Rudd as Calaaf

Nessun dorma! (None shall sleep). But in Canberra it is not Turandot or Pavaroti that keeps the city awake, but Kevin Rudd when he was Prime Minister. In a famous speech Paul Keating one described himself as the Placido Domingo of Australian politics. Perhaps Kevin Rudd is the Pavarotti.

But, with Calaf in Turandot, Canberrans sang “Dilegua, o notte! Tramontate, stelle! Tramontate, stelle! All’alba vinceró! Vinceró! Vinceró!” (“Vanish, O night! Set, stars! Set, stars! At daybreak I shall win! I shall win! I shall win!”)

Jessica Wright explained, CT 10 May 08.

The lights in office windows burn bright well into the night, a running joke exists in the public service over a “pyjama allowance” and the café at the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet is doing a roaring trade in peppy pills and powders, Berocca and No-Doz.

Welcome to the city that never sleeps. Canberra, the seat of power, the national capital, one tired town. And the mayor and councillors of this sleepless city? Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and the Labor Government.

Mr Rudd hit the ground running after washing away the Howard government in November, declaring almost immediately his Ministry would work through the Christmas and New Year holiday period with only Christmas Day and Boxing Day off. It seems he wasn’t joking and also seems to have extended this work ethic indefinitely.

Senior officials of the public service have spoken of their exhaustion, especially in the first few months of Mr Rudd’s tenure, requests by the Prime Minister for briefings and updates keeping the midnight oil in demand. But the frenetic pace shows no signs of slowing, according to a high-ranking Treasury official. “Being budget time, obviously, the chairs in this place hardly have time to cool down before the next day starts,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.”But it has been like this for most of the year and certainly it was exciting to begin with but a few cracks are starting to show.”

Union officials have cheekily suggested claiming a pyjama allowance for its members and it is a running joke among Liberal staffers and the media that the Labor Government, and especially their leader, who won office on the defence of workers’ conditions would seem to be imposing the most punishing hours on their own staff.

“I have just finished a 10-hour day and I will be back at 7am to get on top of what I couldn’t finish today,” one public servant said. “And the thing is, once you reach a certain level in the APS, there is no flex or overtime. It is great to get the step up the ladder but this year has been as hard as I can remember.”

There is a suggestion that long hours do not necessarily translate into a superior end product. Former Canberra Times public service reporter Paul Malone said, “There is a degree of paternalism about the way [Mr Rudd] is running things and maybe it comes from his office as well, the demands they’re making as if people cannot judge for themselves when they come into work in the morning, when they should leave or what they do during the day.”