Terry Moran: if I knew then what I know now …

Featured Video Play Icon

Hindsight’s a funny thing. What would the long-time departmental head do differently? And what have been the major forces of change in the public sector — and reasons for optimism?

I think there are two main things I wish I had got a clearer focus on. But in describing them, I think our focus should be on what now needs to be done, rather than just a lament for the past. So to prevent this discussion from becoming too dirge like, I’ll finish with some reasons for guarded optimism …

The changing role of ministers

My first reflection is that a combination of the change in the media industry, the growing power and ubiquity of IT services and the disintegration of formal party structures has changed ministers and I didn’t anticipate fully by how much.

Early in my career I acquired a view of ministers which shaped much of how I approached my job thereafter. I was not so much naïve as perhaps a little optimistic in forming a view of how ministers approached their life within government — as distinct from acknowledging the battlefields of adversarial politics and what it demands.

Ministers, I thought, are rational and wise with an assured sense of how community sentiment may be divined and shaped. These ministers also know their own limitations and thus respected professional advice which suggested anticipation, insight and good judgement in those giving it. They could accept occasional failings in their own judgements and in the advice they received.

FREE membership to The Mandarin

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.