The capability of the public service is an issue that has been thrown into the political ring, only to be tossed out again. APO Director, Brigid van Wanrooy, explains why she is relieved that the Australian Public Service has not gained traction as an issue for voters and what can be done to promote transparent and accountable public policy and services.
Providing the best policy advice on what works and effectively implementing it is vital to a society that will thrive – both economically and socially. And to achieve this we need a strong and capable public service. This point has been made many times: in the interim and final reports of the independent review of the Australian Public Service (APS), and the Senate Inquiry report on the current capability of the APS, and a whole bunch of commentary around it.
A new political hot potato
That’s why, during Australia’s 2022 federal election campaign, I was not surprised when the capability of the Australian Public Service (APS) was elevated to the very public status of ‘election issue’. But I was relieved when it was quickly subsumed by other election issues such as cost of living and climate change.
Of course it’s an important issue that requires public attention and discussion: it is the cornerstone of a well-functioning democracy and society. But it is a dark day when an effective and impartial public service becomes associated with one side of politics and not another.
And as the Director of a small, unfunded, public good that serves and supports the capability of all public servants, it is detrimental for it to become another political hot potato that, for someone like me, is scorching to touch.
You would also hope that a commitment to transparency, accountability and integrity would be beyond partisan lines, but unfortunately – in this current environment – they are also up for political grabs too.
Supporting and safeguarding public decision-making
Tossing the public service around like a hot potato is a hazardous exercise and goes against its core values. But the fact of the matter is the capability of the APS has been whittled down. So we need to find ways to improve public decision-making and capability, that go beyond banking on the outcome of the next election. Not to replace a strong and capable APS but to complement and safeguard it.
APO has a key role to play and this is what we do to promote transparency and accountability in public policy and decision-making:
- APO presents a diversity of viewpoints: while not keen on building up the public service, our Prime Minister has said we need a diversity of viewpoints. When public policy affects people with diverse backgrounds and circumstances, it’s essential a range of perspectives are considered. APO publishes material from a wide variety of organisations. And if we are missing something you can tell us or add it yourself.
- APO enables transparency and accountability: we archive key government documents and policy promises. So when a government departs, there is a machinery of government change, or a website is taken down, we still have a copy in our repository.
- APO maximises accessibility: all this information shouldn’t be just available to the public service, but to the public. That’s why a core value of APO is open access. And it’s not just available on APO, when we create a record for a resource it becomes more discoverable across the internet and search engines.
- APO amplifies high quality research that can inform decision-making: particularly that being produced by universities. APO provides one single ‘open door’ to research outputs from universities, research centres and institutes across a broad range of public policy issues.
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