Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called for a “step change” in how the public sector operates and denied claims that the creation of Services Australia is just a “fancy rebranding exercise”.
In his first major speech on the Australian Public Service at Parliament House on Monday, Mr Morrison said he wants the public sector to be an “exemplar of innovation and adaptability”.
But the public sector union said that the Prime Minister’s demands of the APS, as well as many of his comments, were “at odds” with cuts made to the APS by the Coalition government.
Mr Morrison announced the creation of the new Services Australia department, and appointed himself as minister for the public service, immediately following the May federal election.
While he promised the new organisation would follow in the footsteps of the successful Service NSW, it was soon revealed that it would instead by a rebadged Department of Human Services.
Former NSW Finance secretary Martin Hoffman is currently developing a strategy for Services Australia, with McKinsey and KPMG handed more than $850,000 for six weeks worth of strategic guidance.
But Mr Morrison denied that this is just an expensive rebranding exercise.
“It’s about telling governments how things can be done, not just the risks of doing them, or saying why they shouldn’t. The public service is meant to be an enabler of government policy not an obstacle,” he said.
“That is the thinking behind Services Australia. This isn’t some fancy rebranding exercise. It’s a message to the whole of the APS – top to bottom – about what matters to people. It’s about doing the little things well – everything from reducing call waiting times and turnaround on correspondence right through to improving the experience people have walking into a Centrelink office.”
Mr Morrison also said he is a “big fan of RegTech” and that he hopes within the next decade there will be legislation written in code.
“Regulation is supposed to help get better decisions. I don’t think the public sees it that way because it often can’t see the benefits of what the regulation is intended to achieve. I think digital technologies have the ability to demystify,” he said.
“When it is written in code then that makes for its very rapid implementation and application to the various practices it is seeking to regulate.”
During the speech, the Prime Minister outlined six “guideposts” for the way forward for the APS, including a greater use of digital technology.
“The digital revolution – with the exponential rise in connectivity, data generation, processing power and personalised service delivery – continues to reshape our jobs, industries and lives on a daily basis,” Mr Morrison said.
“With our fellow Australians among the most enthusiastic early adopters of technology in the world, harnessing the power of digital technology is not an option for the Australian government,” he said.
“It’s the future of it. Government needs to connect instantaneously and seamlessly with Australians to answer questions, provide services, make payments and solve problems.”
This brings with it a number of “new vulnerabilities” though, he said, including ethical and privacy issues and the potential for cyberattacks.
But the Community and Public Sector Union said that Mr Morrison’s comments are “at odds” with cuts made to the APS by the Coalition government.
“There are some things in the Prime Minister’s speech that don’t match the government’s own policy settings, so our members will be waiting for action on those fronts,” CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood said.
“You can’t have an ideological commitment to privatisation, outsourcing, job cuts, and shrinking the public service while expecting good advice, good services and enforcement of rules like those that protect us from predatory banks.
“We want to work with government to deliver this agenda, so let’s build a public service that can do this.”
A new Deregulation Taskforce sitting within Treasury has also been announced and will work with business to “identify and remove unnecessary barriers to investment, with a focus on sectors and activities which have the most to gain”.
Mr Morrison said he wants this to foster a “culture of regulatory congestion-busting” in the APS.
“That doesn’t mean cutting corners or not meeting regulatory obligations. But it does mean being relentless in finding ways to help Australians make things happen and reach their goals. Not sitting passively while families and businesses struggle to navigate rules and regulations,” he said.
The David Thodey-led review into the APS is also expected to deliver its final report in just weeks, with a focus on how the public sector needs to adapt to respond to new and emerging challenges.