Get nimble, get positive, Michael Thawley tells Canberra

A new Prime Minister will demand a more agile public service, Canberra’s top bureaucrat has warned. But after 10 months in the job he’s also singing public servants’ praises.

Australia’s top bureaucrat has flagged structural changes to government ranks, as the new prime minister demands a more agile public service.

But Michael Thawley, after 10 months as secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, insists the Australian public sector is world-class — so quit being so negative about it.

New Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is keen to see the APS become more agile and nimble, his departmental secretary told an IPAA ACT conference on Thursday. Responsibility should be delegated to the lowest possible level, especially in service delivery areas. Where work is localised, nothing will get done unless the staff on the ground are given as much authority as possible, and that will also help “retain the enthusiasm” that bright young recruits bring into the APS for decades to come, according to Thawley.

“The hierarchy we deal with is far too inflexible,” he said. “We need to get rid of layers. One way of doing this is to introduce structural changes, and that will take a long time, [or] we can actually do this in a very practical, immediate way.”

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