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Thursday, 22 September 1983
Page: 1207

Mr PEACOCK (Leader of the Opposition)(8.03) —I am very grateful for the warmth of the reception of honourable members opposite. In considering the estimates for the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet it is significant to note that the Australian Labor Party during the election campaign produced a document called 'Labor and Quality of Government'. In that document the Labor Party recognised:

One of the most important administrative matters for any government to settle is the structure and operation of the interface between Cabinet and the bureaucracy. Unless the Prime Minister, the Cabinet and the Cabinet Committees are effectively serviced the whole system will very quickly break down.

That unexceptionable truism is, of course, supported by the Opposition. I also have a good deal of sympathy for the document's subsequent statement that there is considerable scope for streamlining and reshaping the structure and mode of operation of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet so that it becomes less a department to second guess or second think, often on a less well informed basis, the whole range of other departments. That statement reflected a determination somewhere deep within the Australian Labor Party to improve the overall efficiency of not just the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet but the whole of the Public Service. Like so many of the Labor Party's election commitments this one proved to be an empty promise. So has its equally sensible proposal to divide the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet into 'two sections devoted respectively to policy and organisation'.

The estimates show that the Government has done nothing to streamline and reshape the Department. In fact, it has done the reverse. The Department's second guessing functions have been expanded. Instead of eight divisions the Department now has 10. A new community development division has been established and a new security division has been set up. Both of these divisions cover the work of several specialist departments. A justice branch within the security division has had to be established to cope, I assume, with the enormous volume of work emanating from the Hope Royal Commission. It is, in other words, a branch established to handle the impropriety of the Government and in particular , of course, the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke). The Government has also failed to divide the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet into two sections as it promised to do. That is of less concern but it is indicative of the Government's failure to pursue its election commitments now the votes have been counted. One can only speculate on why the Prime Minister has chosen to strengthen, not weaken, his Department. His lack of confidence in his Ministers and their repeated acts of administrative and policy incompetence may have played an important part in the explanation.

Another matter of concern to the Opposition is the Government's clear move towards the politicisation of the Public Service. Members will recall that this was a distinguishing feature of the Whitlam Administration. All the signs are that we will see a re-enactment of that policy with the Hawke Administration.

Mr Burr —Disgraceful.

Mr PEACOCK —It is indeed. The signs are evident, as the honourable member will be aware and as I have just mentioned. I particularly draw the Committee's attention to the Government's clear intention to dispense with Sir William Cole as Chairman of the Public Service Board and to replace him with a servant of the Australian Labor Party, Dr Peter Wilenski.

Mr Dawkins —Just wait and see.

Mr PEACOCK —'Just wait and see' says the Minister for Finance. We have been asking questions on this and the Prime Minister has refused to deny it. One can reasonably assume with the refusal to deny that that is so, and not even the most tacit endorsement of the extraordinary service to the nation given by Sir William Cole has emanated from the Prime Minister at any stage. It may well be that the Labor Party has someone other than Dr Peter Wilenski. One can only speculate who is being kept under the covers if it is not Dr Wilenski.

Under the Westminster system of government and public administration an independent, impartial and apolitical Public Service is regarded as essential. The Government must get independent advice from the Public Service, advice removed from political ambition and ideological adornment. Public servants must be able to give advice without fear of any political consequences or favour should that advice suit the Government. By appointing a political crony-I use that term very deliberately-to the pivotal position of Chairman of the Public Service Board the Government is taking a major step towards abandoning the independence of the Public Service. We can only hope that the Cabinet becomes receptive to the arguments we are putting forward in this area and abandons its proposal to appoint Dr Wilenski. Once again, it may be that the continuing pressure from the Opposition in this area will occasion a change of mind as it did with the Hope Royal Commission. It appears from the interjection of the Minister for Finance (Mr Dawkins) earlier that the Cabinet is having second thoughts.

Throughout our period of government I formed a very high impression of the commitment, the integrity and the calibre of public servants. The quality of our Public Service is one of Australia's very substantial assets. In the years ahead the Government must come to recognise what so many public servants already know- that the rapidly changing character of Australia will require a continuing, sensitive but particularly flexible Public Service. For policy formulation and the execution of policy to be successful, the Public Service must maintain an effective dialogue with the community. It must understand the competing claims of sectional interest groups and have the capacity to understand the overall context of those competing claims.

I think it is fair to say that individual departments are often captured by particular interest groups. As a result they have a reduced capacity to formulate effective policies. That can only be overcome with a fuller understanding of community concerns. Equally-and this is not unrelated- departments must not look on policy in terms of their traditional territory. They need to understand the interconnections between policies and the need for policies to be considered in broad terms. They must understand that, for example , technology policy cannot be separated from education and industry policies even though each of these areas has its own department. They must understand that taxation policy cannot be separated from wages and industrial relations policies.

In conclusion, the interdepartmental committee system has become an institutional solution. But, too often, interdepartmental committees are simply a forum for interdepartmental rivalries and a battleground for competing fiefdoms. As a consequence, far too often they become a forum for tenuous agreement-the lowest common denominator. The Government must encourage-this is a criticism of previous governments as well-a much more effective dialogue between departments. It must understand that rational policy making is co-ordinated policy making.

So the challenge that the Government must meet is to build a more efficient, co -ordinated and streamlined public service and to do so without duplication and competing fiefdoms. In doing so the Government must maintain an apolitical and independent Public Service.