Frances Adamson urges APS to heed the calls for administrative reform

By Stephen Easton

September 11, 2017

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade secretary Frances Adamson urged her colleagues to listen carefully to retired federal mandarin Gordon de Brouwer’s parting advice, as she took over from him as president of the local Institute of Public Administration Australia division on Thursday night.

“I want to encourage all of us, and colleagues who listen to this — it will be talked about across the service – to actually pick up the challenge that Gordon has laid down,” Adamson said, after de Brouwer used his valedictory to advocate devolving more authority down to middle managers, multi-disciplinary approaches, and the value of plain English in rebuilding public trust in government, among other things.

“I think it’s the least that we can do for you as you search for further social value and purpose, which I am very confident that you will find,” said the DFAT secretary, who thanked her former colleague for encouraging her to be more actively involved in the professional body since she joined the secretaries group last year, and later to take on its presidency.

Of course, he’s not the first APS veteran to call for these kinds of administrative reforms to position the federal bureaucracy for the future and he won’t be the last.

It’s not clear what de Brouwer’s going to do next but Adamson is sure it will be “something very significant and very impressive” that has social value and purpose. Specifically, she paid tribute to his work on “climate change, on the Paris agreement and all that flows from that, and in particular also on the Great Barrier Reef” as this overlapped with DFAT’s responsibilities.

“And I think whenever we engage with one another it’s that thought about the future, it’s digging deeply into our own experiences and analysis of what we’ve done, as well as what we think our political masters in the Australian people need, and I think today you’ve shown exactly what it is and why it is that you’ve served in such an outstanding way for 30 years,” she added.

“And I know there’ll be many more who’ll watch it, listen to it, word’ll go round on The Mandarin, there’ll be endless tweets that refer to it — and it’s only right that that should happen.”

Watch and listen to the speech in the video below, which includes Adamson’s vote of thanks and a brief send-off from the Commonwealth’s top public servant, Martin Parkinson, a close friend of de Brouwer’s who described the night as “one of those occasions where the personal and the professional come together serendipitously”.

Parkinson noted that de Brouwer had found himself dealing directly with three major financial meltdowns and “made a lasting and positive contribution” in each case. The retired secretary reflects on economic crisis management lessons he learned in these times in a written post-script to the speech.

Parkinson was glad he had lured de Brouwer back to Treasury from his professorial post at the Crawford School of Public Policy just in time for him to take a front-line role in the response to the global financial crisis in 2008. Later as an associate secretary with PM&C, he played a crucial role beside David Tune and Terry Moran in the Rudd and Gillard governments’ largely successful fiscal response to the crisis.

Martin Parkinson

Parkinson added his thanks for de Brouwer’s service as IPAA ACT president:“As with the way Gordon has carried himself on the Secretaries Board, he’s been a steward of integrity and multidisciplinary professionalism of the public service. He’s been a champion of robust and mature public debate and an advocate for the unsung heroes of our vocation.”

Like de Brouwer’s retirement, the farewell speech was planned many weeks in advance — before the surprise appointment of Greg Moriarty as Department of Defence secretary and the abrupt resignation of former Health secretary Martin Bowles. The surprising shake-up at the top level of the Australian Public Service that was announced hours before meant the speech was delivered in an unusually charged atmosphere of upheaval.

There was plenty of congratulations for two of the new secretaries, Steven Kennedy and Kerri Hartland, who took their places in the front row, and even more private discussion about what consequences might flow from the sudden and possibly quite disruptive administrative re-shuffle.

Video above by contentgroup on behalf of IPAA ACT Division. Images: RLDI.

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