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On Monday 19 August, the Prime Minister laid out his vision and expectations for the Australian Public Service in a speech hosted by the Institute of Public Administration Australia at Parliament House. The Prime Minister articulated his respect and support for a public service that is professional, capable, flexible, technology-enabled, citizen-focused, and open to outsiders and diverse viewpoints.

In the speech, he articulated six guideposts that touch on the role of every member of the Australian Public Service, whether it’s the relationship with Ministers, ensuring our actions live up to the high standards and integrity of the APS tradition, or on the way we deliver for the Australian people – in both policy advice and implementation. An extract from the Prime Minister’s speech - covering the six guideposts is attached for easy reference. The full speech can be found at www.pm.gov.au

Peter Woolcott

(Extract from the Prime Minister’s Speech to the Australian Public Service on 19 August 2019)

1. “Respect and Expect”

Respect the experience, professionalism and capability that the public service brings to the table, both in terms of policy advice and implementation skills. And then having set the policy direction, expect them to get on and deliver it.

It is also about respecting the fact that responsibility for setting policy, for making those calls and decisions lies with the elected representatives of the people, and expecting Ministers to provide that leadership and direction.

Now this imposes an important responsibility, I think, on Ministers. And I’ve made this very clear to my Ministers. They must be clear in what they are asking of the public service. They must not allow a policy leadership vacuum to be created, and expect the public service to fill it and do effectively the job of Ministers.

2. “It’s about implementation”

Ensuring services are delivered seamlessly and efficiently, when and where they are needed.

The ultimate test of a strategy is not how pretty it looks, but how well it’s done. 

Good government is about receiving excellent policy advice. But that advice is only as good as the consideration in detail that it gives to implementation and execution. It’s about telling Governments how things can be done, not just the risks of doing them, or saying why they shouldn’t be done. The public service is meant to be an enabler of Government policy not an obstacle.

The Australian people need to be at the centre of APS service delivery. 

It’s a message to the whole of the APS – top-to-bottom – about what matters to people.

I want to send a message to everyone who is in the service, in whatever role you have – you can make a difference to the lives of the Australian people.

We all have a job to do and that is to serve them.

3. “Look at the scoreboard” 

There are three basic questions I would ask you all to consider every day at work:

  1.  What are you trying to do?
  2. How do you know you’re on track to get there?
  3. What does it look like when you’ve got there?

In other words what does success look like, at the start, along the way and at the end?

I want public servants to know and share in the success of public policy. I want you to feel good about what you do, the contribution you make and the positive difference you can make to the country and its future.

4. “Look beyond the bubble”

The vast majority of Australians will never come to Canberra to lobby government. 

What these Australians do every day is work hard. They pay their taxes. They put their kids through school. They look after their families. They give back to their communities and they are the centre of my focus as PM and my Government.

These are your stakeholders, not the myriad of vested and organised interests that parade through this place.

5. “The Ray Price Principle”

Ray was everywhere. His work rate was unmatched. The conditions, his opponents, never fazed him. He could read the play and always stay ahead of the game. 

The APS needs to be the same. It needs to evolve and adapt amidst constant change. Old ways of doing things need to be challenged and, if necessary, disrupted.  

6. “Honour the Code” 

A reaffirmation of the Government’s commitment to an APS that is apolitical, merit based and committed to the highest standards of integrity.

These core elements of the Westminster tradition are as important as they have ever been, not least to securing the trust and legitimacy of democratic government that is needed to implement good policy and to deliver services successfully.

And on the critical relationship between Ministers, their staff and the bureaucracy, let me underscore what I have said directly to all of my Ministers. I expect my Ministers to be demanding. I also expect them and all of their staff to discharge their responsibilities with the highest standards of professionalism and within a values framework of mutual respect. And where that isn’t occurring, there are ways and processes to deal with that.

It’s important we value diversity of course in the public service. This is right in and of itself. It is in keeping with the more diverse, pluralistic society Australia has become over many decades. And it chimes with our national ethos of “live and let live”.

I believe a commitment to diversity should encompass diversity of viewpoints within the APS. There is compelling evidence that this helps teams find answers to complex problems by bringing together people who approach questions from different points of view.