plus c'est la meme chose If it were necessary to identify, in a few words, the signs of weakness and flabbiness in current thinking about Australian government and public administration, two symbols readily present themselves: platitudes, often called values, and, visually, the overhead.
The considered paper, the thoughtful, well researched address, has become an artifact of a past era; for many, an unhappy reminder of a time of caution and, according to critics, of complacency. The ascendancy of the platitude and the overhead (or PowerPoint presentation) was clearly on display at last month's largely government funded international congress organised by the Institute of Public Administration Australia in Melbourne. Once upon a time, the institute's annual conferences formed the basis of books, which continue to be consulted many years after the gathering itself has passed into history. The congress is unlikely to leave such a legacy. Durability was, of course, a hallmark of the old public administration. It must thus be hoped that the various ''presentations'' made a substantial impact upon the various audiences of the congress, because the material that has made it to the internet thus far, while some of it looks promising, is in the main hardly self explanatory. It cannot be surprising that, of the small number of addresses in traditional form, that by Jennifer Westacott, chief executive of the premier business lobby, the Business Council of Australia, was the one that attracted louis vuitton twist it bracelet much media attention. Westacott has an extensive background in government, in both NSW and Victoria, capped by some time in consulting. Thus, although a certain amount of what she has to say follows in the well trodden paths of business commentary on government dating back at least to the years after World War II there is a substantial amount that falls into the category of post employment reflections. She claims to speak ''very frankly about restoring precious things about the civil service''. The centrepiece of media attention was inevitably her criticisms of ministerial staff, a controversy of more than four decades' duration. The ministerial staff system, conceived in the early 1970s in an atmosphere of suspicion and animosity towards public services, has shown remarkable sustainability, notwithstanding the great hostility it attracts, and of which Westacott's recent outpouring is but the latest. Some of its most trenchant critics are former staffers themselves. There is also, as so often in debates about public administration in Australia, a perceptible partisan dimension. Staff of Labor ministers are normally viewed favourably; their task has been to keep the public service ''responsive'' (a concept which, in the Commonwealth, no longer has statutory sanction). Staff of Coalition ministers, by contrast, are perceived as footsoldiers of those hostile to the public service and all it stands for. Many people will agree with former senior public servant Ken Baxter's view that not much would be lost by halving the numbers of ministerial staff, and having an especially close look at the staff complements of ministers other than those in the cabinet. In the Commonwealth, there is an increasingly strong case for reviewing the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act, which is now getting on to 30 years old. This legislation has always suffered from a confusion, lumping ministers (executive branch) in with parliamentarians (legislative branch). There should be one statute dealing with staff for members of Parliament and a separate act making provision for staff of ministers qua ministers. More substantially, the rationale for separating ministerial staff from the minister's department is misconceived, even if it perhaps had some justification at the time when the legislation was enacted as a part of the Hawke government's reform agenda. The big problem manifested by the gatekeeper issue that Westacott identifies is that it functions as an impediment to ministers taking control of their departments. Ministers need to be encouraged to act as though they are heads of their departments and not simply resist (or cushion) the role by relying on their private office staff. A refashioned ministerial staff system would make provision for ministers, according to rank and seniority, to have a limited number of personal advisers except for the major figures, generally up to three and not more than five and some provision to engage experts to preserve the facility now available through the little used ''ministerial consultant'' facility. The routine work of the ministerial private office would be carried out by departmental staff; the use of departmental staff should be governed by some sort of code of practice to ensure regular turnover. Business has been in the lobby trade long enough; it should have learnt the ropes of communicating with policymakers by now. Westacott wants to ''reinstate the tenure of the departmental secretaries''. Her opposition to what she sees as the contract system starts with the proposition that it could not ''give us a Nugget Coombs or a C. J. Bradfield'' (presumably J. J. C. Bradfield of Sydney Harbour Bridge fame). This actually does not provide much of a guide to what she proposes. Coombs spent most of his time at the top in term limited statutory appointments. Bradfield was a great exemplar of the old engineering fiefdoms that dominated Australian public services for more than a century from the responsible government era. They were to be found in roads and especially railway organisations, as well as departments of public works, water boards, electricity commissions, the post office and the Department of Civil Aviation. There were kindred professional fiefdoms in the fields of health and law. In the Commonwealth, there are indications that this question has reached some sort of settlement. The latest public service legislation is a couple of steps forwards and a couple backwards. Its worst feature is the elevation of the secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to a position above all others. This is not only inimical to the ethos of a career based, professional, collegiate public service, it is also at odds with the quasi politicisation of this office in the Australian Public Service, in contrast to its character in other comparable Westminster bureaucracies. (''Collegiate'' is an old word that embraces the present awkward fad notion of ''whole of government''.) Westacott's problems with the contract system are that it ''cultivates and rewards reticence and timidity not the tough thinking we need to deal with complex challenges''. Further, ''it opens the door on a culture of intimidation and bullying of public servants. An environment where merit can be substituted for favouritism.'' A problem with Westacott's world view is that there appear to be only two parts to it: business and government. ''It's the two sectors working effectively side by side that can deliver on the important principles of shared value Business and government have to work together to grow the size of the economic pie in a rapidly changing environment.'' An observer does not need to be over friendly towards the presumptions of unions or the voluntary sector to appreciate that they need to have some role in any strategy to address the numerous ills Westacott believes now beset where can i buy louis vuitton shoes online Australia: the consequences of changing demographic profile; the tax system; and the old chestnut, the federation: ''the federation is not functioning and, if we don't fix it, we won't tackle the country's unfolding fiscal problems''. No paper from a business source would be complete without a grumble about government's lack of understanding of business. To meet the challenges facing the nation, ''one of the essential steps is for public servants and governments to get a better understanding of how business works. public servants] had a better sense, in recent years, of how particular policy decisions would affect business on the ground, chances are some of these decisions might have been very different.'' Well, maybe! This paper is too long on assertion louis vuitton atlanta ga and too short on either argument or evidence or example. If business had a better understanding of government, perhaps it could have ensured that such consequences of policy would have been known and addressed, if not fully embraced. Business has been in the lobby trade long enough; it should have learnt the ropes of louis vuitton neverfull liner communicating with policymakers by now. Historically, there have been programs aimed at achieving both goals: promoting an understanding of business among public servants and encouraging people in business to learn about government. These programs have, in the main, withered. Even in their heyday, there was much scepticism about what they were achieving. Too often, where an exchange of staff was involved, the benefits derived were unclear. Westacott revives some interesting views about the role of the public service; views that have been much reviled, especially among those seeking the mantle of reform during the 1980s and 1990s. She refers to its ''custodianship of the long term policy agenda''; this has been ''eroded by short term thinking''. She claims that ''the necessary investment in capacity building, succession planning, technology and new ways of providing services just isn't there''. There may be grounds for testing this latter proposition, for there are no doubt quite a number of administrators who would have another view that they could argue with some cogency. One explanation for some of these failings in public services is the rise of the consultancy culture. No matter how able the consultant, and a few of them are very able, the consultancy influence, not only in government, is retrograde. It is based on what could be called ''flash learning'': often highly qualified; contentious information; superficial findings; and implementation arrangements unlikely to take root. The problem with questions about consultants is that they, unlike ministerial staff or the traditional public inquiry, operate well under the radar. There could well be a very strong apologia of their contribution but assembling the evidence would not be easy. That the quality is indifferent can be seen from consultancy work on the public record. A pertinent example is Benchmarking Australian Government Administration Performance (2009) by KPMG. A defence of that report would be simply to compare it with Ahead of the Game (2010), though that was essentially a quasi consultancy effort. Consultants, as much as ministerial staff, need to be brought within the accountability and transparency frameworks of government. Westacott assured her public service audience that, as they addressed the core concerns she had identified, ''business is right behind the restoration of a high performing and efficient public sector''. Just what does that mean? Is business proposing anything tangible? Is it going to sponsor development of some new ideas for government? Or is it simply there in spirit? It's a nice thought, but a nice thought is just not enough. The great weakness of Westacott's contribution lies in her unwillingness to address the political level of government in Australia.
An audience of public servants will be very warmed when someone from business tells them that ''many modern politicians have lost sight of the fundamental role of the public service''. But, actually, it is the politicians who need to be told this. And the Business Council is probably better placed than most others to bring this kind of enlightenment to ministers and potential ministers; it should do so.
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