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Speech to the Australian Public Service Commission: Taste of Government seminar.

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Special Minister of State


Speech by Senator The Hon John Faulkner Special Minister of State

18 April 2008

Australian Public Service Commission

First, I would like to acknowledge the Ngunnawal people and their ancestors as the traditional owners of the land on which we are meeting today.

I am pleased to be opening this ‘Taste of Government’ seminar for 2008 graduates across the Australian Public Service, and I would like to thank the Australian Public Service Commissioner, Lynelle Briggs, for inviting me to speak to you today.

I would like to say a few words about the tradition of the public service that you have recently become a part of, the role of the public service today, and most importantly, the opportunity that you have to contribute to the betterment of our country and its people.

Of course, the Australian Public Service has a long and proud history in helping to build our nation. This has meant providing advice to 26 Prime Ministers, and to Ministers and Governments of many different political persuasions, as well as implementing policies designed to meet the major challenges of the times.

From the humble beginnings of the Commonwealth Government after Federation, through the collective national efforts that were required to meet the test of two World Wars and the intervening Great Depression, to the hard yards of post-war reconstruction and economic development, the public service played an integral part in ensuring Australia became a unified, modern and successful nation.

The Australian Public Service was also involved in rolling out great social reforms in the 1970s - such as ensuring that Australians had access to quality health care and higher education. And the public service was tasked to deliver on the economic reforms of governments in the 1980s and 1990s, which underpinned the sustained period of economic growth of recent years.

And the Australian Public Service has needed to be dynamic to meet these challenges.

Ladies and gentlemen, some fundamental principles which govern the public service have remained constant over the years, namely:

z The provision of impartial and independent advice to the Government, and

z The faithful implementation of Government policies and decisions, regardless of the political

complexion of the Government of the day.

There are other critically important elements of the Westminster approach to the public service:

z Employment and promotion should be based on open, merit-based selection processes,

A Taste of Government Seminar

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z Public servants need to identify and manage potential conflicts of interest, and

z At all times, public servants should act ethically, honestly and professionally.

This ‘model’ is designed to ensure Governments obtain the best advice possible from the public service, and the public service is, in return, well-equipped to deliver on Government programmes.

I am strongly committed, as is the Government, to upholding the ideals of the Westminster model. We want to rebuild the foundations of an ethical, independent and professional public service. And we want to restore openness and transparency to Government.

Our goals include:

z Respecting the separate roles and responsibilities of the Government and the public service

z Ensuring greater transparency in decision-making by the Government and the public service,


z Enhancing frameworks for public service accountability.

To achieve these important goals, the Government is undertaking a range of initiatives, such as the introduction of a Code of Conduct for ministerial advisers, a register for lobbyists and principles for how to deal with them, broadening and strengthening public interest disclosure systems and reforming our freedom of information laws.

We are also committed to ensuring that the Senate Estimates process works in a constructive and transparent way. Now, I recognise that some of your more senior colleagues may not particularly look forward to appearing at Estimates rounds, three times a year, but it is an important forum through which ministers and officials are held accountable. I expect many of you will get the chance to experience the ‘pleasure’ of Estimates hearings in future years. There is an element of reciprocity in the Estimates process: you are entitled to be treated with respect but you are requiredto tell the truth.

Ladies and gentlemen, we want the most effective public service possible to help us meet the problems that confront us in 2008 and beyond. We want a public service that is very well equipped to provide balanced, frank, well-informed and outcomes-focussed advice on complex policy issues. We want a public service that, like its predecessors, is capable of meeting the great challenges of our times -

z Addressing climate change

z Overcoming Indigenous disadvantage

z Improving standards of health care and education

z Ensuring the security of our nation, and

z Maintaining economic prosperity for the benefit of all Australians.

The work of many Departments and agencies is involved in meeting these and the other critically important issues that confront Government.

As recent graduates, I am sure you will have ideas about how to solve some of these problems, and I’m equally sure you will be keen to share them. We expect you to have a commitment to serve the Government of the day and, through that service, help the broader Australian community. And we know you will be prepared to work hard, sometimes very, very hard, to ensure that these challenges are ultimately met.

I have said before that I am aware that the public service is facing what Defence would call an ‘increased operational tempo’ as a new government, with new policy priorities, places heavy demands upon you. Please be assured that your efforts are appreciated.

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I also hope that you find some compensation for the long hours of toil, as I do, in the knowledge that the Commonwealth Government is committed, absolutely committed, to coming to grips with even the most intractable problems facing our society.

I look forward to working with you as we meet these challenges, and sincerely wish you success in your careers with the public service.

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Media Adviser - Colin Campbell - 0407 787 181

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