Auditor-general Grant Hehir has decided not to look into Centrelink's debt recovery efforts, as requested by shadow minister Linda Burney. He'll wait
Government agencies around Australia are standing up to support the campaign to end violence against women today for White Ribbon Day.
ALL THINGS P: The federal government wants to know which open data would be most useful to business, researc
We recently moved our readers to a new system. You may need to reset your password here to login.
Not a member ? Join here for free.
Forgot your password?
Home Features Tom Burton: who is the modern mandarin? An ever-evolving profession
Text size :
TAGS public sector innovation, The Mandarin
The role of the modern Australian public servant has changed significantly since the 1960s and ’70s. And not always for the better, writes The Mandarin‘s publisher.
The scholarly bureaucrats, known as the mandarins, who ruled China for over 1300 years from the sixth century, knew about the need to adapt public leadership to the needs of the times. During that period, China absorbed the period of European colonialism, digested evangelising Christianity, combated multiple invaders, while managing the biggest population of any nation known to humanity.
The role of Australia’s Mandarins — the public heads who lead our federal, state and local government departments, utilities, programs and regulators — has changed significantly from when prime ministerial permanent secretary Sir John Bunting, public service chief Allen Cooley, Treasury boss Fred Wheeler and Defence secretary Arthur Tange ruled Canberra in the 1960s and ’70s. Things were sorted by this small coterie often at lunch at the Commonwealth Club, down by the lake at Yarralumla.
These were the days of so-called fearless advice. Strong independent departmental secretaries who told ministers what they sometimes did not want to hear. In Canberra, and in the state capitals, ministers worked in small offices, with just one or two administrative staff, meaning the secretary had an almost exclusive role as adviser to their minister.
While the wives of the former (and mostly male) mandarins still play tennis at the Commonwealth Club, the role of the modern agency head has changed dramatically as the challenges of modern government have created a very different polity than the one when Bunting and co. ruled Canberra.
Receive unlimited access, get all the latest public sector news and features, plus The Juice, our daily news update sent direct to your inbox.
The Mandarin is where Australia's public sector leaders discuss their work and the issues faced within modern bureaucracy. Join today to discover the latest in public administration thinking and news from our dedicated reporters, current and former agency heads and senior executives.
Tom Burton is publisher of The Mandarin based in Sydney. He has served in various public administration roles, specialising in digital engagement. He was a Walkley Award-winning journalist and executive editor of The Sydney Morning Herald. He worked as Canberra bureau chief for the Australian Financial Review and as managing editor of smh.com.au. He most recently worked at the Australian Communications and Media Authority.
Read Related Content