Serving the Nation: 120 Years Supporting Australia’s Health and Wealth
Helen Williams AC The 1999 Public Service Act was really a step change from the 1922 Act. The 1999 Act was far shorter. It was only 47 pages. Essentially, it provided a new balance. It devolved far more power to agency heads to run their organisations, but on the other hand, it made them far more accountable for the use of that power.
Dr Michelle Bruniges The role of a secretary has been a long standing feature of the public service. And indeed, in earlier years there were a group of seven secretaries, commonly known as the Seven Dwarfs, who worked collaboratively together to provide policy and project advice in the post-war era. It is an absolute privilege for me to hold the role of Secretary, to support the government of the day and to be able to deliver for each and every Australian.
Male radio voice And in comes the cents to replace the pounds and the shillings and the pence. Be prepared, folks, when the coins begin to mix on the fourteenth of February 1966. Clink goes the cents, folks, clink, clink, clink. Changeover day is closer than you think.
Dr Brendan Murphy Medicare is one of the most crucial underpinnings of our health system. We have universal health coverage and that is not something that every country in the world has. Every Australian citizen has a right to free hospital care and universal health insurance, so that they can get access to medical services and pathology and radiology and all those things, with significant government subsidy. It really is the fundamental underpinning of our health system.
Professor Tom Calma AO The Close the Gap campaign has been very significant for the public service. It was the first time that a community led initiative was able to influence public policy and get both the politicians and the government engaged in looking at ways to reform health. My hopes for the future of First Nations policy in Australia is that it's done through a co-design process, a genuine partnership between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the bureaucrats and politicians. Because if those people who are most affected by policy are not engaged in the policy development, then we won't see the outcomes, the sustainable outcomes, that we need to see into the future.
Peter Woolcott AO What keeps Australia and the Australian people safe and what keeps Australia and its people prosperous is the quality of its institutions and the quality of its governance. The APS is at the heart of that. It's the Australian Public Service which has responsibility to advise the Government on the issues of the day, to look into the future and try to meet the challenges that are coming our way and to implement and deliver policies to the Australian people. It's that ability to do that over 120 years since 1901, I think, which has been fundamental to this country's growth and this country's wellbeing.
The exhibition’s headline video, Serving the Nation: 120 Years supporting Australia’s health and wealth, has been published online with captions and a transcript. The video traverses eras of Australian democracy over the past 120 years. It explores defining moments for the health and wealth of the nation. Hear from a range of public sector leaders about the APS contributions that helped underpin and shape Australian society.
The APS exhibition, Australia’s Public Service for the Government of the Day was developed in partnership by the APSC and Museum of Australian Democracy. Featuring an eclectic selection of objects pulled from the basements of government departments, the exhibition explores how the APS has informed, supported and implemented the decisions of the governments of the day.
Every person in the country is connected through the work of the Australia Public Service (APS). The federal government’s public servants have helped shape Australia. Their activity, both visible and invisible, is as essential to the functioning of our democracy as the Parliament, judiciary or head of state.
The exhibition is open at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House. Find out more and book your visit here.
Helen Williams AC, Australian Public Service Commissioner 1998-2002
Dr Michele Bruniges AM, Secretary of the Department of Education Skills and Employment, 2021
Dr Brendan Murphy, Secretary of the Department of Health
Professor Tom Calma AO, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Justice Commissioner, 2004-2010
Peter Woolcott AO, Australian Public Service Commissioner, 2021
Image and footage credits
1901: Centennial Park, Sydney at the Proclamation of Federation, 1 January 1901: NAA: A1200, L16936 11395162. 1902: Inaugural Departmental Heads of the Australian Commonwealth Public Service 1901: Public Domain. 1905: Sir GH Knibbs, appointed to Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics (CBCS) in 1906: ABS. 1905: Dora Whitelaw from photo of CBCS staff 1936: ABS. 1911: Construction site and laying of the foundation stone in Sydney in c.1911-1913: NFSA. 1916: The Advisory Council of Science and Industry’s premises, East Melbourne in 1916: CSIRO. 1919: Woman in protective medical gear 1919: NAA: CP567/1, BOX 4 PART B 33020034. 1932: Broadcast Control panels in the Senate Control Booth, Parliament House, Canberra: abc.net.au /photo/DP041264. 1949: The Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme, group of four workers: NAA: A1200, L49663 30836716. 1950s: German migrants on arrival in July 1956: NAA: A12111, 1/1956/4/144 7529814. 1950s: Prime Minister, Mr R G Menzies with Governor of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Dr H C Coombs in 1958: NAA: A1501, A1434/1 8901220. 1950s: Prime Minister John Curtin and Secretary of the Department of Defence and Secretary to the War Cabinet, Frederick Shedden in 1944: NAA: A5954, 661/12 7815339. 1956: Schoolgirls being vaccinated with the Salk polio vaccine: Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Australian Photographic Agency – 01869. 1956: Testing Salk anti-poliomyelitis vaccine at the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories: NAA: A1200, L21864 7654477. 1966: One dollar note: NAA: A1200, L53419 11659828 NAAA: 1200, L53420 11659829. 1966: Dollar Bill made for the Decimal Currency Board, 1965: NFSA. 1966: Physicist Ruby Payne-Scott: Peter Hall. 1967: Yes for Aborigines: write yes for Aborigines in the lower square May 27: Witton Press, National Library of Australia, nla.obj-136875607. 1967: Reverend Michael Horsburgh, Lilon Bandler and Faith Bandler at a Census Day demonstration outside the Commonwealth Bank, Sydney in 1966: AIATSIS Collection HORNER2.J01.BW-N04612_12. 1983: One dollar coins: NAA: B583, 26/1984 31506314. 1984: Medicare Starts Wednesday: Angel Wylie/Fairfax Media Archives, Nine Content. 1984: Medicare office: NAA: B583, 1/1984 31506293. 1985: Headline page from The Canberra Times: The Canberra Times. Photo: Brenton McGeachie. 1993: Gunditjmara Native Title Determination - Justice Tony North with applicants Georgina Redfern, Eugene Lovett, Christina Saunders and John Lovett in 2007: Damian White/Fairfax Media Archives, Nine Content. 1996: Guns Collected After Australia’s Ban: WILLIAM WEST/AFP via Getty Images. 2000: Tax reform – because we shouldn’t hold Australia back. 2000: Various brochures produced by the ATO and ACCC, c.2000: Commonwealth of Australia. 2003: Mining in the Pilbara: Photon-Photos. 2008: Social Justice Report 2005 cover: Australian Human Rights Commission. 2013: Anna, NDIS participant: National Disability Insurance Agency. 2020: Trade meeting: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.