The Australian Public Service must keep up the high quality implementation and execution that it has shown in 2020 as it supports the government’s business-led COVID-19 recovery next year, according to the prime minister.
In a speech to the APS200 virtual forum on Wednesday, Scott Morrison noted that last year he had called for the APS to be professional, capable, flexible, technology-enabled, citizen-focused, and open to diverse points of view. He had also argued that implementation and execution were more important than advice.
This year the entire APS has demonstrated these values, Morrison said, through quick decisions like closing the national borders, initiatives like JobKeeper, and the rapid redeployment of the APS.
“Silos fell. They dissolved. Real substantive and fast collaboration occurred,” he said.
“We faced twin national crises in real time, a health crisis and an economic one, to save lives and to save livelihoods. There was no rule book … you’ve written that book now about how it should be done, through your actions.
“Proving what I said last year, meeting the standards of high quality implementation and execution, you helped keep this country’s head above water while so many other countries were plunging.”
The PM said the way agencies have worked together in 2020 has been a significant learning experience, and has challenged the notion that Canberra is disconnected from the rest of the country.
“I think the Australian Public Service has done a lot this year to disprove that. And what it’s also disproved to itself is that everyone doesn’t have to stay in their silos for this to work. You’ve demonstrated how when you come together, you achieve great things. So that’s got to be our take out,” he said.
“Let’s take that as the learning and the legacy from what has been a very, very difficult year. That coming together does work. It does get better outcomes. It does increase the productivity and the outcome delivery of our public service for all Australians.”
While Australia has witnessed the APS “at its very best” in 2020, the workforce has a “critical role” to play in Australia’s recovery phase, and must continue to deliver in 2021.
“We want businesses to drive this recovery. Now, that doesn’t mean that there’s no role for government. Quite the opposite. But what we have to be clear about is that we are enabling, through our policies, through the work that you’re doing, a business-led recovery. Because that’s what is sustainable,” Morrison said.
“My message to every member of the APS is that you demonstrated this year that together you are stronger, more effective and more capable than I think perhaps you imagined as well. So let’s step out in that in 2021.”
When asked how the APS can continue to improve its ability to deliver on the government’s commitments, the PM said bureaucrats should be supporting their ministers by helping them understand exactly where a programme of delivery is at, and whether they’re on track to meet their commitments.
The APS must also continue to be a “self-learning” organisation, and cannot revert to the old ways of working pre-pandemic, which he said would be a “great failure”.
However, that doesn’t mean the public service can continue to work remotely, as the majority of the workforce has done during COVID-19.
“I don’t think the lesson of 2020 is everyone can work from home from now on. No, we want people back in the offices working together, solving problems together. And as good as the technology is … I’d rather be able to see you all and I’d rather engage with you all.”