The Commonwealth government has “massively underinvested in the capabilities of its staff”, believes Terry Moran, who was secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet during the Rudd government.
“When you hear what happens in the public service in terms of developing people so that they’re up to date with the latest approaches to management and strategy and so forth, if the public service is compared to the private sector, the private sector typically is streets ahead. And it shows,” he told the Outlook conference in Melbourne on Friday.
And the problem gets worse the higher up you go.
“So the public service is recruiting really bright young people who are up to date for a while when they first go into jobs — after all they’ve just graduated — but then seemingly fall out of date because they’re being neglected by departments and agencies,” Moran believes.
By the time APS staff reach senior executive service levels, “they’re out of date”.
The notable exception is Treasury people, “who find a way to keep up to date”, he argues.
“There are people in the social policy departments who don’t have a clue how services are delivered on the ground. Therefore they can’t be trusted with the big service delivery operations that the Commonwealth has accumulated in the social policy field.”
Moran revealed he had told the chair of the Australian Public Service review that the social policy agencies in particular had been hollowed out.
“I said to David Thodey — and he was a bit surprised at this — that I thought the problem was that particularly in the social policy space, the only people that are standing after the last 20 or 30 years are generalists who are process junkies, or microeconomists, who believe that every policy problem has a solution in framing a market, setting a price and light-handed regulation,” he told the audience.
The comments echo those from earlier this year that the Commonwealth was “all thumbs” on social policy.
“The Australian Public Service is not, in my view, irredeemably screwed, all over, it’s just that specific part of it that has been eroded and corrupted,” Moran said in July.
He also said in 2017 that if the public service were a patient “it would be in palliative care”.