Democracies are not going to plan! Peter Shergold AC’s Irene Longman Oration
Democracy under threat: How public services can help maintain faith in democratic governance
Well thank you so much for that warm introduction. I am delighted to deliver an oration which honours the memory of Irene Maud Longman. A teacher, community worker and political activist whose wide-ranging interests extended from the preservation of native plants to town planning.
From the 1920’s until she died in 1964 she advocated vigorously for the improved welfare of mothers, children and those with mental disability. We remember Irene Longman in particular for the fact that she was elected to the Queensland Parliament Lower House in 1929. The first woman to win a seat. Her electorate, Bulimba was generally seen to be unwinnable.
Defeated in 1932 her brief but extraordinary achievement can be gauged by the fact that no other woman won a position in the parliament during her long lifetime. She was a member of the Country Progressive National Party but campaigned with the strong support of the non-partisan Queensland women’s electoral league.
She believed in the virtue of private enterprise and a market economy and was wary of excessive government involvement in the private life of families. But at the same time, she favoured role for the state intervention to the extent that it was necessary in order to protect and support the disadvantaged and dis-impowered.
Although, as you’ve heard, she was on the conservative side of politics, she could be radical even by twenty first century standards. Appearing before the royal commission on child endangerment in nineteen twenty-seven, she argued to the bemused incredulity of interlocutors that stay at home mothers should be paid by the state for the unpaid household labour.
We need to remind ourselves how challenging was her role as the Queensland parliament only elected female member. The Catholic advocate worried that her male colleagues would feel indefinably but nevertheless sensitively embarrassed. They were certainly not feeling at ease to ask her, as they do with men, to have a drink. Nor indeed, as we have heard from the minister, to invite her for a meal.
During her three years in parliament she was forbidden from using the parliamentary dining room, eating instead on the veranda. She was banned from entering the members only facilities. She had no access to female toilets. As one of Longmont campaigners observed dryly, the shared interest that she and her husband had in fossil hunting meant she was well adapted to feeling quite at home in Queensland parliament.
So, Irene Longman has a fascinating and inspiring history. From this Oration perspective however, I want to focus on her view of the importance of civic life.
Indeed, for Longman the struggle for gender equity could only be considered successful, if women and men engaged and enjoyed equal status as citizens. The political arena was one which should embrace women’s individual civil rights, including the rights of women over her own person.
She remained cautious of rigid party politics to the extent that unnecessary success-alism might undermine a sense of shared community purpose and civic engagement.
So, this sense of active citizenship was not just a matter of bookish intent. In Longman’s political campaigns she faced the robust public hustings characteristic of much of the twentieth century.
Indeed, it was generally accepted that the meetings that she spoke at in Halls and in the open air were subject to higher levels of public disorder, organised boos and catcalls than that experienced by her male campaigners.
And yet, she remained firm in her belief that the involvement of citizens in public discourse was the hallmark of democracy.
She’s spent endless hours knocking door to door to argue her case. She remembered that men and women were often quite reluctant for me to leave their homes so eager were they to hear of new ideas and developments in public life.
Through the turmoil of political engagement, she retained her conviction. That, with the full and equal civil engagement of women, there could develop a new spirit of community cooperation which would lay the foundations for a higher form of citizenship.
My oration pays homage to that bold vision of participatory governance. At the moment at which the democratic project to which Australia has contributed so mightily seems at risk of failure.
Today’s newspapers report the Professor Ian McAllister is next week going to release the latest Australian Elections Study. It’s a shocker.
I’ve been studying elections for forty years and never have I seen such poor returns for public trust in and satisfaction with democratic institutions, he says. The survey will indicate that Australia’s faith in democracy is at its lowest level since the constitutional crisis of the 1970s. Just fifty nine percent of Australians are satisfied with democracy.
Only around ten percent believe that government in Australia is now run for the people.
As a nation we need to talk about this. Because these are troubling times for liberal democracies.
There is declining confidence; not just in the governments and parliaments but in their elected representatives. And these causes for concern extend also to public services.
In the Westminster tradition these are the institutions that are intended to be nonpartisan. They are required to balance responsiveness to political direction with the provision of apolitical advice, to speak frankly and fearlessly in private, but conscientiously to implement government policies in public.
Let’s be truthful. This has always, always, been a challenging vocation. But it has become harder in recent years.
In truth, there appears to be declining trust in and less deference towards many traditional bastions of authority.
Kenneth Hayne, the Royal Commissioner into the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services, has reflected that trust in all sorts of institutions – governmental and private has been damaged or destroyed in Australia.
According to a 2017 Roy Morgan poll, only thirty four percent of Australians now believe that ministers of religion rate highly for ethics and honesty.
The figure is eighteen percent for business leaders, seventeen percent for the union leaders. But, I’m sorry Minister, political leaders rank even lower.
Just sixteen percent of people respect Commonwealth or state members of parliament.
The Australian Values Survey suggests that almost a fifth of Australians have no confidence at all in the Commonwealth government or parliament. Around eighty five percent are convinced that at least some federal MPs are corrupt and eighteen percent believe that they are all corrupt.
Those views reflect a deep cynicism.
Rebecca Huntley, who has had years of experience using focus groups to listen to the nation, adjudges that Australians now see corruption everywhere and believe the almost everyone has a self-serving agenda.
Public servants. Well public servants are trusted rather more. Rather more than most, with thirty seven percent of respondents rating them highly.
Moreover, the numbers for police and for school teachers and for nurses, most of whom are employed in the public sector, are seventy six percent; eighty one percent and ninety four percent respectively. But the trends are downhill.
The Australian Election Study reports that those who believe that people in government can be trusted, and this is public servants as well as politicians, that percentage has fallen from fifty one percent in 1969 to twenty six percent in 2016.
Now, of course levels of trust in politicians do vary significantly. The recent ABC Australia Talks National Survey, which was a survey of more than fifty-four thousand Australians, found that whilst twenty percent, just twenty percent, trusted politicians, trust was higher on the rights of politics, than on the left.
Around thirty percent of Liberal National Party voters expressed confidence compared to less than ten percent of Greens.
Andrew Markus, who conducts the annual mapping Social Cohesion Survey for The Scanlon Foundation, argued in his recent 2019 Report, that the low level of trust in government, in his view, had actually remained relatively stable at least over the last decade, albeit, at a lower level. Some thirty percent of respondents thought that the government in Canberra could be trusted to do the right thing for the Australian people at least most of the time.
However, he too identified significantly significant differences across demographic groups. Around thirty percent of eighteen to thirty-four year old’s trusted the Commonwealth government compared to forty one percent of those age seventy-five or more.
Thirty seven percent of graduates were trustful compared to only twenty six percent of those who left school before year twelve.
And forty eight percent of those who saw themselves as prosperous or very comfortable were trustful, compared to just fifteen percent of those who struggle to pay the bills.
Meanwhile, in an era of backlash against authority, respect for expertise appears to be falling. One witnesses aggressive disdain for anyone who would presume to know more than anyone else.
The views expressed by celebrities are given as much credence as the opinions put forward by experts.
The Edelman Trust Barometer, which is based on surveys in twenty-eight countries, now finds that sixty percent of respondents are willing to trust the person like yourself. Which is just as many as those who say they can trust the expert.
In an environment increasingly dominated by social media, fame in anything brings political influence. Politics appears to be becoming subsumed by popular culture.
In a disconcertingly uncertain world, those with simple solutions are extoled as leaders. They promise a future that is not so much post truth as post complexity.
On-line, the province of evidentiary authority is hard to establish and assess especially when fake news is widely disseminated. This provides fertile ground on which to sow the seeds of conspiracy. Significant minorities believe that those with political power seek to hide truths or perpetuate falsehoods.
Thus, thirty four percent of Australians believe that aliens have visited the earth and twenty-one percent think the global warming is a hoax propounded by scientists.
As governments rapidly lose the trust of their citizens, there is a falling commitment to democracy as a preferred means of representative governance.
The annual Lowy institute Survey reveals that a sizeable proportion of Australians now believe that at least in some circumstances a non-democratic form of government might actually be preferable.
This is a view held by twenty percent of adult Australians but more worryingly by thirty-three percent of those aged eighteen to twenty-nine years.
Similarly, the findings of the Australian Values Survey suggest that almost thirty six percent of younger Australians believe that it may be a good thing to have a strong leader who doesn’t have to bother with elections and parliaments.
One might surmise that these people are attracted by autocracies that exercise untrammelled state control to get things done faster and with less opposition rather than democracies in which progress is slower and in which decision-making can seem paralysed by political intransigence.
Most challenging to democratic discourse – social media allows people to curate their own worldview and if they don’t, carefully formulated algorithms do it for them. Too often now we read and listen and watch only those political perspectives that reinforce our existing frameworks of thoughts or interest.
We stream only what we want to believe rather than trying to understand those who might challenge our assumptions. We create our own safe space providing no platform for alternative views from avowed enemies.
It is a comfortable world in which to live, except, when surprisingly others act to confound our political expectations. This tendency contributes to hyper partisanship.
In Commissioner Haynes’ words – reasoned debates about issues of policies are now rare in a world in which political disagreements are often conveyed in the extreme language of war.
In short, there is a dark mood amongst those who retain their faith in the intrinsic merits of democratic governance and its underlying political values.
It was all so different just thirty years ago.
It seemed to be increasingly evident that those nations that allowed and encouraged participation by the mass of the people in economic and political activities and distributed power broadly had become more prosperous than one party absolutist states.
The future had seemed to beckon so brightly.
Francis Fukuyama had become so persuaded by 1989, that the global ideological battle of ideas was nearing an end and looking to the imminent victory of liberal democracy, he prematurely proclaimed an end to history.
No longer. No longer.
Disillusioned, he now sees that democratic societies are fracturing into segments based on ever narrowing identities. Threatening the probability of deliberate and collective action by society as a whole. The decline of public services, in his view, is a major contributor to this demise.
Reflecting on American politics, Fukuyama argues, that a key underlying weakness now is reduced bureaucratic autonomy. Too many administrative powers are now, in the United States, situated with political parties, the courts and an accretion of advocacy groups and lobbyists.
President Trump of course would not agree. He often portrays career government workers as radical unelected bureaucrats who continue to wield far too much power. They are portrayed as part of the Deep State which is arrayed against him.
Many other Americans such as Michael Lewis see it very differently. Lewis extols the courage of civil servants in the United States in bringing their skills and their intelligence and their judgment to public administration at a time of political chaos.
And he’s not alone. Many, especially, it must be said, on the Democratic side of politics, view recent whistle blowing by the federal civil service in Washington as a sign that the bureaucracy is fighting back.
Cedric Alexander is about to publish an article entitled ‘In defence of public service: How 22 million government workers will save our Republic’. In a pre-publication interview with CNN, he argued that the challenging role of the public service was to bear witness and perform its job in a bitterly divided nation. It is, he claims, another part of government which is entirely unelected that continues to function and uphold our bureaucracy.
Jonathan Haidt from most significantly different position has come to a similar conclusion.
He argues that three great untruths have coddled the American mind. Democracy now lies in the hands of a fragile snowflake generation that is being educated to avoid things that they find troubling, to always trust their feelings and to see civic life as a battle between good and bad people.
The result is not just young people beset by anxiety, depression and rising rates of suicide, but a generation who are ill prepared for the political debates and compromises that sustain democratic discourse.
He fears for the future. Tolerant liberal democracy, he concludes, is not a naturally occurring phenomenon. The apparent certainties of the 1990s have given way to doubt and despair. You just don’t know what a democracy looks like when you drain all the trust out of the system.
Now, of course, the United States with its impeachment processes and subpoenaing of public servants and career diplomats may seem to prove that’s a very long way from the practice of politics in Washington to that in Westminster democracies.
I wouldn’t be so certain.
The fact is, that governance is not simply being undermined by the prevailing low level of public trust in political leadership, but equally important, if less visible, by the increasing mutual disrespect and suspicion between governments and the public servants who work for them.
Patrick Diamond fears that in the United Kingdom the traditional paradigm is now being replaced by new political governance centred on constant political campaigning, an increased role for ministerial advisers and a promiscuously partisan governing machinery. The role of the traditional civil service has been eclipsed.
And for those who may think that Diamond’s fears that we have reached the end of Whitehall is unduly pessimistic and irrelevant to his antipodean offspring, I condone no more than direct attention to the confidential survey that I undertook of IPAA members during my tenure as National President.
Concerned by the increasing influence of advisers and even more by the increasing use of outside consultants, only around one third of both Commonwealth and state public servants now feel that they are appreciated by the governments they work for.
This is a very shaky foundation upon which to erect a stable structure of democratic governance.
The good news, the good news is that around ninety percent of Australians agree that having a democratic system is a good way of governing the country.
The bad news, according to the Museum of Australian Democracy, is that satisfaction with democracy is now at its lowest level since 1996.
Indeed, satisfaction fell precipitously from eighty six percent in 2007, when I was a public servant, to forty one percent in 2018, when you are public servants.
There is no room for complacency, nor indeed, for sitting on the sidelines and watching events unfold with increasing disbelief.
We need to consider how to bridge the democratic deficit and to rebuild trust in the institutions and processes of governance.
And in my opinion, public servants, public servants have a significant role to play.
Irene Longman was elected ninety years ago.
That past was a different place. They engaged in politics differently there.
Yet in spite of the profound economic dislocation and social hardship that accompanied the Great
Depression, there was in the early 1930s a faith in contested party politics and representative government that as a nation we seem to be losing.
Let us consider how we might go about restoring trust in democratic institutions, operating within a civil society. In the process we will need to reimagine how to engage the citizenry in quite different ways from the last century.
So, you will have gathered I don’t intend to use this oration to discuss how to improve the efficiency and the capacity and the productivity of public administration in Australia. It’s a well-worn path and I have oft trod it.
Rather, at a more profound level this evening I want to examine the deeper contribution that public services make to democratic governance.
In particular, not the efficacy with which they wield their situational authority but the purpose, the purpose for which they do so.
At this tipping point for democracy, public servants need to better understand the fundamental significance of their role, as do the public they serve and the governments which depend upon public administrators to turn their political agendas into action.
This ambition requires that we comprehend how the ethical framework of meritocratic public services extends far beyond the attributes of honesty and integrity, important though those values are.
In extolling the virtues of innovation, we should focus on that organizational creativity which drives the purpose of public impact.
It’s surprising to me as a university chancellor how many of Australia’s university textbooks on politics in liberal democracies pay scant regard to the significance of the role of appointed public servants, particularly as it is practiced in the parliamentary systems derived from the U. K.’s Westminster tradition.
The diligent student of Australian politics goes to Politics 101. That student is likely to find themselves pretty well-versed in the constitutional framework of federalism, electoral processes, representative government, ministerial responsibility, parliamentary sovereignty, the separation of powers, the importance of judicial scrutiny.
By contrast the role of professional public servants is rarely accorded any substantive discussion.
Yet, public services are fundamental to the manner in which political decisions are made and delivered. They are crucial to the proper functioning of democratic transitions of political leadership and particularly through the way in which they deliver services, to the faith which citizens have in the political system.
And although, one hopes, it rarely reaches such a crisis, a public service remains the citizenry’s bulwark against the arbitrary exercise of executive authority.
Public services matter! And in an era in which confidence in the political leadership and institutional structures of democracy are increasingly under challenge, they matter more than ever.
So, how can they contribute better to the sustenance of trust in democracy? Well without seeking to be all encompassing, I suggest there are five fundamental areas in which public servants need to recognise and speak up for what they do.
First, senior public servants need to comprehend that their role in providing policy advice, is to speak truth to political power.
Whilst fully expecting that it is the role of elected politicians to form governments and make policy decisions, the role of the non-partisan public servant as a critical friend is crucial.
Public servants can suggest policy solutions to the challenges that face their Ministers, can help to ensure that Cabinets work effectively in providing a mechanism for collective decision making. They can identify the unanticipated pitfalls and unforeseen consequences and implementation risks of proposed approaches.
They can suggest alternative ways by which government can achieve their objectives.
They can, Minister, gauge how to frame their argument to increase the likelihood of influencing their political masters. In discussions that remain confidential and without seeking to usurp political power, they can prosecute arguments for and against proposed policies.
In a government report, I wrote, called ‘Learning from failure’, I forcefully expressed my opinion that such arguments needs to be summarized in writing.
For no matter how articulate an oral presentation, a minister can too easily brush aside unwanted criticism or far worse later deny that they ever received it. How does a public servant know when they have argued with their minister enough?
There is no simple answer. For it depends in part on the gravity and consequence of the matter being discussed. My regular response, which I repeat here, is that public servants should ensure that governments make their decisions good, bad or indifferent with their eyes wide open.
There is a tendency to think that speaking truth with courage is a matter only for Secretaries or Director Generals or their deputies. Let me assure you that it is not the case.
In public services that remain functionally demarcated and hierarchically structured, middle managers need the courage to challenge the views of their senior executives. So, do the community organisations which so often deliver programs under contract. It takes fortitude to question the wisdom of the paymaster.
Power in public services generally extends a long arm. It needs to grasp truth.
Second, public servants bring expertise to policy at a time when intellectual proficiency is often treated with scorn by populist politicians who would prefer a simple answer to the complex economic, social and environmental problems that beset nations.
Public problems are wicked for many reasons.
They can be long term global challenges that need to be addressed by short term national or provincial governments.
They nearly always involve trade-offs in which some sectors of the community will bear the costs to provide benefits to others. At a time of austerity, spending on assessed priorities will necessarily impose opportunity costs in terms of other unmet demands.
And it is far easier to address the visible consequences of social problems rather than to tackle their less visible causes.
Additionally, there are other types of problems which are exacerbated by the tensions between the rising expectations of citizens of what governments can do and their pronounced views on what government should not do.
So, let’s be honest here. The public is a fickle beast. Its members often hold unrealistic views of what government should provide, relative to what they, as taxpayers, are willing to fund. Given a chance, citizens vote for higher spending and lower taxes.
Not infrequently, they express aggrieved irritation about the un-warranted trepidation of the so-called nanny state regulation.
Except, except when something goes wrong – a plane crashes, a building collapses, a terrorist kills, at which stage of course there is a righteous outpouring of angst about the government’s failure to properly protect its citizens.
This, I’ve got to say, is an intimidating list of challenges. And, it could easily be expanded.
The role of the good public servant is to shift the evidence and to assist successive governments to weigh the relative merits of different approaches. And this involves more than undertaking desktop research and applying the skills of conceptualisation and analytics and synthesis. Access to frontline experience may be just as valid and more timely in formulating policy than an academic article in a peer reviewed but poorly read journal.
This means having the skills to apply the learnings of behavioural psychology to the human centred design of policies in a way which enables the lived experience of individuals and communities to inform government interventions. The key is not to adapt evidence to the already preferred decision but to introduce research findings sufficiently early that it can influence the decision.
That cautionary distinction between policy-based evidence and evidence-based policy has become a well-worn cliché.
But the ability of schooled public servants to address it has become far harder in a world in which the authority of Doctor Google provides the unwary with almost unlimited and immediate access to information. Much of it of doubtful providence.
The choices which citizens make on the views they want to access combined with the unseen guiding hand of commercially orientated algorithms, results in many people simply receiving everyday validation of their particular mindset.
As I’ve said, in the easily curated world of social media one often only hears the voices of those who share one’s existing beliefs. The role of the public servant, in assessing the reliability of information and turning it into an evidentiary knowledge has become harder and therefore far more important.
Third, in an era of growing incivility in public discourse, the way in which public servants operate seems increasingly well how can I put this – quaint. It is for that very reason of greater consequence. The modus operandi of public servants, whether behind closed doors or appearing before parliamentary committees, is to provide a polite voice of moderation and considered judgment on public policy.
This is at odds with the ferocity and ill temper that often marks the arena of political contest in which they work. And the uber aggressiveness of social media commentary on it.
They design – you design – and deliver policies in a world of iterative negotiation and compromise largely hidden from public view.
For most seasoned veterans, and I think there are few seasoned veterans here, their ability to create second or third-best solution is generally considered better than achieving no outcome at all.
To the frustration of generations of ministerial media advisers, public servants are trained to present policy in a careful, in a cautious, in a studied manner. They seek to be apolitical in their advice, but have the political sensibility to understand its context.
The challenge is to get the equilibrium between disinterest and eagerness right. Exhibit too much of the former and it comes across to ministers as studied indifference and unresponsiveness. Show too much of the latter, and that was often my failing, and it may present to political oppositions as sort of, can do, political enthusiasm for the government of the day.
When so many people have taken to shouting at each other, generally on-line, public servants need to be proud of their ability to understand different points of view and to search for approaches that might help bring them closer together.
It represents an institutional voice of moderation in an era of political fragmentation.
Fourth, it is necessary for public servants to recognize that their role in designing policy for governments can only be judged as successful by the manner in which that policy is implemented.
Whether delivering policies directly or through outsourced or partnership arrangements, the public servants that the public are aware of, are those that execute government decisions.
Trust in democratic government depends in large measure on public servants delivering programs, not just on time, not just on budget, but in a manner which meets public expectations.
A well-functioning bureaucracy with all its checks and balances is a highly successful way of implementing large scale programs, whether it’s collecting revenue, making payments or delivering services, it means you can do it with considerable accuracy and little opportunity for corruption or nepotism.
It provides, if you will, quality control.
But that bureaucracy can also be slow and cumbersome. It is in recognition of those characteristics that public services do now espouse the language of agility and flexibility.
Increasingly public services, including here in Queensland, are trialling new programmes in demonstration projects, tailoring provision to the particular needs of places or communities, allowing commissioned organisations to deliver government initiatives with less prescriptive control and more payment based on outcomes.
And they are building cross sector collaborations for the creation of public impact on the basis of genuine partnerships.
Governments seek to provide citizens with the same responsiveness as market competition drives in the private sector. And that is a good thing.
And the fact is there are now hundreds of such initiatives underway in the line agencies of Commonwealth and state and territory public services.
The question, to which I don’t have a definitive answer, is whether these innovative and adaptive approaches to delivering public policy can move from the periphery of public administration to become its heart, to become its core.
If the public service is seen by the community to deliver the policies of governments well, it will go a long way to addressing the democratic deficit of trust that increasingly prevails.
And fifth. Public services need to lead the way in bringing government closer to citizens. In Irene Longman’s day, large numbers of people joined the political party of their choice and during an election turned up at public meetings to hear her spruik her credentials, ask her questions, cheer her on or heckle her answers.
Today, party membership has plummeted.
Public walkabouts are carefully stage-managed for photo opportunities. Only compulsory voting and the promise of a burnt snag persuade many Australians to attend the ballot box although increasing of course many cast their vote in advance.
Political engagement often takes place on-line. And with the Woke Generation often involved posting or tweeting a brief comment designed to exhibit to those of like minds one’s own political virtue.
With rare exception it fails, as President Barack Obama recently noted, it fails to create sustained political action. Identity politics based on groups defined by race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation is correcting public conversations, fracturing the civil polity and often reinforcing marginalisation.
Ongoing participation in mainstream politics is diminishing and with it confidence in established politicians and faith in traditional democratic processes. Fortunately, there are seeds of hope from which one could grow new ways of bringing government into the lives of citizens.
Governments, often encouraged by their public services, are embracing new approaches.
In a few key areas such as aged care, disability care, service recipients are being encouraged to participate in customer directed or consumer directed care, in which, subject to bureaucratic constraints, they can take greater control over the services they choose and the provider who delivers them.
They can be given the opportunity to design their own solutions, creating public impact at a personal level.
More profoundly still, public servants can take on a stronger facilitative role in helping citizens to navigate the complexity of functionally and jurisdictionally demarcated government process.
They can enable them to contribute more directly to the framing of government policies and design of publicly funded programs.
Two hurdles stand in the way. The first is that a recent Future of Australians Federation Survey of nearly two thousand public servants has suggested that public servants remain deeply sceptical of the role that citizens can play in government.
They remain highly doubtful of the value of citizens jury or peoples assembly in examining policy options.
Most public servants still prefer to have decisions made by elites, like themselves.
The second is that the digital technology that can help us to expand and invigorate the reach of deliberative democracy is increasingly distrusted by citizens. The liberating power of the internet which can now allow the public to participate in real time policy discussions across distance is now regarded with suspicion, especially when it is wielded by government.
There is increasing disquiet about the invasion of one’s privacy for governmental and commercial advantage and purposeful manipulation of social media for political ends.
Citizens in many countries fear the capacity of authoritarian governments to develop electronic surveillance of them.
There is a danger that unless we have a persuasive narrative of democratic intent, that the tide of this enchantment will wash away the exciting possibilities of employing ICT to crowdsource the creation of public policy.
Now, I do not believe that the battle for democratic governance is lost.
History continues and public servants whose value as the fourth branch of government is improperly understood can help to turn things around.
They need – you need – to become story tellers. Both to others and to yourselves.
Through your narrative and the actions which bring it to life, you can help lead Australia. From the representative democracy of Irene Longman’s era to a more participatory democracy in which citizens are given greater opportunity to engage directly with their governments on a regular basis.
As funders, as program recipients, as directors of their own care, as advocates and, to use the word of 2019, as influencers.
Public servants do need to speak truth to power. Draw on expertise to frame policy, bring a polite voice of moderation and considered judgment to political and public debate. Deliver services and implement regulations in accord with public expectations and in a variety of innovative ways help to bring governments closer to citizens.
In doing so, public servants should recognize themselves to be stewards but stewards not just of the nation’s resources, but stewards of the liberal values which sustained democratic government, civic enterprise and civil engagement.
The Prime Minister in this week’s so-called ‘shock therapy for bureaucracy’ called on the public sector to be more public facing. He meant that the administrators should do a far better job of delivering government services to the Australian people.
He’s right to shout that out.
But if the public service is to engage more with the community it serves, the nature of that outward focus needs to be extended. Public servants equally need to face the public in explaining their contribution to government. And proudly ensuring that politicians and citizens properly understand the crucial role they play in maintaining the values of a liberal democracy.
This is the task for you, this is the task for IPAA.
I appreciate having the chance to give the oration tonight.