Paul did what too few in public service do these days: he firmly stood up for those of us government is meant to serve, and fought fiercely on our behalf to correct obviously harmful policy and practice. He did so at some considerable cost to his career and his standing within the Australian political sphere. He was in a hurry, and was in no mood to suffer the excuses of those who had failed us for so long.
While I can’t say that I knew Paul well, I was struck by his steadfast belief in holding those you serve firmly in your mind at all times. We are enveloped in too many bureaucratic systems designed by those who have lost sight of the people who must navigate these systems. They have lost their empathy and compassion for us, who they see as other, as separate, from themselves—when they think of us at all. Paul kept his compassion, and instead aimed his ire at those who were responsible for creating these systems, and who could, if they chose to, make them different.
It’s true that his approach rubbed some people the wrong way. I believe those people deserved it.
They deserved it because they chose to think mostly of themselves instead of the public that they were appointed to serve. They chose to continue building systems that required regular feeding with the blood, sweat, and tears of the very human beings they were supposed to help. They chose to ignore huge mountains of evidence of harm, and that their approach was wrong, and that it should be changed and changed quickly.
They chose to fail us.
Paul shared the anger of the wronged, and proudly joined his voice with theirs. He used his privileged position to draw clear attention to the pain and suffering of those who tend to get ignored by the Kafkaesque machinery of the Game of Mates that has polluted too much of Australian public life. He reminded us that it doesn’t have to be this way, that we deserve better. He reminded us that it is not only possible, it should be expected.
Paul and I did not always agree, but I enjoyed his company nonetheless on those few occasions we were able to share a meal or conversation. I am better for having met him, and I am saddened that I will never get to do so again.
Let us remember the better world he was striving to build and keep it alive in our hearts as we continue building without him. I hope that, someday quite soon, I will be able to look contentedly at what we have accomplished and think “Paul would have liked this.”