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Public Sector Informant : PSI - October
THE PUBLIC SECTOR INFORMANT 3 [OCTOBER 2010] GREY 18287 [PUBLIC A DMINISTRATION:RICHARD M ULGAN] Unfinished business: Moran needs more time The secretaries Appointing a new PM&C chief would risk undermining the bureaucracy's professionalism Forward-thinking: PM&C secretary Terry Moran prepares to unveil the Ahead of the Game blueprint in March this year. Where does the return of Labor under Julia Gil- lard leave the leader- ship of the Australian Public Service? What are the pro- spects for the reform agenda outlined in the Ahead of the Game blueprint, better known as the Moran review, published earlier this year? So far, Gillard has made no significant changes among the ranks of secretaries. She appears to be follow- ing the ALP policy of retaining incumbent secretaries after a change of prime minister. This policy, ar- ticulated by Labor in opposition as a response to John Howard's wholesale dismissals in 1996, was confirmed by Kevin Rudd when Labor returned to power in 2007. All secretaries re- mained in place. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Dr Peter Shergold resigned a few months later and was replaced by Terry Moran. But the initiative was reportedly Shergold's, not Rudd's. Given that the change from Rudd to Gillard is a change of leader only, and not a change of party, any case for replacing incumbent secretaries may appear even weaker now than in 2007. On the other hand, some commentators have pointed to the ''personalisation'' rather than ''politicisation'' of key appoint- ments, stressing a prime minister's supposed preference for having secretaries who are personally com- patible rather than politically parti- san. In this case, a change of leader, even within the same party, may warrant a change of secretaries on grounds of personality and manage- ment style. The key position is that of the PM&C secretary, who is the head of the APS and the prime minister's chief public service adviser. Over the past two decades or more, each change of prime minister has been closely followed by a change of the PM&C secretary. Sometimes, like Shergold, PM&C secretaries have taken the change of leader as a convenient opportunity to step down after long years of demanding ser- vice, allowing a successor to adapt to a new prime minster. Whatever the reasons, a convention appears to have developed that a new prime minister is entitled to appoint a new PM&C secretary, if not immediately on taking office, at least after a short, decent interval. Shergold's replace- ment by Rudd's appointee, Moran, even if triggered by Shergold's voluntary resignation, had the effect of cementing the convention: new prime minister, new secretary. On this view, Gillard has every right to replace Moran with an appointee of her own, as a way of stamping her own authority on the APS. Whether she will exercise this right, however, remains to be seen. Moran's case is significantly differ- ent from his immediate predecessors in that he has so far served for only 21G2 years and has just embarked on an ambitious program of APS reform. His departure and replacement would amount to a severe rupture rather than a seamless transition. If Gillard agrees to continue work- ing with a secretary appointed by her predecessor and if Moran stays, it would represent a minor victory for the principles of public service pro- fessionalism. The essence of a profes- sional public service is its capacity to give loyal and efficient service to the government of the day, of whichever party. As leader of the public service, the PM&C secretary should be cap- able of doing what all other public servants are expected to do; namely, to work effectively for different ministers and different parties. The convention that prime minis- ters need to choose their own depart- mental secretary breaches public service professionalism and deserves to be challenged. For Moran to serve two consecutive prime ministers would not spell the end of the convention, because both prime min- isters will have been from the same side of politics. But it would mark a step in the right direction, away from the highly personalised and politi- cised view of the position. Coincidentally, if Moran does remain to see through the reform programs envisaged in Ahead of the Game, one of the more significant changes will be to strengthen the security of tenure enjoyed by secretaries in general. Under the report's recommendations, accepted by the Rudd government, the length of appointment for secretaries is to be fixed at five years for all secretaries rather than, as at present, being allowed to vary up to five years. Equivalent employment or fair com- pensation is to be guaranteed for those whose tenure is terminated early. The public service com- missioner is to be given a stronger role in secretary appointments, along- side the PM&C secretary. The authors of the Moran review implicitly accepted criticisms lev- elled by former public service com- missioner Andrew Podger, and oth- ers, that excessive insecurity of tenure had compromised public ser- vice professionalism. Senior public servants had allegedly become too responsive to political pressure and too willing to tell ministers what they might want to hear. The report did not seek to reintroduce permanent tenure for secretaries nor to challenge the ultimate right of prime ministers to decide appointments at this level. But within these limits, it certainly pu- shed for a greater level of job security and transparency, and the need to protect the value of frank and fearless advice. Relations between politicians and public servants are a perennially contentious topic, as a balance is sought between the conflicting principles of responsiveness to the elected government of the day and the maintenance of a proper distance from the more partisan and short- term aspects of party politics. Too much responsiveness can be seen as unhealthy politicisation. Too much independence, on the other hand, signifies the unaccountable manda- rinate of Yes Minister notoriety. The history of the APS from the 1970s reveals a gradual shift away from independence towards greater responsiveness. The Howard govern- ment marked the culmination of this trend, beginning with the dismissal of six secretaries, pour encourager les autres, and the appointment of Max Moore-Wilton as PM&C secretary; clearly the most partisan recent occupant of that position. The high- water mark was reached in the early 2000s when the children overboard and Iraqi weapons of mass destruc- tion affairs revealed that public service advice to ministers was being corrupted out of fear of contradicting the government view. Since then, under Shergold and now Moran, the pendulum has been quietly swinging back towards a better balance. Replacing Moran at such a pivotal time would disrupt this process of welcome re-adjustment. The Gillard government needs urgently to rid itself of short-term, media-driven thinking and begin constructing effective policies for the medium and longer terms. It should listen less to its political advisers and draw more on the professional re- sources of the public service. Now is not the time to express doubt in the loyalty and professionalism of the APS by changing its leadership. Richard Mulgan is an emeritus professor at the ANU's Crawford School of Economics and Government. email@example.com
PSI - September