SENIOR public servants have insisted the Minister for Trade, Simon Crean, did ask them to improve their connections with other officials so he did not get ”surprised” by government policies.Mr Crean said yesterday he was ”disappointed” a report of the remarks to a ”retreat session” for senior Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials on May 10, conducted under ”strict Chatham House rules”, had been leaked to the Herald.He confirmed that he had ”asked the department to engage more closely with other departments” but denied he had told the public servants he found out about the details of the Henry tax review and the emissions trading scheme delay in the newspapers.In a short and carefully worded statement, he did not respond to the report’s central assertion that one reason he wanted his officials to be better connected with other senior public servants was so he could avoid being ”surprised” by policy developments in his own government.Sources confirmed he did make the remarks in his address to the retreat and that he urged his bureaucrats to liaise better with his office and to not be afraid of offering ”frank and fearless” advice.The Coalition seized on the report as more evidence the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, kept his ministers in the dark and had given Mr Crean ”the mushroom treatment”.The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, said ”the government as a whole has chronically bad process”.There has been disquiet inside Labor that ministers have been shut out of critical decisions by the so-called ”kitchen cabinet” that have contributed to the party’s plummeting popularity but some ministers said cabinet had begun functioning more as a decision-making body in recent weeks.The Minister for Health, Nicola Roxon, has admitted the Prime Minister’s department had not informed her beforehand that it was disclosing a significant element of the health reform plan was to be ditched.But she denied opposition claims she was not involved on the decision to dump plans for a national funding authority.
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