War of words erupts between former and current Australian public service commissioner

By on 18/12/2015 | Updated on 25/09/2020
Australian Public Service Commissioner, John Lloyd

Australian Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd has hit out against suggestions by previous commissioner Andrew Podger that the public service is “cowering” and “weak.”

Podger, who was commissioner from 2002 to 2004, said in an article for the Australian Financial Review earlier this month that “while the public sector should be lean and efficient, and should focus on the proper responsibilities of government, there is no advantage … if public sector cuts leave it cowering, weak and lacking self-confidence.”

Lloyd responded with his own opinion piece, published on the commission’s website on Monday. He said: “A former commissioner intimated that staff cuts could leave the service ‘cowering, weak and lacking self-confidence.’

“I take issue with such assessments.

“The Australian Public Service (APS) continues to be highly functioning and robust.

“Government today, reflecting Australian society, is complex and change is rapid.

“Citizens rightly expect the government and its public service to meet contemporary challenges. Complexity and change feature daily in the experience of the community and business.”

Podger also said that Martin Parkinson, who was appointed new head of the public service last month, “will need to persuade Lloyd and the finance department secretary Jane Halton to move on from the side issue of internal ‘red tape’ that seems to be occupying their attention.”

Lloyd said that this claim “demonstrates a misunderstanding of what the APS confronts in 2015‑16.”

Podger in his piece called for Lloyd and Halton to “address substantial issues including recruitment and retention of the best and the brightest; development of expertise and corporate knowledge; strengthening engagement with external expertise; building, linking and using data bases; strengthening leadership in the service; and developing pay policies that genuinely reflect labour market requirements.”

He said that he is concerned about the pubic service’s “lost capability”, particularly in strategic policy advice and leadership.

Defending the public service, Lloyd wrote that its strategic policy advice to government “is thorough, identifies choices and frankly canvasses the implications of the options.”

He also said that the “capability of public servants is on show every day: it can be stepping up to help recovery after cyclones or air disasters, implementing a major national reform such as the national disability insurance scheme or running the tax system more efficiently with less paperwork.”

He said the public service’s “efforts to improve staff capability are constant”; that “learning and development is pursued at all levels” and that “the public service strives to attract the best and brightest.”

Lloyd concluded that “the APS is not perfect, but it is professional, dynamic and adaptable. It will continue to provide high quality service to the government and the nation.”


See also: our full interview with Jane Halton, secretary of Australia’s Department of Finance, and:
Civil servants in Australia ‘make stuff up’ creating bureaucracy that isn’t real’, says top official

About Winnie Agbonlahor

Winnie is news editor of Global Government Forum. She previously reported for Civil Service World - the trade magazine for senior UK government officials. Originally from Germany, Winnie first came to the UK in 2006 to study a BA in Journalism & Russian at the University of Sheffield. She is bilingual in English and German, and, after spending an academic year abroad in Russia and reporting for the Moscow Times, Winnie also speaks Russian fluently.

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