Secretary contradicts PM over Thodey review while APS braces for more MoG changes

By Stephen Easton

Tuesday December 10, 2019

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A federal department secretary has contradicted Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s claim that his dramatic and decisive changes to the Australian Public Service are “consistent entirely with the thrust of the Thodey Review” in a rare example of a top mandarin backgrounding the media.

The APS is on tenterhooks waiting for what comes next.

Morrison said his response to the Thodey report would come this week and “further changes” to the public service would follow, pending “some final advice” on the official response. But it’s clear that in well over a year of consultation, nothing in the process prepared public servants to expect anything like this.

A department secretary has confirmed to The Guardian that major restructuring is at odds with what the review recommended and never came up once in several rounds of consultation.

The confirmation will come as no surprise to those who participated in the consultations, read the submissions and open discussion on the APS Review website, or studied the independent panel’s interim report. The shock and disruption caused by such a dramatic machinery-of-government rebuild is only amplified by the long period of consultation and discussion that strongly suggested things were heading in a very different direction.

If anything, the Thodey review was leaning towards a slightly more independent public service, with a bit more job security for secretaries, and a return to its preeminent role in providing policy advice to government. But the review’s wide terms of reference and its interim report both suggest there is likely to be plenty of wiggle room in the report for Morrison to pick and choose ideas that justify his plans.

A lot of public servants at all levels have taken the time to participate in the extended process, since it began in May 2018, and it will be quite a task to convince them it wasn’t all for nothing.

The response is expected to include “a further cull of government agencies and boards” and outline how many millions Morrison plans to invest in the digital transformation of service delivery, The Age reports.

The cost was conspicuously absent from a big update on the progress of digital transformation, the development of new data-sharing legislation, and service delivery reform from Government Services Minister Stuart Robert.

“Having fewer departments will allow us to bust bureaucratic congestion, improve decision making, and ultimately deliver better services for the Australian people,” Morrison said last Thursday.

“The new structures … will drive greater collaboration. It will break down the silos. It’ll ensure that important policy challenges in which different parts of the public service are working on, can work more effectively on together.”

 

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