7 November 2023

With respect, APS Reform is rightly a priority

| Chris Johnson
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Senator Katy Gallagher

Finance and Public Service Minister Katy Gallagher is serious about the APS Reform agenda. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Let’s talk about the APS Reform agenda.

Two things to say first up.

1. It’s needed.

2. Katy Gallagher is the one to make sure it actually happens and is not just pie-in-the-sky talk.

First to the need.

With what we’ve seen from the Australian Public Service in recent years (and we’re talking about the highest levels of leadership), there can be no doubt there has been serious failure in certain aspects of public administration.

The fraud of Robodebt is as low as it gets – although PwC did its best to match that with its own unconscionable behaviour.

Audit reports have unearthed all manner of flaws in leadership, direction, procurement, integrity and direction across numerous agencies.

And Mike Pezzullo’s texts to a Liberal Party powerbroker are nothing if not jaw-dropping. But they’re worse than that. They are as disgraceful as they are disturbing.

None of the above shows the APS in a great light.

Add to that the varied degrees of politicisation of the public sector over many years, the over-reliance on external contractors and the disregard former governments have had for the service, and we have an excellent case for reform crying out to be had.

That’s where the current Public Service Minister comes in.

READ ALSO Watch this space, APSC tells staff over wages standoff

Katy Gallagher is insisting on reform, but she is doing so from a position of respect for the public service.

That’s something the former Coalition government could never countenance.

It was much easier for Scott Morrison and his ministers to overrule, criticise, scapegoat and blame the public service.

A year and a half into a Labor government and the difference in approaches and attitudes could not be more stark.

How many times since May last year have we heard a government minister – the Prime Minister even – express their thanks for the work of departmental staff and leaders?

Plenty of times is the correct answer. Senator Gallagher more than any other.

Obviously, her Public Service portfolio presents a greater opportunity to thank the bureaucracy, but it’s just as obvious that the praise is genuine.

Take last week’s address to update on APS Reform.

“We recognise after years of attacks on the APS, where small government resulted in a diminished service, where jobs were outsourced, where deep history and knowledge were ignored or eroded, that we needed to do things differently,” she said.

“Now, there have been a lot of opinion pieces and calls for faster change and a focus on permanently enshrining more reform elements in a legislative reform package.

“I’ve read those pieces and I always, always listen to those voices with respect. There is always more that can be done. But not everything can be done at once … This journey requires the APS and the government to work together to rebuild the culture of frank and fearless advice, integrity and stewardship.

“Everyone who wants to play a role in that has a role to play.

“And I acknowledge the public service today. I thank them for their work serving the Australian people.

“And I thank them for their openness and willingness to make the great 123-year-old Australian Public Service even better.”

READ ALSO APS graduates need more training in respect at work, minister suggests

Senator Gallagher has the respect of the APS and its leadership. That much is clear.

That’s because she’s switched on and tuned in, incredibly well-briefed, capable and personable.

Another reason the minister has the respect of the service is that she has respect for the service.

That’s how reform gets done.

That’s how the APS will lift itself out of the doldrums it has found itself in far too often in the past years – with mutual respect.

Let’s not forget Senator Gallagher is also Finance Minister and the Minister for Women.

She has a massive job and it would be easy to take it out on the bureaucracy.

The minister is serious when she says the government wants “comprehensive and enduring changes” to strengthen the public service.

She wants an APS that embodies integrity in everything it does, puts people and business at the centre of policy and services, is a model employer, and can do its job well.

From all accounts, Senator Gallagher is a demanding boss who suffers no fools and takes no prisoners.

Just what a reform agenda needs. With respect.

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Martin Keast12:28 pm 11 Nov 23

It is not the public service itself that is the problem, it is the fact that successive governments have allowed the public service to mushroom along with the amount of regulations they exist to enforce and monitor. It really is out of control, quite apart from the tendency of some in the public service, notably the ACT one, to be quite ideological (think ACT Chief Justice arguing sovereignty has not been ceded, mimicking Lidia Thorpe), for example.

Economic analysis and case studies provided by Mercatus have shown how red tape reform boosts economic growth. It is the ultimate low-hanging fruit because it requires only an act of will on the part of the governments involved. Benefits occur even when the government tells the bureaucrats to simplify red tape but without changing its purpose – that is, achieve the same effect but with less paperwork, fewer delays, and elimination of multiple processes (“minimally-effective regulation”, to use the economic jargon).

One powerful case study of out-of-control red tape is the establishment of the Roy Hill mine in the Pilbara; it took 4,967 licences, approvals, and conditions for the pre-­construction phase alone. This is unbelievable and such things are common throughout Australia as anyone who has tried to start up that involves some sort of compliance regulation, even building renovations are an expensive regulatory exercise before you even start renovating. All this is an expensive impost on the country – with high inflation, we need to get our excess costs down across the board – starting with government bureaucracy.

You lost me at: “The fraud of Robodebt is as low as it gets”

Why wasn’t there a comission to look at state government processes during covid lockdowns (designed to stop covid).
Why wasn’t there a royal comission into domestic violence in Aboriginal Communities.

A year and a half into a Labor government and the difference in approaches and attitudes could not be more stark.

Labor has clearly no ethics and only does things to secure more votes.

Didnt bother to read most of it.

Like we’re seeing with ASIC, every department and regulatory body is full of corruption and incompetence. It’s also the people, not just the conditions. Mass firings is the only way to solve that problem. But Gallagher is not the person to do it. She is one of the most awful people in government.

Reform is much needed, and seemingly APS people are at the center, how could they not be when the current APS is bare bones, gutted through poor pay and conditions, and jumping ship to contractors who pay more to do the exact same work. And yet no movement on the wage offer? That doesn’t show much respect to me, when you say the union should have accepted the offer based on a 51.9% yes? Shows very little respect to think that number is good enough, to me reform talk is just talk when you can’t even offer a competitive wage. Attract and retain good people, yeah ok…

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