to be downloaded here. A video of the discussion will also be posted in the coming days.
Thanks to Sally, David and the audience for helping reveal more about this little known and understood, yet crucial role at the centre of Australian government. Thanks too to Gemma Rayner and staff of The Wheeler Centre for their superb organisation of the event.
Do take the opportunity to check out the rich content available on the Centre’s website and make sure you put it on your list of things to do and places to visit next time you’re in Melbourne.