Valuing what we do well: everyday experience of a public servant


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Australia’s public servants can do better in a number of ways. But government workers don’t get enough credit for the functions they perform really well. One bureaucrat shines an important light.

I’m an avid reader of The Mandarin; it provides me with interesting and topical articles that are highly relevant to my work, particularly those on how to improve the public service. However, it struck me that the vast majority of the articles focus on both leadership within the public service and “fixing” the public service and that there is little on the people who implement policy and programs on a daily basis and the good work the public service delivers.

This is not to discount the value and the highly influential role that public service leaders provide or to suggest that the public service does not need to be reformed, but rather to contend that the everyday experience of the general policy officer should be as highly valued as the senior official.

The words bureaucrat and bureaucracy are typically associated with negative rather than positive connotations by popular media, yet it is those public servants that keep the machinery of government working and deliver services to the community on a daily basis. I would argue that there should be more focus on what the public service does well, such as the expertise and wealth knowledge that it provides to the community and wider society. “The public rarely sees the hard work these everyday public servants put in …”

General policy and program officers are the individuals that produce the daily correspondence, conduct the research for ministers and senior officials, co-ordinate the briefings and papers for national meetings such as the Council of Australian Governments, work with other government departments both at a state and national level to deliver policy, produce a significant amount of work behind every media announcement, and work with the community to manage and resolve policy problems that arise.

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  • John Alderman

    Well said Dr Murray. I likewise am sometimes concerned at the undervaluing of public servants. I for one love being a public servant, I love the work I do and I love the passion and commitment of my colleagues.

    At this very moment in Adelaide there is a significant fire sweeping through the Adelaide hills. As a very topical case in point you should see the amazing job South Australia’s emergency services are doing. Their expertise right now is invaluable, in terms of their task of communicating and co-ordinating, well hats off to their incredible and important work. I hope everyone stays safe.

    • Tanya Murray

      Thank you John. I agree with you, I have been watching the good work.
      One query did you use to work at the seo about 12 years ago?

      • John Alderman

        Yes indeed, hope you are well.

        • Tanya Murray

          I am well. I’ve been in Queensland now for almost 12 years. I am still in contact with Mark McLoughlin.