Time to look outside the Canberra bubble, PM tells public servants

Ian Bushnell 19 August 2019 128
Scott Morrison

Mr Morrison said his government will continue to set clear priorities and strong targets for the APS. Photo: Parliament of Australia website.

Public servants have been told to look outside the Canberra bubble so they can focus on the quiet Australians whose voices can be drowned out by lobbyists and interest groups, and win back their trust.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison in an address to the Institute of Public Administration in the Great Hall at Parliament House on Monday also said the Australian Public Service needed to be more open to outside input, less hierarchical and focused on getting things done.

“I want the APS to have a laser-like focus on serving these quiet Australians. Those you don’t meet with and never hear from. Australians who just get on with it, but who often feel their voice gets drowned out by shoutier ones in our public square,” he said.

“There is strong evidence that the ‘trust deficit’ that has afflicted many Western democracies over recent years stems in part from a perception that politics is very responsive to those at the top and those at the bottom, but not so much to those in the middle.”

Reiterating his expectation that it is the Government and its Ministers that are responsible for policy, and the public servants for implementing it, Mr Morrison said the Public Service must be an enabler of policy not an obstacle.

“I’ve talked about the need for a culture of regulatory congestion busting in our bureaucracy,” he said. “That doesn’t mean cutting corners or not meeting regulatory obligations. But it does mean being relentless in finding ways to help Australians make things happen and reach their goals. Not sitting passively while families and businesses struggle to navigate rules and regulations.

“We need interactions with government to be simpler and less bureaucratic.”

Mr Morrison said he expected the Thodey review of the APS, which is due to be handed in in coming weeks, to address how the service needed to change to meet new and emerging challenges and be more innovative, agile and responsive to the public where they live.

Part of this will be drawing on knowledge and expertise from those outside the service, he said.

“To succeed, government needs to tap into insights, skills and energy from more points on the compass than those who have only ever worked in the public service,” Mr Morrison said.

“We need to find new ways for smart, dedicated Australians to make a contribution to public service, to see a stint in the public service as part of their career journey. And likewise for career public servants to see time outside of the APS in the non-government sector and in business as an important part of their career journey. The system should reinforce these choices.”

Mr Morrison said bureaucratic silos and hierarchies that constrained the Government’s capacity to fix problems needed to be broken down.

We need an APS that’s more joined-up internally and flexible in responding to challenges and opportunities,” he said.

He said diversity was important not just to reflect Australia’s more pluralistic society but also to include a range of viewpoints so problems can be solved and conformity avoided.

“It’s vital that the APS avoid the sort of stale conventional wisdoms and orthodoxies that can infuse all large organisations,” Mr Morrison said.

He was concerned that just over a quarter of the APS did not really feel they could make an impact.

“This is a failure of public service management to enable real engagement. This is one of the things I expect to see public service leaders change,” Mr Morrison said.

The Prime Minister said the Australian people need to be at the centre of APS service delivery, and he wanted public servants to be results-driven.

“My Government will continue to set clear priorities and strong targets for the APS,” he said. I have established a dedicated Priorities and Delivery Unit in PM&C and all Cabinet Ministers are developing their own set of objectives and targets.”

Mr Morrison said the Government’s goal was to have all government services available digitally by 2025.

“This is part of a broader transformation challenge that includes tailoring policies and service delivery to individuals and local communities and using data and analytics for better policy and service delivery,” he said.


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128 Responses to Time to look outside the Canberra bubble, PM tells public servants
Jeannou Zoides Jeannou Zoides 2:04 pm 19 Aug 19

Is he talking about himself and his cabinet sounds more like it thinks he ca bully PS in Canberra because they are smarter then him and don't vote LNP

Grail Grail 2:04 pm 19 Aug 19

News flash: it is not the APS that is out of touch with the people. RoboDebt has gone ahead despite every level of Centrelink pushing back at a technically, legally and ethically hazardous project. What ends up happening is the layers that push back the most getting replaced with contractors.

So if anyone needs to get in touch with the fabled silent majority, it’s the Liberal Party.

Hans Dimpel Hans Dimpel 2:10 pm 19 Aug 19

so this guy doesn't listen to lobbyists like the ACL and the Coal lobby.? He brought a lump of coal into Parliament in support of the Coal Lobby..

Dianna Nixon Dianna Nixon 2:10 pm 19 Aug 19

I'm not a public servant so I CAN say the following....how bloody offensive to the many extraordinary people who work within our Govt depts. There are people from all walks of life who've chosen to pursue public service. Former teachers, nurses, lawyers, farmers, there are diplomats, soldiers, artists, scientists, people who've researched their field internationally as Churchill Fellows & other types of scholarships. Our PM has lived in the bubble of his religion, the advertising business & now Parliament. He's welcome to get out & have a conversation with me & many others who'll give his bubble a burst.

    Ronnie Cass Ronnie Cass 2:36 pm 19 Aug 19

    Dianna Nixon As a nursing sister who joined the Australian Public Service (and worked with really decent, professional and hard working colleagues for many years) and is now retired, I am in a position to agree with everything you have said! Thank you so much.

    Jo Williams Hayes Jo Williams Hayes 4:10 pm 19 Aug 19

    Deirdre Russack as a broken RN who's dedicated 30 years of my life to my public servant job..I agree with you.

    Dianna Nixon Dianna Nixon 7:55 pm 19 Aug 19

    There is no generic public servant. They are not all administrators either.

Susan Green Susan Green 2:10 pm 19 Aug 19

Soooo, the public service should take no notice of orders from “the top”?

John Williams John Williams 2:20 pm 19 Aug 19

What stupid comments from a person who has never “ worked “ a day in his life, let alone knowing a single thing about how the public service works. The old adage “ Make sure brain is in gear before engaging mouth” seems appropriate in this case

Deb Stevens Deb Stevens 2:22 pm 19 Aug 19

I’m not a public servant so I can say this is utterly insulting.

The only Canberra bubble is the one the politicians live in.

The public service tries valiantly to bring the issues of quiet Australians to the attention of the politicians and PM but it invariably falls on deaf ears.

In the vacuum of no policy this is the best this charlatan can do.

Michael Blythe Michael Blythe 2:23 pm 19 Aug 19

He is correct about some PS, but certainly not all. Many work harder than he ever has, and the humble “9-5” private sector often hasn’t the slightest clue what actually goes on....

    Diane Asenoguan Diane Asenoguan 4:51 am 20 Aug 19

    Michael Blythe I'd really like to know what goes on, please do tell.

Louise Flood Louise Flood 2:26 pm 19 Aug 19

Here’s an idea. When public servants give you advice based on their expertise try listening and not going off doing your own thing in complete ignorance of the best interests of people. Stop the self interested captains calls

    Michelle Hood Michelle Hood 3:41 pm 19 Aug 19

    Louise Flood yes the messages to Make it Happen, irrespective of the rules and regulations. All so politicians look good when an election is looming.

Brad Fraser Brad Fraser 2:29 pm 19 Aug 19

Last time I checked...most canberrans dont live inside APH?

Peter Evans Peter Evans 2:33 pm 19 Aug 19

Given that a high percentage of commonwealth public servants work outside Canberra including some head offices such as NDIS that got a mention, not sure how there can be a bubble except on the brain. And I never got taken to the Ottoman room. More like the Kingo.

Shayne Borger Shayne Borger 2:36 pm 19 Aug 19

What happened to Frank n Fearless...our pollies don't listen. They only act in self interest

Chris Bennett Chris Bennett 2:39 pm 19 Aug 19

While lobbying is an issue, it's usually the politicians that are facing the lobbyists, not the public servants. Seems like ScoMo needs to get out of his own bubble.

Michael White Michael White 2:43 pm 19 Aug 19

Who eats at ottoman?!

Jo Moss Jo Moss 2:51 pm 19 Aug 19

Ministers (the top) insist that they only want new policy proposals from the PS to consider for funding if they have ‘announceables’ for themselves... that sounds pretty much like a bastardization of democracy at best or corruption at worst! Oh yes, I am indeed a public servant - a nurse!!

    Jo Williams Hayes Jo Williams Hayes 3:49 pm 19 Aug 19

    Jo Moss me, I'm a broken RN and I can't get a job because I might cost a department money if I injure myself...I find this pathetic and it's government policy, not a nurse policy...

    Jo Moss Jo Moss 6:47 pm 19 Aug 19

    So sorry to hear, employment and insurance policies are complex ❤️

Stephen Saunders Stephen Saunders 2:51 pm 19 Aug 19

For six years, the Coalition has had two policies. Feed the rich, and flatten the environment. As dictated by lobbyists and interest groups. Who can forget the reef group that got the 1/2 bil they didn’t even know they’d asked for?

With characteristic chutzpah, now Morrison urges his respect-and-expect APS to serve ‘quiet’ Australians’. Not including that noisy 3/4 mil on Newstart.

Peter Marshall Peter Marshall 2:51 pm 19 Aug 19

"In an address to the Institute of Public Administration"

Rriigghhtt...

    Nicole Lowrey Nicole Lowrey 4:17 pm 19 Aug 19

    Peter Marshall IPAA not IPA

    Peter Marshall Peter Marshall 4:47 pm 19 Aug 19

    Ah oops, silly me.

    Shame he has nothing to say about the IPA.

Cass Andra Cass Andra 3:16 pm 19 Aug 19

Back in the day Ministers listened to the advice of their highly qualified public servants and there was high levels of mutual respect. These days there’s no such thing . Politicians don’t serve the public they serve themselves and frank and fearless advice is sadly a thing of the past .

    Tuula Irene Tuula Irene 4:19 pm 19 Aug 19

    Cassandra Louise good comment

    Mark McEwen Mark McEwen 5:26 pm 19 Aug 19

    Cassandra, well said !!

    Diane Asenoguan Diane Asenoguan 4:54 am 20 Aug 19

    Cassandra Louise you are not there to give advice but to implement governments agenda wether you like it or not

    Wendy Peters Wendy Peters 11:19 am 20 Aug 19

    Diane Asenoguan back in the day you were and they listened

    Janet Sloan Janet Sloan 9:55 am 22 Aug 19

    Diane Asenoguan there was a time when ministers depended on and respected the advice of their specialist expert public servant policy analysts and used it to inform sound government policy. That was back when public servants worked to benefit Australian residents, particularly the marginalised/disenfranchised/those with no voice. How is at that nowadays ministers know everything and only require an obedient, not an intelligent public service?

    Diane Asenoguan Diane Asenoguan 1:24 pm 22 Aug 19

    Janet Sloan which time are you talking about? Prove that one minister listened, to what subject and implemented your expert advice. I was a public servant too for 40 years and never saw anything like you are talking about

James Courtney James Courtney 3:20 pm 19 Aug 19

Maybe the labor and liberal governments should stop using the big 4 accountancy firms for advisory services and engage the highly skilled department heads of our public service instead. The big 4 have a lot to answer for the world over for some very ordinary essential services advice!!

    Roderick Fraser Roderick Fraser 3:30 pm 19 Aug 19

    Don't forget that these are the same accountancy firms that gave the green light to the mortgage-backed securities, only in it for the money.

    James Courtney James Courtney 3:59 pm 19 Aug 19

    And the same ones that are supposedly auditing companies and then also providing non auditing consulting... It's a shambles!

    John Taylor John Taylor 6:13 pm 19 Aug 19

    The big 4 are largely a total waste of resources and the mid tier mobs are going the same way in my experience over the past few years. Most of what they produce is copy pasted from existing material, repurposed cookie cutter solutions and otherwise sourced via google. Very little value for money or value add.

Helen Kvalheim Stephenson Helen Kvalheim Stephenson 3:22 pm 19 Aug 19

Sorry it’s not the public servants that need to listen to the Quiet Australians it’s the Political and their ilk! This guy has absolutely no idea how the PublicService Works!!

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