Economist’s appointment shows serious public sector reform starts now

By Melissa Coade

Friday June 24, 2022

Gordon de Brouwer
Gordon de Brouwer will work in close partnership with Peter Woolcott and the Secretaries Board. (IPPA)

Last month, the federal government was voted into power flagging a reform agenda, and now it has installed some key players to get that work underway. The latest pick being long-time public servant and economist Dr Gordon de Brouwer.

Minister for the public service Katy Gallagher issued a statement welcoming de Brouwer’s appointment, who has a two-year mission to ‘design and deliver recommendations to strengthen the public sector’. 

“I look forward to working with Dr de Brouwer and the APS on these important reforms,” she said. 

The minister said the top mandarin would work in close partnership with APSC commissioner Peter Woolcott and the Secretaries Board to oversee a ‘wide range’ of reforms to make the APS fit for purpose.

“[Dr de Brouwer’s work will] support the government’s commitment to building a stronger public service that delivers better outcomes for the community, acts as a model employer and contributes to building a fairer and more inclusive Australia,” Gallagher said.

“The APS plays a crucial role in serving the Australian community and helping to shape the future of our nation and the appointment of Dr de Brouwer to lead this important work demonstrates the government’s commitment to ensuring that the APS is fit for purpose going forward.”

At the time his appointment was announced, de Brouwer was working as a professor of economics, jointly appointed to ANU’s Crawford School of Public Policy and College of Business and Economics. He also sat on CEDA’s board of directors, with CEDA chair Diane Smith-Gander describing de Brouwer’s economic and policy insight and experience as influential to how the think-tank shaped its own research insights and communication. 

I have really valued and enjoyed working with Gordon,” Smith-Gander told The Mandarin, also noting de Brouwer was a good pick to take on the government’s new public sector reform secretary post.

“Over the past year, Gordon has also chaired our people & governance committee as it has steered CEDA’s efforts to look after the wellbeing of our team against the backdrop of COVID, evolve our approach to diversity and inclusion, manage new ways of working, and continue to build our own capabilities as an organisation. 

Gordon is incredibly well placed to take on these new responsibilities and we wish him well in this important work,” she said. 

After his time serving as head of Environment and Energy (2013-2017), de Brouwer was a member of the Independent Panel reviewing the Australian Public Service. He was appointed chair of ANSTO’s risk and audit committee in 2019 and joined ANU in 2021.

He has a long career in academia and more than 35 years of public service experience, supporting Australian prime ministers at eight G20 summits. He was also recognised by the French Republic as a Knight in the Legion of Honour for his public and G20 service.

IPPA CEO Caroline Walsh told The Mandarin de Brouwer’s latest appointment recognised his significant leadership in public administration, and sustained advocacy for reform and strengthening of the public sector. 

She added that de Brouwer’s thought-leadership on bullying and harassment in the APS had examined systemic concerns and provided recommendations for meaningful and lasting change.

“As one of the panel members who delivered the Independent Review of the Australian Public Service in 2019, Dr de Brouwer continues to demonstrate his ongoing commitment to identifying and addressing issues within the public sector,” Walsh said.

“IPAA commends the appointment as an acknowledgement of the critical work of the public sector in improving the lives of all Australians. We look forward to working with Dr de Brouwer and others in strengthening capability and professionalism in our public sector.”

Walsh also pointed to de Brouwer’s contribution as ‘the voice of Australia’s public sectors to promote the value of public service’, the work of public servants and those they work with.

As IPPA national president, de Brouwer made it his business to tell the stories of public service at the state, territory and national levels. More recently, he was busy celebrating the herculean efforts of the public service in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last July he told a Queensland public service audience the speed, collaboration, and effectiveness with which mandarins were able to deliver services during a time of ‘major health, social and economic crisis’ should be commended.

“COVID-19 has provided a real imperative for those in the public service to work together, talk frankly and honestly, to share information, rely on and trust each other, and it’s all to achieve a shared goal,” de Brouwer said.

“It’s shown that relationships really do matter and that we can achieve a lot together — frankly, we can achieve more together — when we work like adults with decency and common sense.”

Dr de Brouwer went on to explain the pandemic provided an opportunity for the public service to harness and retain the best features of what the COVID-19 disruption had transformed; both in terms of flexible work arrangements and service delivery. But to make the most of the positive changes required a deliberate and systemic strategy. 

“What the COVID-19 experience has shown is that public-sector work practices don’t need to be fixed in stone. 

“A lot of flexibility in the workplace is possible. Hierarchy can be streamlined. And giving staff responsibility for doing their job can frankly achieve better results,” de Brouwer said.


Public sector reform: Everything you need to know about Gordon de Brouwer

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