The Coffs Harbour Bypass – Is “Sir Humphrey” really running things?

“Sir Humphrey Appleby, GCB, KBE, MVO, MA (Oxon), is a fictional character from the British television series Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister.


Sir Humphrey Appleby – By unknown – Yes Prime Minister DVD, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26665647

Sir Humphrey (pictured above) is a master of obfuscation and manipulation, often making long-winded statements to confuse and fatigue the listener.

Sir Humphrey represents, in many ways, the perfect technocrat. He is pompous, arrogant, elitist and regards his less-well-educated minister with some contempt. He frequently uses both his mastery of the English language and even his superb grasp of Latin and Greek grammar to perplex his political master and to obscure relevant issues under discussion. However, his habit of using language as a tool of confusion and obstruction is so deeply ingrained that he is sometimes unable to speak clearly and directly even when he honestly wishes to be clearly understood.

He genuinely believes that the Civil Service knows what the average person needs and is the most qualified body to run the country, the joke being that not only is Sir Humphrey, as a high-ranking Oxford-educated Civil Servant, quite out of touch with the average person but also the Civil Service judges what is “best for Britain” to be that which in actuality is best for the Civil Service (Wikipedia, 2019).”

Government Departments around the world in Anglo-Saxon speaking countries that use the Westminster system of government, such as Australia, have their own ‘Sir Humphrey’s’.

In NSW eight years ago one of the first things the newly elected Coalition government did was to re-structure the then Road and Traffic Authority (RTA) into the Road and Maritime Services (RMS). The rationale behind this was that the RTA had grown too powerful under the previous ALP State Government.  This would have been something pushed hard by State treasury too.  Treasury, everywhere in the Westminster Government world, sees itself as being pre-eminent in the civil service.  The ‘real government’ as it were.

The question that needs to be asked though is ‘was the government successful in it’s aims with the new RMS?

Gladys Berejiklian was Transport minister from 2011 to 2015 and Andrew Constance (both Liberal) has been the minister since 2015. Duncan Gay (National Party) was the Minister for roads, maritime and freight for five years and 301 days until 30 January 2017.  Since then Melinda Pavey 9national) has been the Minister.

Since August 2016 Ken Kanofski (pictured below) has been the Head of the RMS. From October 2014 – August 2016 he was the Chief Operating Officer of the RMS. He was the Executive Director – Housing and Property Group in the department of housing and property in the Department of Finance and Services from October 2011 to June 2013. From 2001 to 2011 he was a CEO of a successful environmental solutions business for the overwhelming amount of that time with a brief stint at the end as a consultant.  From July 1998 until August 2001 he was director, Business Services of the NSW Government’s Sydney harbour Foreshore authority.

Ken Kanofski – Head of the RMS

Mr Kanofski is in many ways a ‘modern Sir Humphrey’ in that though primarily he has been in Government he has used his expertise in the private sector in the past too. Before returning to the public sector in a higher role.

But what he is undoubtedly good at one suspects is positioning and defending his department with his Ministers.  That is usually a key, albeit unwritten, task of any senior bureaucrat.

This often means controlling information to Ministers.  Yes Minister had this as a core theme to many of it’s extremely perceptive and still timely plots.

Consider the following in relation to the Bypass;

Mr Kanofski on ABC breakfast radio on 17-1-2019  had trouble spitting out the word ‘tunnels’. He only did so after prompting by Fi Poole the compare of the ABC breakfast show on the Coffs Coast.

Nothing he said in that interview gave a number of Civil Engineers with road construction experience Outlook spoke to for this story https://coffscoastoutlook.com.au/the-by-pass-consultation-committee-fair-dinkum-or-a-ruse/ any confidence in believing what Messer’s Barrilaro, Fraser and Singh said about ‘consultation committees’ on 16 January as a result.

As of three weeks ago the RMS drop in shop in Park Ave was saying that they’re ‘not working on tunnels.’

Several landholders involved in acquisition negotiations with RMS say it’s business as usual. The RMS is working on cuttings not tunnels

Are the RMS’s resicdent ‘Sir Humphreys’ obfuscating and manipulating a somewhat inexperienced Minister? Something that could also occur with a change of Government too of course.

Apparently it’s also impossible to lodge a successful FOI/GIPPA request with the RMS for Bypass information, this is a public infrastructure project how can any information except commercial in confidence stuff not be freely available to the public?

The RMS is part of the public service – apparently.  Although given the above one might be excused for thinking it is resistant to transparency on issues pertaining to the Coffs Harbour bypass.

A comment under our previous article by Barry Collins ‘hit the nail on the head’ for me;

“The common factor during these times is the RMS/RTA bureaucrats and staff. The relevant ministers in government should be responsible for the outcomes of this project. Because of its technical complexity, I believe their only instruction has been to keep the costs down. Thereby, the designing process has been deferred for “the experts ” (RMS) to decide, which of course is dictated by the cost. In this way the politicians and their parties can do a “Pontius Pilate” and walk away from the consequences.’

Yep, absolutely right. And the ‘Sir Humphrey’s’ ‘rule by osmosis’ as a result?


Sir Humphrey: Bernard, Ministers should never know more than they need to know. Then they can’t tell anyone. Like secret agents; they could be captured and tortured. Bernard: [shocked] You mean by terrorists? Sir Humphrey: [seriously] By the BBC, Bernard.

And here’s a couple more You Tube Yes Minister clips worth watching;

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