Government bureaucracy is under the spotlight for accountability and transparency with the independent review into the Australian Public Service report due in June.

    When it comes to capabilities to lead governments into the future, Su McCluskey MAICD, a director of Australian Unity and a member of the Ministerial Advisory Council on Skilled Migration, said that gaining public trust and confidence should be the priority.

    Asked what practical things governments could do to gain that trust and confidence, McCluskey said, “It’s upholding that integrity, it’s transparency, and it’s openness. That’s really critical. We’ve talked a lot over the last couple of days here about accountability… how you hold yourself accountable is to be open and transparent. That’s one of the questions we really look at with government.

    “As soon as you put in place any sort of action that goes to erode that, you really do see many questions being asked — questions that are quite valid in terms of, if we can’t trust the government, the organisations we actually believe should be there to lead us, then who can we trust?”

    Gordon de Brouwer PSM, an honorary professor at ANU and public policy expert, said the review into whether the Australian Public Service was fit for purpose would “cover the operating model of the public service... everything from how technologies are addressed and dealt with, to budget rules and the nature… and operation of hierarchy”.

    The review panel includes de Brouwer, CSIRO chair David Thodey AO, ANZ digital banking head Maile Carnegie, Professor Glyn Davis AC from the ANU’s Crawford School of Public Policy, University of Sydney Chancellor Belinda Hutchinson AM FAICD and Coca-Cola Amatil CEO Alison Watkins FAICD.

    Collisions occur, frankly, if you confuse your personal views with your responsibilities as a director of a public sector board.

    Gordon de Brouwer PSM

    Under the terms of reference, it will make recommendations to ensure the public service is ready to drive innovation and productivity in the economy; deliver high-quality policy advice, regulatory oversight, programs and services; tackle complex, multi-sectoral challenges in collaboration with the community, business and citizens; ensure domestic, foreign, trade and security interests are coordinated and well managed; improve citizens’ experience of government and deliver fair outcomes for them; and acquire and maintain the necessary skills and expertise to fulfil its responsibilities.

    “It [the review] goes very much to the nature of the service itself, the skills and professionals of the public service, the relationships and how we have those trusted relationships,” said de Brouwer.

    “That will span everything from public servants, ministers and ministerial offices to commonwealth, states and territories… but especially the general public,” he added.

    Timely scrutiny

    Former cabinet minister Helen Coonan, inaugural chair of the Australian Financial Complaints Authority, said the APS review was “very timely”.

    “You can have all sorts of rules and governance principles, but it’s really if the public trusts you and thinks that agencies, governments and departments are ethical, that public trust will be built and maintained,” said Coonan, adding that good early communication was the key to good governance within government agencies.

    “It is critical to build capability beyond government to government so that the public service isn’t hollowed out. It’s got ongoing expertise to provide proper advice to governments for governments, going forward,” she said.

    De Brouwer noted, “Where the problems really arise is when board members don’t fully appreciate their purpose is to achieve the purposes of the institution according to the Act. Collisions occur, frankly, if you confuse your personal views with your responsibilities as a director of a public sector board. If they see themselves more as advocates for the sector... then you get [public] confidence.”

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