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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 8911

PERFORMANCE AND ACCOUNTABILITY IN THE PUBLIC SERVICE

Photo of Keating, Paul

Keating, Paul

Period of Service: 20/12/1991 to 11/03/1996

More information about Keating, Paul on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 01/07/1993

Release Type: Statement

Transcript ID: 8911

PERFORMANCE AND ACCOUNTABILITY
INnfHE
PUBLIC SERVICE
A statement by the
Prime Minister
The Hon P J Keating, MP
I July 1993
Parliament House
Canberra
A statement made upon the publication of the following papers of the
Management Advisory Board and Its
Management Improvement Advisory Committee
The Australian Public Service Reformed
An Evaluation of a Decade of Management Reform
Building a Better Public Service
Accountability in the Commonwealth Public Secicw~

THE AUSTRAIMAN PUBLIC SERVICE is one of the great Institutions of our national
life. Its establishment was one of the key acts of Federation. It, along with the nation, is
approaching Its centenary.
The performance of the Public Service and its values are basic to our national well being.
The quality of our system of governance depends heavily upon the Integrity,
professionalism and dedication of the Public Service.
As an Institution, the Service has served us well through difficult times. Two world wars,
the Great Depression and the challenging period of post-war reconstruction.
But the Public Service cannot rest on Its traditions, however Illustrious they may be. The
service has to maintain its relevance and keep ahead of the game.
It can't be expected to do that entirely of its own volition. There has to be effective
political leadership.
As I said In the 1991 Inaugural Chris Higgins Memorial Lecture ( and there was a
professional public servant for you):
only politicians can make major changes to the way a country conducts Its budinesChnge
cannot come fom the bureaucraq n matter how well motivated, or gifted, becuse the
bureaucracy baa mo autodrty to rak priortes or make deddion... Jn the eud, polltidm have to
have the foresight to n the need for change and the courage and sruzgth to carur it throagh.
In fact In 1983 there was a huge reform task to be undertaken. The Publc Service, while
managed and staffed by people of real ability, Integrity and motivation had not been
allowed to move with the times. Rather than liberate the Service to allow its talents and
energies to flourish, our predecessors had preferred Public Service bashing, crude staff
ceilings and belligerent industrial relations.
Central to our reforms of the Public Service was the desire to ensure the government of
the country belonged to the elected poiltclam. We stated at the outset that a key
objective was to make the Public Service more responsive to the government of the day;
more responsive In the sense that it would be better able to recognise and achieve the
Government's overall policy objectives.
We wanted a Public Service that could take us Into the 21st century. A Service that
would meet our aspirations for a modern, competitive, caring and confident Australia.
The reform task has required a massive effort from the Public Service. It has risen to
that challenge well.
Let us take this opportunity to mark bow much we have achieved over the last decade.
What our predecessors had allowed to become a stultifying bureaucracy, obsessed by
process for its own sake, and which all too often had Its own agenda which failed to
comprehend the objectives of the elected Government, is now a far more professional
body. Without doubt the Public Service is more responsive to the general policy direction of the
Government. PERFORMANCEANDACCOUATABLhTY JNTRE PUBLIC SERICE PAGE 1

We are a reforming Government. We need a reform-oriented Public Service.
We have already achieved a significant cultural change and that Is continuing.
Public servants do now focus on results, on outcomes, on performance.
And contrary to some misinformed commentary, that has not been at the expense of the
traditional public service virtues of honesty, probity, Integrity and fair dealing.
Ethics and equity continue to take their place alongside economy, efficiency, and
effectiveness. Indeed, the greater emphasis on accountability and openness In decision maldng that we
have seen since 1983 has been a powerful contributor to honest and fair administration,
and has reinforced a more deliberate focus on equity.
Nor has the Public Service been politicised.
Quite the contrary. The dearer arrangements that we now have for ministerial staff and
the Important Independent role played by the Public Service Commissioner In SES
staffing decisions have bolstered the merit principle.
We're not interested in a politicised Public Service. But that doesn't mean public
servants have to be political neuters.
We want men and women who have their own Ideas, who are ready to take the Initiative
combined with a high degree of political sensitivity.
That Is all part of a professional Public Service.
A Public Service able to give strong advice.
Able to test Ideas and come up with better one.
Able to articulate objections and point to the pitfalls.
Able to temper misguided enthusiasm.
But with the sensitivity to know when not to press further.
A Service which can recognise when the arguments have been understood, and avoids
unproductive debate continuing to the point of nagging.
A Service which Is then able to get on and implement a Minister's decision with whole
hearted commitment.
Again as I said in the Chris Higins' lecture:
the Govusent has valued official advice and made tet hws titloms that provide It are
strong and effective.
Ahb Government has always believed I a career public service, capable of giving Independent
advk the Government has not sought to shldd Itself from critical advice by appointing " frilendly
voice" to key poeion.
When we turn to performance I say don't be fooled that there was a golden age of public
administration when everything was done perfectly.
PAGE 2 PERFORMANCEANDACCOUIVfABJ7IT7IN JTHEPUBLICSERVICE

Remember the Review of Commonwealth Administration set up In response to what
Malcolm Fraser referred to as ' breakdowns and administrative failures'?
Remember the ' roc In the stew' meat substitution rackets?
Remember Costigan, the painters and dockers, and the escort services being run out of
the Perth Deputy Crown Solicitor's Office?
And those of you In the Public Service remember what It was like.
Trying to manage without the necessary authority.
The levers that mattered outside your control.
The dead hands of the central agencies.
Departments had to argue with clerks In the Public Service Board and the Department of
Finance on matters of detail that should have been left to management discretion and
which bore little If any relationship to the Government's priorities.
It was this failure to match authority with responsibility which Indeed meant that no-one
could be held to be properly accountable. It was always possible to blame someone else;
departments blamed Finance or the Board and vice versa whenever administrative
failures occurred.
Most Importantly the abdication of responsibility by the successive conservative
Governments in favour of the Commonwealth Club mandarins did our country great
harm. So much opportunity was lost.
Often our political debate focuses on the sins of commission. The Opposition gets Itself
excited about technical mistakes In tender documents.
But what about the sins of omission?
What did the do-not coalition governments give us?
Let us take transport and communications for example.
For all I know we may have had some perfectly drafted rules and regulations.
But In a country so large and so dependent on Its transport and communications systems
we ended up with the most ramshackle transport system In the whole OECD.
Perhaps they did the job well. But It was the wrong job.
The opportunities lost in industry policy over th ose decades were staggering.
Tariff walls beautifly built Detailed and extensive industry regulation was faultlessly
drafted. But who was concerned with whether It was the right poicy or not. It was the
lazy days of the fites and sixties In the lucky country. Nobody was looking where we
were going. No vision, no political thought and no leadership.
PERFORM4NCEANDACCOUNFABILFTIN THE PUBLIC SERVIE PAGE 3

We have been paying dearly for that political vacuum. We have had to labour hard to
establish national Industry policies, to restructure the economy and to create the
infrastructure Australia needs.
In those days creativity, Imagination and the generation of Ideas were not called for and
so they were not provided. The harnesses which had linked the Public Service to the
driving needs of the Government and the community during the war and the period of
post-war reconstruction worked loose. Uke all bureaucracies left to their own devices,
it grew and focused its energies on itself.
I don't propose to traverse the many changes we have made over the decade. They are
comprehensively described In the evaluation.
You are familiar with the 1984 reforms. You will recall the small change at that time
which marked the direction of all the changes, the amendment of section 25 of the Public
Service Act We added three simple words to the description of the responsibilities of
heads of departments: " under the Minister". Three simple words which said it all. And
we stopped using the description " Permanent Head".
You are aware of the extensive changes we have made to the budget processes that enable
Ministers to decide the priorities to be allocated to the Government's programs.
You are aware of the 1987 machinery of government changes which were directed to
strengthening Cabinet and ministerial control.
At the same time we abolished the Public Service Board. Its time had truly come and
gone. Quite deliberately, to Increase the responsibility and authority of managers in
departments, we have steered away from a single strong management authority at the
centre.
And you are familiar with the more recent reforms: the award restructuring,
commercialsation, even privatisation, where It's appropriate, and most recently
enterprise bargaining.
The evaluation of the reforms has been an ambitious undertaking. Vic Rogers and the
other members of his task force are to be congratulated. Michael Keating tells me that
he is unaware of any other country that has attempted such a comprehensive survey of
management change.
The evaluation has concluded that:
the management reforms have been well directed;
they have been well accepted and their benefits have substantially
outweighed their costs, and
agencies need to take more active steps to fully integrate the reforms into
the culture of the Service and make them work more effectively.
I am very glad that the task force has come to this conclusion because I, for one, have no
intention of going back to 1982.
And so to the future.
PAGE 4 PERFORMANCE ANDACCOUNTABILITYN TIE PUBLIC SERVICE

T'he Management Advisory Board, itself a product of the 1987 reforms, has prepared the
paper Buikding a Better Public Service. It Is an Important document that I commend for
dose attention by all those with an Interest In understanding what the Public Service is
about. It Is not a detailed blueprint for further reform. Rather, It suggests a strategic approach
focusing on: making performance count,
better leadership, and
a strengthening of the culture of continuous Improvement.
As the paper says, the drive for the reform of the Public Service must be viewed In the
broader context of the changes affecting the whole of Australian society:
the internationalisation of the economy and the release of competitive
forces the Increased demand for Improved services, while maintaining
expenditure restraint, thus requiring continuing Improvement in value for
money and better educated staff wanting to be more closely Involved In decision
makin affecting them.
But the paper warns against complacency and argues that the task of continuing reform
Is as urgent now as it ever was.
And we cannot stand still.
Thnere must be a stronger focus on clients and the quality of services.
Leadership Is crucial. I have already discussed political leadership but more has to be
done to cultivate leadership within the Public Service, especially at Secretary and SES
levels, to achieve the high quality services, representing the best value for money, to
which the Australian people are entitled.
The Public Service has to sharpen Its focus on performance stili further. To Improve
performance It Is essential that people should be told where they stand.
Praise where praise is due.
Fair, frank and firm feedback when they need to lift their game.
The private sector and other public services have developed performance appraisal
schemes. In the past the Australian Public Service has not been good at this. Too much
use has been made of the too hard basket when It comes to appraisal. As a result there
has been Inadequate communication between supervisors and staff.
So to reinforce effective appraisal we are now introducing performance pay. It huas come
In for the Senior Officers, the middle managers, and from today It comes In for the SE&.
We must be prepared to work at It and If necessary develop and refine the arrangements
to ensure performance payIs an effective spur to good performance. It needs tobe given
time to settle In and be properly evaluated.
PERFORMANCEANDACCOUNTABIUrIYI THE PUBIC SERVICE PAGES

Of course there will be teething problems and we have to find the right balance of public
accountability sought by Parliament and the confidentiality needed if the schemes are to
work effectively.
Again that calls for leadership by Secretaries and all the SES.
As In private sector employment, enterprise bargaining will place the emphasis on
generating reform at the local level.
Increasingly It will be for public service managers at the local level to Improve the way
work Is carried out. They are the ones, together with their staff, who are best placed to
generate the Ideas on how to get that extra value for money and how to further Improve
the quality of the service they and their teams provide.
Those are the questions we must afi ask, a/ the time. We live in a competitive world. In
building a better Public Service the focus is on continuing mprovement.
We are getting this country moving again and the Public Service is playing its central role
In that.
Drawing on the Chris Higgins lecture again, I said then:
rI I will be mm as the time that Amtralla finally stood up and took dock of Itsef and Its
proble& It wil be se am the tiue whem dhage and innovation became the dock in trade of the
political proe.
We Invest In peltical leadership and Ministers are In the driving seat. We have the
talent In the Cabinet, and have maintained the supply of new talent to stay there.
It's an impressive achievement.
And It's also an achievement for the Public Service.
Although the reforms have been driven by Ministers, as the decade has passed there has
been an Increasing enthusiasm for reform. Many of the ideas for reform have been
generated by public servants attuned to the Government's wishes. People such as
Michael Keating who have done so much to push the reforms along can be proud of what
they have achieved.
Ideas have been acted upon and decisions have been Implemented.
That Is how It should be.
I turn now to the subject of the third paper accountability.
This paper should be required reading for public servants at all levels, and for all
Members and Senators especially Opposition Senators.
The paper was first published as an exposure draft in August, 1991 It created a degree
of fuss.
PAGE 6 PERFORMANCEAND ACCOUNTABlJ7TIN T PUBUCSAMfCE

It has been the subject of a large number of seminars and workshops, both public and
within the Public Service since then. It has been redrafted in the light of the comments
received. I expect it will still create some lively discussion.
But its publication is very timely. As the recent session of Parliament shows, there is a
lot of muddled thinking about the relationships between the Public Service, the
Government and the Parliament.
Parliamentary accountability is a serious matter. Many of the public service reforms I
have been describing have been directed to Improving the capacity of Parliament to
scrutinise government.
Recent commentary, however, has suggested ministerial responsibility no longer operates
in Australia and that there are gaps in our system of accountability. Those parrot cries
are devoid of any meaningul content.
Statements are made that we have redefined the concept of ministerial responsibility.
Watered it down. Changed the rules.
This is not so. I remind you of what my predecessor said about ministerial responsibility
in his 1988 Garran Oration:
The true measure of ministerial accountability, here and in Britain, has never been the tally of
ministerial resignations. Evem In the sower and simpler formative period of our system of
Government, the strict theory that Ministers were fully accountable bor every act or omission of
their departmental officer was, Amply far fetched.
He went on to say:
-ministers mt, of course, continue to be answerable to the Parllament and to take any necessary
corrective actio. But the truth i there b no requirement for them to resign except where a
signifcant act or omission was theirs, or was taken at their personal direction, or was a matter
about which they obviously should have known, and done something.
At that time the Government was criticised for changing the rules and departing from
Westminster tradition. Again the commentators got it wrong. Back in January 1983
the report of the Review of Commonwealth Administration for Mr Fraser disposed of the
myth that In the United Kingdom ministers automatically, regularly or often resigned
where there were acts of maladministration by their departments.
Instead the Review concluded that there " has never really been [ such] a convention in the
UK. Indeed, we have not been able to identify ( In well over a 100 years) a single case that
can properly and confidently be claimed as a resignation for that reason."
And 12 years before my predecessor's comments, the Coombs Royal Commission on
Australian Government Administration, put it this way:
there s little evidence that a minister's responsibility now seen as requiring him to bear the
blame for all the faults and shortcomings of his public service subordinates regardless of his own
Involvement, or to tender his resignation in every case where fult is found. The evidence tends to
suggest rather that while obliged to answer to it when Parliament so demands, and to nldicate
PERFORMANCEANDACCOUNTABIITYIN THE PUBLIC SERVICE PAGE 7

corrective action if that called for, they themselve are not held culpable and ai consequence
bound to resign or suffer dismmial unless the action whch stads condemned was theis, or
takes on their direction, or was action with which they ought obvously to have been concerned.
And so let us be a bit grown-up about this. On both sides of politics the question of
ministerial resignation will be a matter of hard-nosed Judgement by the Prime Minister
taking into account whether or not the Minister was directly involved, and if not, whether
the Minister should have been Involved.
As Sir Geoffrey Yeend, a former head of my Department, recently made cear in a letter
to The Canberra Times the problem the Journalists have, not to mention the Opposition, Is
confusing responsibility with resignation.
Accountability and ministerial responsibility are not to be measured In scalps taken.
Ministers are answerable to Parliament.
And as Sir Geoffrey made dear in his letter, it cannot be assumed that if there is no
resignation there is no cost. Sanctions are altogether a more subtle business than many
critics apparently understand.
I accept that there are grey areas. The question whether a Minister knew about some
matter can be simply determined. Whether he or she should have known leaves room for
genuine differences of opinion.
What is certain Is that once the problem has come to the Minister's attention he or she
has a clear continuing responsibility to fix t up.
If the thinking on ministerial responsibility has been muddled, It s yet more so when It
comes to the accountability of public servants and their proper relationship with the
Parliament. Public servants are the employees of the Government, not the Parliament. A large
measure of their direct accountability should therefore be seen In the context of the
normal employment obligations that any employee has to his or her employer.
The exposure draft of the MAB accountability paper was, however, criticised because it
appeared to limit accountability to this direct relationshlp.
As the new MAB document makes dear, Secretaries and departmental staff are
accountable to the Parliament through their Ministers according to long established
convention. The document, however, recognises the indisputable fact that the complexity
and sheer scale of administrative tasks means that Ministers cannot be directly
responsible for all the actions of their departments. This is explitly recognised in the
many legislative provisions for extensive delegation to officials. Accordingly the MAB
document recognises that the traditional hierarchical accountability relationships have
been complemented by public servants' duty to explain or Justify their actions directly to
parliamentary committees where the minister neither knew nor should have been
expected to know about a matter.
Furthermore, the Parliament has recognised that it itself is no better placed than the
Minister to keep track of all the administrative decisions. Accordingly various external
4
PAGE PERFORMANCEANDACCOUNTABILITY IN TE PUBLIC SERVICE

review bodies such as tribunals, the Auditor-General and the Ombudsman have been
established to supplement the traditional accountability processes.
When we consider public servants' accountability, especially when it comes to the
question of sanctions, we have to be clear about the respective responsibilities of the
Government and Public Service managers.
With the exception of the Government's statutory responsibilities in relation to
departmental Secretaries, staffing decisions, including any questions of rewards or
sanctions, are matters for Secretaries of Departments and in some instances the
independent Public Service Commissioner. That is how it should be and I am sure no
one would wish to see the Government Intervening more directly. It would be a slippery
slope to politicisation.
And what are the appropriate sanctions?
Such matters will always Involve careful judgement. It's a weighing up of the
significance of the problems and their nature, of peoples' competence, their overall
contribution and their capacity to fix the problems.
This weighing up of achievement is Important for wider reasons.
We have put a lot of effort in the last ten years into trying to turn the public service
culture around to Instil In public servants an understanding that performance and
achievement are Important.
We must reinforce the understanding that avoidance of mistakes is not the only
imperative or touchstone of public service performance. We must not return to the riskaverse
culture of the past.
The cock-ups, the sins of commission, can be damaging, but typically their consequences
are far less damaging than those sins of omission I referred to earlier.
Unless we are prepared, as a government, to play by these new rules to assess people by
their overall performance we can hardly be surprised if public servants seek to avoid
risk at all costs.
As part of the further developments in public service management reform there will be a
sharper focus on effective performance appraisal, and related rewards and sanctions.
In introducing this tougher environment, we should not lose sight of the Importance of
professional pride for public servants, especially at senior levels. Respect among
colleagues, satisfaction In the achievement of a difMcult task well done, are valued. It is
relevant when discussing sanctions.
The public exposure of shortcomings leads to professional embarrassment. Often this
will be sufficient sanction.
Performance and accountability often arise in the context of parliamentary committees.
It is, I suggest, time for us to engage in some mature reflection on the question of scrutiny
by parliamentary committees. PERFORMANCE ANDACCOUNTABIITY IN THE PUBLIC SERVICE PAGE 9

Our committee system is potentially a very good system, capable of making a worthwhile
contribution to the quality of govertnent.
it Is so Important that It should not be prostituted.
May I therefore makm some suggestions to the Opposition leadership? I hope there is an
understanding among that leadership of the danger of debasing the committee system.
We should take a long-term view of the value of parliamentary committees. We should
expect and encourage public servants to play their full part in providing Information to
parliamentary committees.
But If some Senators In particular adopted a less adversarial approach they might
achieve far more effective parliamentary scrutiny. As the Government has improved the
quality of the Information being provided to the Parliament, and with the Increasing
expectation that public servanats will explain the background to government policies and
account for actions for which they are responsible, there Is a corresponding obligation on
committee members to be professional In their role; for example, to have read the
papers, to avoid aimless fishing expeditions, to have thought out their lines of Inquiry, and
so On.
There Is an Increasing demand for the tabling of documents In Parliament and Its
committees There Is of course a case for the Parliament to have access to some
documents. Often the Government wants debate to be Informed by having key
documents on the record. Often It would help If the Opposition read them.
But there needs to be a shared recognition of the limits and costs Involved.
Consultation between the Opposition and Ministers and senior officials will help to
enable the legitimate demands of parliamentary scrutiny to be met without wasting
everybody's time and taxpayers' dollars Ministers will be cautious In their undertakings
to produce documents and the Government will not accede to requests that are merely
fishing expeditions.
I do not wish my remarks to be taken as dismissve of the proper role of Parliament.
Far from It.
We are Interested to ensure that parliament Is a relevant and modern Institution. And I
hope the Opposition will join us In that.
T7he people of Australia look to their leaders and their representatives to address the
challenges we face together as a nation.
They want good government.
T7hey want the Government they have chosen to be able to get on and do the things that
need to be done.
T7hey want Informed and constructive parliamentary debate about the Issues that matter.
PAGE 10 PERFORMANCEANDACCOINTABILTIN THE PUBIC SERVICE

Dealing with unemployment
0 Achieving sustainable economic growth
Building up our manufacturing base and Increasing our exports
0 Securing our place In the Asia-Pacific Region
Working towards reconciliation with the nation's Indigenous people
0 Protecting the less well-off, the sick and the aged
Preparing our children for the lives ahead of them
0 Looking after our matchless environment
Fostering our cultural life
Continuing the enrichment of our national life that we have gained from
the successMi Integration of our diverse ethnic backgrounds
Developing our sense of ourselves as a mature, confident and completely
Independent nation with constitutional arrangements appropriate to the
21st century.
These are the Issues which the Australian people have entrusted to their representatives
and the Government.
For the Government's part we shall be energetic in pursuing the community's goals.
I believe the Parliament has a corresponding duty to make Its contribution to the debate
of these big issues.
But all too often what passes for political debate Is the pursuit of scnd order Issues.
The Public Service has a key role to play as we approach the new century. Historically,,
the Public Service has been especially Important at key times In our national
development. T1he push in the 1990s towards federation Is a good example. It took political leadership
and community initiative and popular support to achieve the goal of nationhood.
But a lot of the business of making It ali happen would have fallen to the officials and In
the Commonwealth's first public servant, Sir Robert Garran, there was an excellent
example of professional dedication, and above all, creativity,, In giving form and
substance to the aspirations of the early federal governments.
Similarly,, in those difficult times Immediately after the Second World War, Australia
was blessed with a generation of gifted, capable and Imaginative senior officials.
Contemplating the kind of country that we want Australia to be In 2001 and 2010 and on
Into the century Iam struck by the parallelswith the values that we want to see In the
Public Service and also by the crucial Importance of the Public Service In enabling the
country to achieve that future.
We want the country to be vital and energetic with a strong sense of individual fr-eedom.
In the Public Service we are striving towards a new cuiture of continuing Improvement In
performance. There wil be less emphasis on central direction and more on the freedom
of local management and staff and unions to decide how things will be done.
PERFORMANCE AND ACCOUNTABHMJYIN THE PUBLIC SERVICE PAGE 11

We want a fair country with equality of opportunity for all groups within It. In the
Public Service, social Justice, access to government programs and equity In all decision
making will continue to be a central consideration.
We want an honest and law-abiding country. In the Public Service we can be satisfied
with nothing less than the highest ethical standards. The Integity and probity of public
office holders ( and I Include politicians) Is the foundation upon which proper standards of
conduct In all walks of life are built.
Corruption in government and public administration rapidly permeates the community.
There Is a heavy responsibility on the most senior levels of the Service because so much is
learnt by example, good and bad. I am a strong supporter of the moves within the
Service to re-emphasise the traditional Importance of public service ethics.
Let me make It quite clear that It has never been any part of the Government's public
service management reforms that the traditional Public Service values should be
diminished. In focusing on performance and achieving results It has been right for us to
examine process. Process which serves no useful purpose should be scrapped and that
has been a significant ob~ ject of the reforms. But that does not detract from the
Importance of adhering to the due process that remains, especially when It is part of the
law. We need our public servants to be achievers We want results. They should be energetic,
responsive, creative and Imaginative.
But the responsibilities entrusted to the Government by the Australian people are
precious. So the energy, the enthusiasm, the creativity and Imagination have to be
carefuly balanced with some prudence, attention to detafl, sound judgement, healthy
scepticism and the guts to stond against the flow.
I acknowledge that we do ask a great deal of the Public Service.
Addressing the Press Club after his Royal Commisson reported, Nugget Coombs
observed that It was, after all, the men and women of the Public Service that could make
politicians' dreams come true.
As a community we should be thankful for It.
PAGED1 PERFORRL4NCEANDACCOUNwTABIHflYIN THE PUBLIC SKRVIC

Transcript 8911