Commissioner's vote of thanks in response to the secretary's IPAA address
Mr Peter Woolcott AO
Australian Public Service Commissioner
Canberra, 5 December 2019
On behalf of all of us here today, and all members of the Australian Public Service, I’d like to thank Phil for sharing his priorities and expectations with us.
You have been Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet for just some 3 months, but I have known you a long time and always appreciated your commitment to public service and unblinkered focus on delivering for the Australian people.
I’d also like to thank Frances Adamson, Michele Bruniges, Steven Kennedy, and David Fredericks for giving us their invaluable insights into the art of governance.
It has been a year of change. Some fine leaders of the public service have departed or will soon depart. They have all left their mark. Individually they have delivered in their respective policy fields and collectively they have influenced one of the biggest reform agendas for the public service of our time.
They will all, doubtless, continue to make a large contribution to the Australian community and will do so in many different ways. It is part of their DNA.
On a personal level, I will miss their collegiality, their intellect and their passion for public service.
Change is upon the APS and it is in our gift to drive transformation so that we can meet the expectations of the Australian people and the Government.
The reality is that we know where we have to go.
The issue, as always, is in the detail and the difficult cultural and organisational changes that will be needed to get us there.
There is an old Irish joke about asking a local for directions to which he answered “If I were you, I wouldn’t be starting from here”.
To the contrary, I would argue that actually right now and right here is a good place to start. As David Thodey has said the APS is not broken. But we are challenged by these times and the operating environment continues to evolve rapidly.
As we know, the Thodey Review is with Government and under consideration. The interim report “Priorities for Change” was clear about the direction.
It builds on the work of Terry Moran and his “Ahead of the Game” report and the modernisation work that had already been done by the Secretaries Reform Committee.
Australia needs a Public Service that deals with issues that cut across organisational boundaries and traditional ways of working – one that is outward facing, joined up, less hierarchical and more mobile.
We also have to use data more effectively: to better harness digital technology, and to adopt rigorous, evidence-based approaches to policy-making and service delivery.
And we are in a much more contested world for talent. We have to think through how we recruit, utilise and develop our capabilities.
The Prime Minister has clearly signalled his expectations both through his August speech setting out his six guideposts and his structural changes announced today.
Phil and the other Secretaries here this evening have outlined the approaches we will need to take to meet the challenges ahead.
We are talking about substantial change and a focus on how we develop our capabilities for what lies ahead.
Transformations are a complex business and to succeed requires strong leadership and clarity of message and purpose. The Secretaries Board will play a crucial role in this.
We are already laying out the necessary mud map, including through the APS Workforce Strategy that is under development. In my view, you can’t do major change piecemeal or sequentially. But you can with sustained effort and a sharp focus on where we need to be.
So let me conclude by circling back and say that the APS is well positioned to meet the challenges ahead. The latest State of the Service Report paints a picture of a public service that is fully engaged and committed to the task ahead.
I know people enter the public service for different reasons, but essentially our culture has many strengths.
Above all it maintains an uncompromising emphasis on serving the Government and the people of Australia with integrity.
So there is much to reflect on as we come to the end of what has been a busy year, and as we go forward into 2020.
I’d like to add my personal thanks to the whole of the APS. Have a safe and happy Christmas, and see you in the new year.