Gaetjens’ end-of-year address condemns accusations of politicisation in APS

By Jackson Graham

December 9, 2021

Phil Gaetjens
Former PM&C boss Phil Gaetjens. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

PM&C secretary Phil Gaetjens has used an end-of-year address to public servants to condemn personal attacks on staff and accusations of politicisation. 

Speaking at the IPAA annual address to the APS, Gaetjens said public servants needed to call out behaviours that undermined the values of the sector. 

“Most recently, there have been public comments made with the intent to undermine the public confidence in the APS, through personal attacks on public servants and accusations of politicisation,” Gaetjens said in the address. 

“I will always call out the inaccuracies of these types of comments and reiterate the importance of our impartial and committed public service.” 

Senator Rex Patrick last month used parliamentary privilege to criticise PM&C staff, including Gaetjens, over the department’s rejection of his FOI requests to access minutes of national cabinet meetings. 

Gaetjens and public sector commissioner Peter Woolcott wrote a joint letter tabled in parliament condemning Patrick’s behaviour. 

“I have always tried to put the systems in place or institutionalise things that make the public service stronger, that support the values of the APS and empower us as public servants to give frank advice within a respectful workplace,” Gaetjens said in Wednesday’s address. 

He also foreshadowed expectations for public servants, with a budget scheduled for March 29 next year and a looming caretaker period in the next six months. 

“In the accompanying caretaker period, we must maintain services to the community,” he reminded public servants. 

“The caretaker period is also the time for us to finalise preparations to support whichever government is elected, so that we are in a position to understand and implement the promises made.”

He also said that focusing on living with COVID-19 would continue to loom large in government decision-making in the coming year. 

“Hopefully, shutting domestic borders is largely behind us and — subject to omicron — we can continue reopening our country — and manage the opportunities and challenges that come with that,” Gaetjens said. 

He said a focus on gender equality and eliminating violence against women would be part of Australia’s social recovery from the pandemic, pointing out a new cabinet taskforce committed to women’s safety and economic security. 

Mental health suicide reforms, implementing a new national strategy to prevent and respond to child sexual abuse, improving the wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and responses to the aged care royal commission were also key areas that would involve public servants implementing policy. 

“On the fiscal outlook, I would expect future budgets to require the APS to change focus from the supports underpinning the pandemic response to wider prioritisation that takes into account preparing for future shocks,” Gaetjens said. 

Reflecting on the year gone, Gaetjens praised the APS for its success across the vaccination rollout, which had protected more than 88.5% of Australians over 16 against COVID-19. 

He also rehashed achievements in Australia, committing to a net-zero target by 2050, forming an AUKUS partnership alongside other strategic moves, and the APS for reforming its own capability. 

“We’ve had to cope with a tenfold increase in digital demand, so we’ve massively increased our APS digital infrastructure capacity,”  Gaetjens pointed out. 

He also said the Secretaries Talent Council, alongside other players, was strengthening the pipeline of future APS leadership.  

The Talent Council, in conjunction with all secretaries, no longer talks about succession planning in general terms but takes a more evidence-based approach to identifying individuals who show potential to become a secretary,” Gaetjens said.

“This brings private sector best practice into the APS to assist in the selection of secretaries.”

He encouraged public servants to think about what would inspire them in the year ahead as they spend time with loved ones and reset for 2022.


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