The Prime Minister has unveiled his future vision for the public service with six key guideposts ahead of the release of the long-awaited Thodey review of the APS which is expected to be handed down in coming weeks.
In an address to the Institute of Public Administration in Canberra on Monday morning, Scott Morrison said he wanted a “step change” in service delivery with a more public-facing APS, a sharper focus on KPIs and the harnessing of external expertise by bureaucrats.
The address comes ahead of the release of David Thodey’s final report following his 12-month independent review of the public service, which is set to be presented to Cabinet in a matter of weeks.
Describing the public service as “the engine room” of the government, Mr Morrison said the APS needed to “evolve” by following six key guideposts for the future.
An overhaul of service delivery must be the service’s top priority, Mr Morrison said, so that interactions with government are “simpler and less bureaucratic” and congestion is “busted” in departments and agencies.
“It’s about ‘doing the little things well’ – everything from reducing call waiting times and turnaround on correspondence right through to improving the experience people have walking into a Centrelink office,” he said.
Public servants must be public-facing and have a “laser-like focus” on citizens to tackle a trust deficit, he said.
This required public servants to “look beyond the bubble” and shift focus away from corporate or vested interests and put Australia’s everyday citizens in a clear line of sight in their decision making.
“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,” he said.
Mr Morrison also raised concerns over morale within the APS, saying that senior management must ensure bureaucrats feel they can make a “meaningful impact on the decision making process,” pointing to statistics finding that just over a quarter of the APS saying they don’t feel they can.
An emphasis on performance and outcomes should also be a top priority moving forward, Mr Morrison argued.
Bureaucrats must set priorities and “look at the scoreboard” to measure their performance against citizen outcomes, and not just KPIs or promotions.
“If your success is measured solely in career advancement through the seemingly infinite grades of the public service, I don’t think that’s enough. It’s not what I want my public service to be about as a citizen, let alone the Prime Minister,” he said.
Bureaucrats also need to be “more open to outsiders,” harnessing the knowledge of “external partners” and joining up different departments, Mr Morrison said.
“Pulling the right people together, removing obstacles to the delivery of programs, engaging with those most affected on the ground, and demonstrating that the Government can be there for them when they need it most.
“To succeed, government needs to tap insights, skills and energy from more points on the compass than those who have only ever worked in the public service.”
A controversial issue in the ongoing APS review has been the substantial increase in outsourcing in the public service.
Other key priorities
Outlining other priorities, the Prime Minister said the APS needs to embrace change and become “an exemplar of innovation and adaptability,” embracing technology to optimise outcomes for citizens.
“The APS needs to evolve and adapt amidst constant change. Old ways of doing things need to be challenged and, if necessary, disrupted,” he said.
Mr Morrison also urged the APS to “honour the code,” by focusing on integrity and governance.
“I want to reaffirm my Government’s commitment to an APS that is apolitical, merit based and committed to the highest standards of integrity.”
Public servants must also respect the government’s policy direction, Mr Morrison argued, while Ministers must “be clear” about their policy direction.
“It is also about respecting the fact that responsibility for setting policy lies with the elected representatives of the people and expecting Ministers to provide that leadership and direction.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s six guideposts for the APS
- Culture of ‘respect and expect’ between elected officials and bureaucrats
- Seamless and efficient services
- ‘Look at the scoreboard’ – give primacy to priorities, targets and metrics
- Look beyond the bubble to serve Australian citizens
- Be able to evolve and adapt
- Government, integrity and separation from politics
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