‘We’re not there to be popular’: Treasury boss John Fraser

Freedom of information rules are causing public servants to take fewer notes and Australia under-invested in infrastructure during the mining boom, argued Treasury secretary John Fraser on Friday night, in a wide-ranging discussion.

Increased transparency from the expansion of freedom of information “has made people extremely careful in the public service about what they put on paper” thinks the secretary of the Commonwealth Treasury John Fraser.

In a wide-ranging discussion on Friday night with the Grattan Institute’s John Daley, Fraser said increased reliance on oral communication in the bureaucracy was “sad”.

“It’s not a bad thing in itself, but open policy debate means people can be candid and at the moment a lot of it is done orally, which is a pity for history and it’s a pity because some of us can’t think very quickly on our feet,” he said.

The event marked the breaking of a 20-year tradition, in which the Treasury secretary spoke after the budget at the Australian Business Economists annual lunch, with Fraser opting instead for an unscripted chat with Grattan’s Daley.

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.