Roger Wilkins on red tape, ‘mindless proliferation of watchdogs’

After six years leading the Attorney-General’s Department in Canberra, Roger Wilkins spoke to The Mandarin on public sector work — and its onerous reporting.

The “mindless proliferation of watchdogs and reporting” in government is gumming up the system, according to the outgoing Attorney-General’s Department secretary Roger Wilkins. In an exit interview with The Mandarin, the bow-tied mandarin offered thoughts on innovation, collaboration and the need to cut red tape.

“We should advocate to get rid of a lot of the mindless proliferation of watchdogs and reporting mechanisms that gum up the system and create not only red tape, but a level of risk aversion for public servants. I think it’s now reached a critical point,” he said, days after retiring as the nation’s most senior law-making bureaucrat, arguing it’s often less about real accountability and just “window dressing” out of political compromise:

“I’ve always advocated for a robust ombudsman. An ombudsman deals with maladministration — it should be where these issues are dealt with. The presumption should be that if people have a complaint about the way in which the public service has behaved, go to the ombudsman.

“I don’t know why we need all these other mechanisms. It seems to me that the ombudsman has been a successful mechanism around the world and I’m not sure why we need everything else.”

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