3 Jul 2018

Australian Public Service. The Yes minister mentality, outsourcing of expertise has undermined ethical structures of the service.

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Is the service permanently broken by political ambition that cannot tolerate dissent in any form.

An excerpt from an article By Richard Mulgan
Are the ethical structures of the APS sufficiently strong to withstand these pressures?

A common theme among my correspondents was that the APS had already lost a significant level of independence in the face of political pressure from ministers and their offices.


Politicians were less inclined to respect public servants' views Frank and fearless advice was in ever-diminishing supply as senior public servants scrambled to ingratiate themselves with ministers and to align their advice with powerful interests represented by politicians.

These are familiar complaints,  in Canberra as public servants adjust to new pressures that have reduced ministers' interest in receiving impartial, sometimes unpalatable, advice from career bureaucrats. Especially for those who have worked in Westminster bureaucracies for a generation or more, the changes are self-evident and largely a matter of regret. Hence the widespread resonance of an argument that public service independence is under long-term threat.

Given recent developments in democratic party government, some of these changes cannot be reversed. For those concerned about protecting fundamental constitutional principles, such as due process and the rule of law, the task is to look beyond a lost world of public service preeminence in the formulation of government policy. Instead, they need to work out how traditional values can be preserved in settings that are significantly different from those in which they originally evolved.

One irrevocable trend, or set of trends, that has impinged on public servants' capacity to speak up for public service values is the increasing mediatisation of policy discourse. This includes such well-documented features as the 24-hour news cycle and the continuous election campaign, in which so much of ministers' time and energy is devoted to political presentation and persuasion in the media. It has also led to, and been fed by, the swelling ranks of political and media advisers that help ministers in their endless search for favourable publicity and political advantage.

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