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Public Sector Informant : PSI - October
C ONNEC TING ACROSS BOUNDARIES MAKING THE WHOLE OF GOVERNMENT AGENDA WORK VENUE: MUSEUM OF AUSTRALIAN DEMOCRACY, CANBERRA DATE: 18 -- 19 NOVEMBER 2010 THE CONFERENCE WILL: • Provide a forum for the exchange of ideas within and across the public, private and third sectors • Develop participants understanding of current and emerging issues related to the whole of government agenda • Focus attention on practical solutions to whole of government challenges • Features expert practitioners and academic presenters in the public administration field WHO SHOULD ATTEND? • Portfolio secretaries and Agency heads • Public sector managers • Public sector board members • Private and third sector stakeholders partnering or involved with government • Researchers and students MORE INFORMATION AND REGISTRATION OF INTEREST FORM AVAILABLE FROM: T +61 2 6201 2876 F +61 2 6201 5239 www.canberra.edu.au/arc-wholegov/conference UC871 CRICOS#00212K 28 THE PUBLIC SECTOR INFORMANT [OCTOBER 2010] [PERSONNEL:TERRY F EWTRELL] Unprepared staff will hang in a hung House The negotiator The changed politics of the 43rd Parliament require a different kind of public servant The intersection between senior APS officials and ministerial staff will again be in the spotlight, perhaps like never before. It is not only our elected rep- resentatives who face the chal- lenges of minority government. Senior public servants must often move from their front-row seats to the stage, sometimes to play important support roles and occasion- ally to perform highwire acts in front of a highly critical audience. The effective functioning of the Parliament in the post 2010-election political landscape will require changes in the skill sets of ministers and officials. In many ways, the changes will not involve new skills, rather greater sophistication, focus and nuance. For ministers and back- benchers, the new currency will value collaboration and consultation. For public servants, there will likely be a far greater emphasis on three areas of the traditional Australian Public Ser- vice skill set. The focus and value will now be on senior APS advisers and managers with: Far greater depth of knowledge and understanding of the operations of the parliamentary and political processes and what is needed to work effectively in those environments. Greatly enhanced policy aware- ness and sophistication. A capacity to build and maintain relationships in the context of the highly complex web of parliamentary networks and the ability to leverage their policy expertise and nuance to that role. For the senior executive service and legislation subject matter special- ists, there will be a series of new tasks and steps along the legislative path. These emerge from the agreements that provide some of the corsetry for the new Government: The ''Agreement for a Better Parliament'', signed between the major parties and three of the independent MPs. The ''Wattle Day Agreement'', signed between the Government and the Greens as a modus operandi for the 43rd Parliament. Each has its own list of initiatives, consultations and changed proce- dures. While these are essentially political compacts, they will inevi- tably affect the roles and expectations of senior APS managers. To compli- cate things further, they potentially drag APS members onto ground that has proven treacherous in the past, requiring closer and more problem- atic relationships with ministerial staff. At their simplest, these range from project managing draft legislation to ensure compliance with the agreed requirement for six working days notice before the introduction of legislation, and serving the needs of ministers, independents and minor parties in relation to issues addressed in private member's bills, as they relate to portfolio responsibilities. These will involve time and unwanted distraction. Far more significant, however, will be the range of subtle and challenging tasks involved in providing briefings on proposed government legislation to independent and minor party representatives, who come with an array of diverse interests. The ability to build trust as an impartial adviser will go hand in hand with pressure to seek common interests and craft compromises that may mean the difference between legislative suc- cess or failure. Great value will be placed on the ability of officials to develop and deliver written and oral briefing material that is finely pitched to the interests of key stakeholders, particularly the independents. All of this will require far closer and more sensitive consultations and working arrangements with ministers and their staffers. Ministerial offices will be under greatly increased pres- sure in the new environment. More than ever there will be a need for agencies to establish clear working arrangements between the minister's office and the department. Officials will need this sort of protection when the pressure is really on. Conversely, ministers, more than ever, will appreciate the value of that small group of officials who are able to walk the fine line of the impartial adviser, while still displaying the ability to understand implicitly the parliamentary pressures and the pol- itical imperatives that are in play. In the back of the mind of every departmental secretary and senior official will be the recognition that the roles of ministers and shadow ministers could be quickly reversed. For most of its history, the Parlia- ment has operated in majority mode and so, too, have the executive and public service. This has arguably produced a framework for public servants that has understated the expectations of them for policy awareness and parliamentary nuance. The recent Moran blueprint for APS reform, seemingly left like an injured shag on a rock with an incoming tide, highlighted the very real need to rebuild policy capabilities within APS agencies. If we were starting from a low base then, it seems the qualifying level has just drifted higher as we contemplate the sophis- tication demanded today. Much the same can be said about understanding and operating effec- tively within the parliamentary sys- tem. Notwithstanding the experiences of Senate minorities, the whole narrative has to date been written largely around what ministers need to successfully prosecute their legislat- ive and policy agendas. If the parliamentary reform intentions are to win out, they will require some rewriting of the various handbooks and guidelines for public servants. Much thought is likely to be applied over the next year or so as to whether the vagaries of minority government are things the APS needs to equip itself for over the longer term, or whether the present experience is simply a passing travail. Over and above the need for direction and discretion will be the premium value placed on those officials able to effectively and ethically straddle the policy and parliamentary spheres. Agencies have traditionally had one or two exceptional operators in these areas; people with the instinctive antennae of a good politician who are able to bring that to the policy and legislative development tasks, without compro- mising the integrity of the outcome or their impartiality as public officials. They may now see benefit in cloning a few more. An area where extra and delicate guidance may be needed is the APS code of conduct. Current guidance is predicated on the challenges in the environment that has prevailed until now. That has involved encouraging discussion with senior management around ''what constitutes an effective apolitical and impartial role''. APS responsiveness has been seen to legitimately include a role to ''consult relevant stakeholders and understand their different perspec- tives''. Similarly, current guidance says ''ministerial employees have a political role to help the minister fulfil his or her aims across the portfolio. APS employees are respon- sible to the minister through the agency head and have an apolitical role to help the minister draw on the depth of knowledge and experience in the APS, provide a long-term perspective, and ensure due process under the law.'' The intersection between senior APS officials and ministerial staff will again be in the spotlight, perhaps like never before. Current guidance may have offered appropriate direc- tion in a majority government setting but could fall short in the real-world situations likely to arise in a hung Parliament. How far they can be interpreted to apply in the new environment will no doubt be the subject of debate, not only among APS scholars but also the members of a vigilant alternative government. Given all the understandings that have surfaced as a prelude to the 43rd Parliament, it is hoped that the ones between ministers and departments are clear and rigorous. There is more than the survival of the government at stake. Terry Fewtrell is principal consultant with Yellow Edge. firstname.lastname@example.org
PSI - September