The story of Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, was a wise man in the ways of administering such a large number of people as the Israelites. Moses was finding himself snowed under with every little complaint within each and every jurisdiction of Israelite life.
Jethro had a word in Moses' ear which has since been followed by every bureaucracy down through the ages. He explained that Moses needed to appoint people of wise disposition as Judges for each Tribe to handle such mundane matters. So it came to pass that the process repeated itself over and over. This has come down to us today.
But I wonder if it has gone too far in that decisions may be made by administrators, even junior ones, rather than the leaders who have been appointed or elected to govern our various institutions and organisations.
It was not that long ago it was reported that top science researchers in the fields of stopping the cane toads, the Hendra virus and termites were shown the door in order to cut costs.
If that were not bad enough, there seemed to be no 'fair dismissal' policy, as one scientist claimed that there had been no consultation process before his position was terminated and that the 11 scientists in his group have been given the option of applying for two available positions elsewhere in the department.
The Assistant General Secretary of the Public Service Association of NSW, said there was no justification for cutting front line researchers from the field. The comparison can be made, fairly or unfairly, that although there are cuts in these front-line research jobs, there never seem to be any cuts in the employment of bureaucrats or 'pen-pushers'.
Not the first time
This is not the first time by any means that the "practical components" of an enterprise are dumped yet seemingly useless bureaucrats are kept on. For ten years I was a locomotive engineman of the New South Wales Government Railways before entering theological seminary in 1977. Since then, I have edited 16 books of train drivers' anecdotes – ie, from out of their own mouths.
The trains drivers' stories and my own first hand experiences illustrated that when the Railways cut costs it invariably resulted in less shunting staff, or fewer fettlers, or fewer track maintenance staff, but it never seemed to dim the ranks of office staff.
On the opposite side of the argument, a retired scientist related to me how she had once tried to persuade her research institution to use some of their limited money to employ a 'publicity officer' who could go out to private companies and talk about all the good practical research projects they could collaborate with, and to be in the office to answer the phone when potential students or financial donors rang. However, the majority vote determined that employment of more (junior) research staff was a higher priority.
Now, many years later, that research group has folded. In contrast, another group, which did have a small staff of administrators who also handled publicity, is still going strong with major grants from public and private purses, after more than 20 years.
Someone has to know how to unjam the photocopier
I am a lot older now and realise that Jethro was indeed wise. There needs to be administrators who know where all the keys are, and where the skeletons are, and where the printing paper is kept and moreover how to unjam that printer or photocopier. There needs to be someone to answer an urgent enquiry on the phone when the train drivers are driving trains or the researchers are out in the field observing cane toads, or in the biosecure lab isolating the Hendra virus.
There needs to be a line of Personal Assistants protecting the high-office appointments and allowing them to do the 'leading' or 'decision making'. There needs to be a mountain of people protecting democracy, and sometimes protecting the people from democracy.
But our society also needs observant rank-and-file people who speak out when there seems to be an imbalance when those doing the necessary practical work seem to be sacrificed, whereas those who do the paperwork just seem to multiply; along with the paperwork they manage. Although he knows that these different types of jobs are funded from different pockets, he feels that sometimes the bureaucrats do not see that their employment policies have got out of balance.
A better balance needed
When we're sick we visit the doctor and get our medicine from the pharmacy. When we run out of sugar or carrots, we just nip down to the supermarket (in our new 'hybrid' car !!) to buy what we need. The doctor, the pharmacist, the car salesman and the businessman who owns the supermarket have not done the primary research on their product; they rely on those front-line scientists and engineers (who have worked for many years).
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children. Dr Tronson writes a daily article for Christian Today Australia (since 2008) and in November 2016 established Christian Today New Zealand. Dr Mark Tronson’s Press Service International in 2019 was awarded the Australasian Religious Press Association’s premier award, The Gutenberg.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at