24 January 2023

PM's praise and pressure for department heads

| Chris Johnson
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Parliament House

The PM has high hopes in 2023 and he expects the APS to deliver. Photo: James Coleman.

The Prime Minister has revealed that just before Christmas he had a nice little gathering of public service department heads.

Nice might be somewhat of a subjective word concerning this meeting.

There is nothing unusual about a PM calling together departmental bosses before the shutdown.

Every year, as the parliamentary sitting schedule draws to a close, the prime minister of the day holds a few end-of-year all-ins for selected groups at The Lodge, or Parliament House, or Kirribilli if it happens to be a Sydney shin-dig (Tony Abbott never got to use The Lodge as it was being renovated during his entire tenure as PM).

Whether for ministers, backbenchers, press gallery journalists, or public service secretaries, the final week or two of parliament sitting is booked with social events hosted by the PM.

It depends on the attitude of the government at the time as to just which groups get an audience and who gets asked to come along.

Invitations are eagerly anticipated.

But the gathering the current Prime Minister has been boasting about wasn’t all champagne and canapés. There was work to be done.

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Government department heads were left with no uncertainty about what was expected of them when they were summoned (invited) to a Christmas meeting with the Prime Minister.

Mr Albanese had called department secretaries together for a planning session that has been described as “definitely work” and which got straight down to business.

“It was a productive meeting and not quite a grilling,” one source told Region.

“It was respectful and collegial and overall a good meeting. But it was made clear that the government has a big agenda and the APS will have to deliver.

“The views of the secretaries were sought, absolutely, and there was some praise. But the Prime Minister’s views were made very clear to everyone.”

Others contacted by Region did not wish to comment, even anonymously, but agreed that the PM seemed genuinely interested in the secretaries’ input while also making his wishes known.

The Prime Minister himself hinted at the style of the meeting during a breakfast radio interview last Friday, making it clear that it wasn’t just a social gathering.

“I brought together all of the secretaries of each of the departments at the end of last year for an end-of-year Christmas gathering,” he said.

“There was no fun to be had here. And we just went through, in a coordinated way, each of the departments, what they got right in the first six months of the new government, what their ideas were for the coming year and the rest of this term.

“And it was a really productive way.”

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Mr Albanese also said he had directed his ministers to do the same with the agencies they are responsible for in a concerted effort to get the most out of the public sector.

“The other thing I’ve done is that every minister went to their departments and had similar discussions to try and get the best out of the public service, to respect them and show them that respect. But also, to get their ideas,” Mr Albanese said.

“There are thousands of really smart people who’ve gone into public service not just to tick boxes and fill in paper but to contribute to their country. And they have ideas. And we need to tap into that resource.

“So, I think one of the things I’ve tried to do is to use the Commonwealth public service in a more respectful way and utilise them as an asset for the country.”

It’s pretty obvious that this Labor government is more respectful of the public service than was the previous Coalition government.

Albo seems genuine in wanting to bring the APS along with the government.

But let’s not be fooled into thinking the Prime Minister is in any way a shrinking violet.

Behind closed doors, he is firmly letting his will be known – even if it is over beer and bubbles – and he expects to be obeyed.

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Stephen Saunders11:47 am 24 Jan 23

Treasury Chief, he of Leppington fame, is one guy who really pays collegial attention to the nuance from the top.

Spooking us in a formal Statement (6/1) that population is trending “smaller and older” than expected, just before Treasurer finally admits to AFR (16/1) his all-time 300,000 migration intake.

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