Civil service review and the end of public sector punk
They say that cool is in the eye of the beholder and for public sector nerds like me, in the right light, Terry Moran is starting to look like a cross between Nick Cave and Bono.
Moran is the senior public service mandarin conducting a major review into the Australian Public Service. It is due out this week and I’m hoping to see Moran put a modern twist on the some of the classics like political independence, professional careers and the notion of a unified public service.
To stretch the music analogy to breaking point, if Moran hits the right notes it will be like Bob Dylan going electric. It will also mark the end of Public Sector Punk Era.
Let me explain. Over the past two decades the public sector has had a torrid time. This may be the first time anyone has referred to John Howard as a punk, but when it came to the public sector he put on the jackboots and started kicking.
And while punk music just killed the melody, punk public service killed a whole lot more.
There are three key areas where the nation’s public sector workers hope that Moran plays a different tune.
The first is resourcing – effectively ensuring public sector workers have the resources to discharge their responsibilities.
One of the hangovers from the Punk PS years was the efficiency dividend – the notion that each year every department had to cut its spending – even as its duties to a growing population increased.
At the same time the Howard’s band embraced outsourcing as a self- evident good, believing that the private sector was somehow more ‘efficient’.
The Moran Review provides an opportunity to sing to a different tune, working with the public sector workforce to find smarter and more efficient ways of delivering services, rather than slashing every passing budget with a razor.
The second is independence of the sector. Under Johnny Rotten the public sector was exposed to levels of politicisation that undermined the ability of public sector workers to give frank and fearless advice.
In our submission to the Moran review, we argued the current culture of risk aversion in the public service needs to change. The nation’s big challenges in climate change, health and service delivery are being driven through the public sector.
These challenges require creative thinking not compliance. This can only be driven in a climate where independent through is not only tolerated, it is celebrated.
Thirdly, and most importantly, the Howard era saw the public service broken into more than 100 silos – large and small departments and agencies that basically operate as their own business units and compete against each other in a bitter war for talent and resources.
Over time this fragmentation undermined cooperation between agencies and it became harder for staff to build a career across the sector.
It also lead to massive pay gaps between the better paying male-dominated economic agencies like Treasury and the more female-dominated, social services and welfare agencies.
In an effort to strip back the sector to the core we lost the sense of depth and richness that an integrated sector, all working in tune can deliver. This was Canberra’s version of The Great Public Sector Swindle.
If we are looking for anything from the Moran Review it’s a commitment to end the wasteful and artificial barriers between different parts of Government.
This would send the message that we are all working together again, that the days of division and dissonance are over.
A more unified public sector would mean better policy development and services for the community and better jobs for our members.
In short what I am looking for is a modern sound that still respects the classics. If Moran can deliver this, it will be music to my ears.
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