Moran: Public service’s management of social policy ‘damaging’ respect for government

By Shannon Jenkins

Monday August 9, 2021

Terry Moran wants a royal commission into the bureaucracy and shifted responsibilities in the Australian Public Service’s capability.

Former Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Terry Moran has called for a royal commission into the bureaucracy and a shift in responsibilities to deal with the Australian Public Service’s capability issues.

Moran has warned that ongoing problems with the public service’s management of social policy are ‘damaging the public’s respect for the national government’.

“And I suspect that many ministers feel when they turn to the public service in the social policy area, there’s a lack of understanding, a lack of ideas, a lack of any ability to think their way into what it’s like at the local level in service delivery, for which the commonwealth is responsible,” he told the senate inquiry into the capability of the APS on Friday.

“And I think it’s so bad that David Thodey wrote about these issues in his report, as did I ten years beforehand, [but] both have had no impact.”

He said it was time to have a ‘serious’ royal commission into the APS — like the one led by Herbert Cole ‘Nugget’ Coombs in the 1970s — ‘because parts of it are not fit for purpose’ in the face of Australia’s future challenges.

Read more: Coombs 42 years on — looking back at the review that shaped the APS

The 1976 Coombs royal commission into government administration found that the APS is ‘excessively centralised, excessively hierarchical, excessively rigid and inflexible, and excessively resistant to organisational change’.

Echoing this, Moran said service delivery — particularly in regard to social policy — is ‘massively over-centralised’. He has argued that there are many things that are currently managed out of Canberra that would be better handled by state or local government.

He touched on the concept of subsidiarity, where responsibility for service delivery is brought down to the local level.

“The interesting thing about Coombs, then, was that he said what the commonwealth needed to do is to find a way to work at the local level with state and local government to deliver services,” Moran noted.

“And he actually trialled a couple of such centres, which were then, over time, neglected because they didn’t suit the purposes of the relevant commonwealth departments. So that subsidiarity theme is a very old thing, and Canberra doesn’t get it in the public service. And when it pops up, they often don’t support it.”

Read more: Commonwealth ‘all thumbs’ on social policy, says former top public servant


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10 months ago

Forget about APS ‘reviews’ as long as the Menacing Wallpaper is in charge. His bullying ‘respect and expect’ public-service speeches demanded fealty from APS chiefs, and that perversion has played out in clumsy, irrational quarantine and vaccine rollouts.

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