I was recently challenged by a colleague to think about the sticky question of what social work, as a discipline, has achieved over the last 40–50 years. Being challenged about the efficacy of social work and the discipline's capacity for lasting impacts is hardly a new experience. Many social workers will have confronted the opinions of clients, managers, family members and the public about the contributions or otherwise that they perceive social workers to offer. I have had these experiences too, but there are particular times when such comments remain in one's memories. After the elapse of many years I do not claim to have total accuracy of recall, but perhaps the first time I was shaken by a challenge to my noble presumptions was when Dr John Paterson, Secretary of the Department of Health and Community Services, Victoria, spoke at a meeting of child protection workers around 1989–90. He declared that he thought a mature accountant could do as well in the role. As others have recalled, Dr Paterson ‘did not blush to ignore traditional codes on the role of public servants in the policy process and overtly sought to participate in normative statements about policy’ (Barraclough & Smith, 1994, p. 16). He was known for making offensive remarks. He described disability advocacy bodies as ‘piss and wind’ groups, denigrating them as people more interested in talk than getting their hands dirty delivering services (Milburn, 1993, p. 1). He precipitated great angst amongst public servants.