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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 10 Hansard (29 August) . . Page.. 3594 ..

MR KAINE (continuing):

The folklore of public service in Australia used to be redolent with stories of departmental heads who stood up to their ministers, whether on matters of principle, of process, of law or of expertise. This, it seems, no longer happens. Australia's governance is the poorer as a result. Heads of departments have been relegated to the status of high-priced puppets giving ministers the advice that ministers want to hear, even though the truth lies elsewhere-that is, in advice that the departmental head knows to be correct.

This bill, unfortunately, does nothing to deal effectively with those defects. Mr Osborne's bid to return to a career public service, in my view, has merit. But the mechanisms that his bill proposes will not correct the existing problems. Indeed, they are at grave risk of creating a fresh set of problems, less in the actual appointment process than in the external influences to which that process is at risk of becoming subjected. How unacceptable it would be if the appointment of a departmental head was sullied by undignified lobbying for, or more particularly against, one or other applicant. Our reputation in the field of public administration would, in my opinion, be further diminished were that to occur.

Mr Speaker, it constantly surprises me that the government has not yet woken up to the fact that there are two kinds of executives. Operations managers are appointed for their talents for getting things done. Point them in the desired direction, tell them what they are to do, give them the necessary tools and let them get on with the job. If they botch the job, you sack them and get somebody else with the desired kinds of skills to take over.

But, in my view, you should never give executives on performance-based contracts the responsibility for advising government on what needs to be done about a particular situation. For the talents of operators may well not extend to the breadth of vision or the capacity to think in a range of directions necessary for the creative problem solving that decision-making demands. The training of operations managers has fitted them to their tasks. Their contracts make them vulnerable in dissent.

I see no problems in employing operations-type mangers under performance-based contracts, to work out how to implement a decision already taken and then oversee the elves doing the implementation. But such people are not necessarily appropriate for developing policy and providing advice to ministers about policy.

For policy advice, ministers need departmental heads skilled in thinking, analysing, considering options, fitting creative solutions to problems and applying correct process, and I emphasise that. Departmental heads need the moral strength to say, "No, minister. That is not the right way to deal with this issue because ...". Departmental heads need the security of tenure in their office that a performance-based contract would deny them if the independence of their thinking is not to be contaminated.

Departmental heads must be capable of serving a government of any political colour, not only the government which appointed them. Departmental heads must bring to their office the corporate memory that comes only from having risen through the hierarchy on merit and observing and learning the philosophical and moral principles that underlie the giving of policy advice. You do not learn that overnight; it takes years.

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