Why Albanese is beefing up the bureaucracy

A very vital journey was Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil’s go to to Sri Lanka this week. One of Labor’s fears has materialised as individuals smugglers begin to check the border. The authorities acted rapidly, with O’Neil’s diplomacy and a $50 million humanitarian help package deal for the nation. Australia may even fund, as introduced by the Coalition authorities, 1000’s of GPS trackers to be put in on Sri Lankan fishing boats.

The trickle of boats, none of which has reached the Australian mainland, is just not critical up to now, however the authorities is aware of the dangers if it isn’t rapidly reduce off.

In common, we’re seeing the brand new authorities extremely lively on many fronts, pushed by circumstances, notably with the power disaster, in addition to by alternative. It was notable this week that after months of the previous authorities enjoying down COVID-19 regardless of the numerous variety of deaths, Health Minister Mark Butler stepped up the messaging about vaccination and therapy, together with launching a public marketing campaign.

As nicely as the extraordinary front-of-shop exercise, a great deal of change is being set in prepare within the authorities’s again workplace, the general public service.

Labor signalled within the marketing campaign it wanted to beef up the bureaucracy, after it had been run down and demoralised by the Coalition authorities.

Scott Morrison performed down the paperwork’s advisory function, outsourced a lot of its work to consultants, did not implement a few of the extra vital suggestions of the Thodey evaluate of the service, and arbitrarily sacked a variety of departmental secretaries.

This week, Albanese wielded a small axe of his personal, eradicating the secretary of the Foreign Affairs Department, Kathryn Campbell (Penny Wong was no fan, and Campbell had a historical past with Robodebt), and the top of infrastructure, Simon Atkinson.

Frances Adamson is aware of the paperwork inside out.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Immediately after the election, Albanese appointed Glyn Davis to go his personal division, indicating he’s decided to depart the general public service in higher form than he has discovered it. Davis is a coverage wonk with intensive administrative expertise and a reform bent; he was a member of the Thodey evaluate.

The modifications this week strengthened the purpose. A former senior bureaucrat, Gordon de Brouwer, additionally a member of the Thodey evaluate, is returning as “secretary for public sector reform”.

In this context, on Thursday night time certainly one of Australia’s most distinguished latest public servants had some recommendation. Frances Adamson is a former ambassador to China, served as overseas affairs adviser in then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s workplace, and later headed the Foreign Affairs Department. Adamson – who’s now South Australian governor – is aware of the paperwork inside out.

In an oration named in her honour, she outlined what she described as 4 “encouragements” and one “entreaty” to public servants. They quantity to an agenda for enchancment.

First, she urged the total implementation of the Thodey evaluate “in letter and in spirit”. The impact of the suggestions that weren’t taken up can be to present senior public servants extra independence and safety.

Second, Adamson exhorted public servants to “think more broadly about our times and what they require of you”.

“This is a time for steadiness, for listening and consultation, close collaboration, and a renewed appreciation of and respect for expertise in policy development – whether on the economy, climate change, China or homelessness,” she mentioned.

“A time to grow that expertise in a purposeful way through recruiting and development and to share it widely. And, certainly, time for frank, fearless, well-informed, creative and constructive advice.”


Her third “encouragement” associated to the tradition of the general public service: the significance of fostering “a genuine sense of belonging that goes beyond the ways we typically think about diversity, equity and inclusion”.

“Belonging,” she mentioned, “is about meaningful work, relationships, agency and accountability.”

Fourth, Adamson careworn the significance of public servants having good relationships with counterparts in different ranges of presidency. Although she didn’t go down this path, co-operation between federal and state governments shall be very important if the Albanese authorities is to safe its purpose of bettering productiveness.

Adamson’s “entreaty” was about integrity. “The 2022 election campaign should not leave us in any doubt about the importance the Australian people attach to integrity and the structures required to support it,” she mentioned.

“Acting with integrity is how the service maintains the confidence and trust of the public. Indeed, integrity is one thing that does shift community attitudes and trust in government, so it is one of the tools that public servants have in strengthening public institutions.”

Adamson concluded that “the quality of public service contributes to a nation’s strategic weight … Australia’s strategic weight in turn contributes to the stability, security, prosperity and development of our region and its character.”

The higher the standard and robustness of the recommendation coming from the general public service, the higher the prospect of the Albanese authorities leaving the type of “legacy” to which its prime minister says he aspires.

Michelle Grattan is professorial fellow on the University of Canberra. This article first appeared on The Conversation.

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