It can be easy for those at the top of the government ladder to forget just how frustrating and difficult it can be for some citizens to engage with the public sector.
The public service must ensure it does not let disadvantaged individuals slip through the cracks in the system, Victoria’s Special Minister of State Gavin Jennings said at the graduation ceremony for the 2016 VPS graduate program on Thursday night.
Jennings urged the newly-minted public servants to go out and see the recent UK film I, Daniel Blake, about a 59-year old joiner who is too sick to work but through a series of bureaucratic and policy failings is unable to access appropriate government support — or as Jennings described it, “a statement asserting the identity of a person who is important and who matters and was treated badly by the public service.”
“We have an obligation not to lose sight of any Daniel Blakes in our community,” he said. “We have an obligation to provide the best quality of care and support for them, not to turn our backs on them.”
He also expressed hope that public servants would not lose faith in government following recent parliamentary expenses scandals in Victoria involving the speaker and deputy speaker of the house.
All those working in government must consider how to conduct good public policy ethically, Jennings argued.
“I emphasise that it is important that you do not lose confidence. Regardless of what you read in the paper, regardless of what the outcome might be in relation to the matters the government is considering at the moment, unless there is a critical mass who operate in that way, we will fail,” he said.
“It’s essential you have confidence that the people you work with work in an ethical framework and acquit their obligations without fear or favour to develop good policy and good responsibility to our citizens. You have every right to expect, our citizens have every right to expect, members of the government have an obligation, that we live up to that standard.”
Riffing on the value of diversity, Jennings noted that, as an “ageing white man in a grey suit” speaking at the twilight of the day, it was heartening to see a VPS that increasingly reflected the community it serves.
Of the 85 who were accepted into the VPS grad program — out of 2656 applicants — there were seven Aboriginal participants, 5% speak a language other than English at home, and 5% reported having a disability. He noted that while 48% of grads are women, there was a slight gap somewhere along along the recruitment line still, given that 52% of applicants to the program are female.
And in an aside that may be encouraging to some, Jennings, who holds a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Social Work, announced that 46% of program participants “are more qualified than I am”.