Australia’s federal bureaucrats have been told to focus on everyday people and not the Canberra “bubble” or lobbyists after the prime minister laid out his hopes for a new era in the public service.
Scott Morrison has also urged his ministers to ensure they set policy direction for their departments instead of leaving a “leadership vacuum” public servants are forced to fill.
More than 800 public servants filled parliament’s Great Hall on Monday for the prime minister’s address to the Institute of Public Administration, setting out six goalposts for the sector.
“The vast majority of Australians will never come to Canberra to lobby government,” he said.
“What they do every day is work hard. Pay their taxes. Put their kids through school. Look after their families. And give back to their communities and they are the centre of my focus as PM.
“These are your stakeholders, not the myriad of vested and organised interests that pretend to this status.”
Mr Morrison wants all government services to be available online by 2025.
The prime minister also stressed ministers should set policy direction and not be a “captive” to their departments.
“They must be clear in what they are asking of the public service. They must not allow a policy leadership vacuum to be created, expecting the public service to fill it and do their job.”
Mr Morrison used a bacon and eggs analogy from his rugby days to describe the principle, where the “chicken is involved, but the pig is committed”.
He also said the public sector needed to be focused on service delivery and meeting targets to ensure the government was kicking goals.
Australia’s public service should also learn to be more nimble and adapt to the constant change that marks modern life.
To help it do this, Mr Morrison believes it should attract more of the nation’s brightest minds working in the private sector.
Long-term public servants should also spend some time in the private sector, he feels, to encourage a diversity of ideas.
“It’s vital that the APS avoid the sort of stale conventional wisdoms and orthodoxies that can infuse all large organisations.”
Mr Morrison’s speech comes as former Telstra boss David Thodey finalises a review of the public service, which is expected to be handed to the government within weeks.
Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers said the government needed to get off the path of “arbitrary public service caps”, which led to billions of dollars being spent on labour hire.
“Scott Morrison needs to work with the public service to come up with a plan for the future, especially a plan to deal with the challenges in our economy,” Dr Chalmers told reporters in Brisbane.
“Instead he sees the public service as something that needs to be tamed and not tapped.”