Join the discussion

The Centre for Policy Development has a survey running at the moment about what role Government should play in society. It raises some really important questions about how the Government and public service should tackle issues in the 21st century. I strongly advise you, lonely reader, to take the survey and help contribute to a worthwhile goal. To stimulate this one man conversation, I have laid out my responses below.

What do you think about the role of government and public services in the 21st century?

The issue of an ageing population while maintaining economic growth is paramount. New ideas about migration, health services, self-sufficiency will need to be introduced into the public debate. Government needs to choose public services to maintain and improve while shedding others which are unsustainable and ultimately too costly in their current form. Fostering a more open community should also be a priority as the internet continues to transform how society operates.

Has the relationship been shaky? What are some ideas to bring the love back?

Yes. Government needs to commit to achievable goals and not promise the world to everyone. Government is a game of resource allocation. For long-term, serious problem solving, there needs to be winners and losers. Trying to please everyone by finding the middle ground often ends up pleasing no-one and introducing sub-optimal policy. Family welfare payments reflect this, as does the current housing situation in Australia. A willingness to be frank about this is the first step. Committing to it over the course of Government is a different story. Ideas – focus on community/societal groups as opposed to individuals, clearly define long-term goals to the public, create a better environment for politics in Australia. Major political parties agree on 95% of policy, disagree on 5%. This is not reflected through the vitriol which is reported on.

What is the APS doing well?

Pushing the debate. The Henry Tax Review is an example. There are lots of ideas in there for Government to think over and decide on. High level policy thinking is important to drive the next period of social and economy growth. The ideas around broadband and climate are heavily influenced by the APS and thinking which has occurred over the last 15-20 years. This needs to continue into the future in areas such as energy consumption, health care etc.

Need a better focus on service delivery. Many in the APS are trained in old school methods which simply do not work in current era. Communication needs to occur across multiple channels. Staff need to be mobile (not stuck in Canberra).

What is your favourite agency / why?

I’ll skip this one as I have a vested interest / heavy bias.

How can the APS better help our environment, society and economy face our biggest challenges?

Informing the public is often overlooked as a function of the public service. Policy, service delivery are rightly identified as critical functions however the public themselves respond very well to stimulated discussion on serious issues. This can be seen from views within the community on anything from euthanasia to broadband to foreign aid. The public service can assist by better informing these views, as a separate, reliable institution which can be trusted. By striving to be apolitical (hard in the current age), many benefits can be derived. Blogs, podcasts, live youtube information sessions, fact sheets about current, topical issues can drive this to allow citizens a forum to interact.

All of this might sound a bit wishy washy. I think it is as well. However the word limits stymied the length but more importantly, I think that the survey reader is often not looking for the perfect example but a coherent thread running through responses to understand the respondent.  This understanding creates a sense of direction which can be logically deducted. Perhaps others disagree, then the response are largely worthless. However I feel it’s at least important to think about this stuff and form a line of argument which directs reasoning and future decisions.

And while on the subject of the CPD, they have a paper which discusses the implications of the ‘efficiency dividend’. As Government policy re: the public service, I think it is a lazy and heavy handed tool used by Government’s to bully and maintain power. Yet as a public servant, I would say that I guess. Anyway, the paper is worth a read if you don’t know much about the efficiency dividend. Perhaps a note of caution. It was supported by the CPSU, who are known rabid anti-EDers.

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