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In conversation with public service leaders

14 May 2019

In April, we joined the heads and deputies of Australian public service organisations – the APS200 – to talk about change and the future of our service.

These are the people responsible for running elections, defending the nation, setting rules for industry, and facilitating more than 700 million online and phone transactions a year.

Nearly a decade ago, it was also agreed this group would act as role models and drive reforms for the Australian public service – a proposal recommended under the 2010 review Ahead of the Game.

Thousands of public servants have told the APS Review things are changing – public expectations, technologies, countries and how they relate to each other, and the very nature of work.

Conversations like this herald a new wave of change in a core public institution which directly impacts our society, democracy and economy.

We encourage you to get a sense of the people who serve. And consider how you will contribute to strengthening this core public institution so we all benefit.

This is an embedded YouTube video. Contact us if you need a copy for your agency intranet. There is a full transcript below.


Title screen In conversation with senior leaders in the Australian public service

Martin Parkinson, Secretary, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

To me it’s really simple. We are the APS, working for all Australians. How we frame that, which words we actually use, I don’t actually care that much. I want the person from environment department who’s working in Antarctica, the person in geosciences Australia, the person who’s at the Centrelink counter in Wagga, the person who’s sitting in Washington going to international meetings – I want them to be bound together by this one idea that we are the APS and we work for Australia. We work for all Australians.


Nearly a decade since the group was established, the APS200 gathered in Canberra to look at the future of the Australian public service.

It’s a formidable group of the most senior leaders serving the country.

Among other things, these are the people responsible for running elections, defending the nation, setting rules for industry, and facilitating more than 700 million online and phone transactions a year.

Their focus today – leading change within the Australian public service.

Martin Parkinson, Secretary, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

We need to operate fundamentally differently. We need a concentrated capability build. We need to get serious about our roles as leaders and stewards. And we've got to take a completely new approach to the way we engage outside of the service, with citizens, with business, with the community more broadly. I'm not going to pretend this is going to be easy. It's going to take 3, 4, maybe even 5 years of hard work.


The group were joined by independent panellists carrying out the largest review of the Australian public service in more than 40 years.

It was a chance to look at the priorities for change they’re excited about, as well as their concerns.

Sharing the views from their tables, what became clear is these leaders see an opportunity to do things differently.

Kerri Hartland, Secretary, Department of Jobs and Small Business

I like particularly one of the terms that we have the opportunity to stop being the bouncer and instead be the DJ. And collaborate more. And a notion that the environment was giving us a licence to change the future without dwelling on the past. Also, there was a discussion around behaviours and culture change, and that it was encouraging we were able to use this review to hold a mirror up to ourselves.

Kathryn Campbell, Secretary, Department of Social Services

We were also concerned that we had an opportunity before us and if we missed this opportunity we might not get it again for a little while. The expectation of citizens and government have changed so much, this was a great opportunity for us to show that we were listening to them and able to respond.


There’s a definite sense of momentum in the leadership group.

Nadine Williams, Deputy Secretary, Department of Education and Training

What I really found interesting was the level of energy in the room and I guess how engaged and willing people are to think about what the future of the APS needs to look like. There’s a real cultural difference, or a real cultural change that we’re starting to see flow through even now in the discussions we’re having.


With more than 60 government organisations represented, it was an opportunity to work together on getting changes to last.

Randall Brugeaud, CEO, Digital Transformation Agency

One of the things I’ve been thinking a lot about was discussed today and that’s how do you implement enduring change? How do you take what is a massive program, break it down against a strategic intent, and deliver incremental benefits but holding the program until completion.


For the leaders of these organisations, this is personal, an opportunity to achieve what they came here for.

Chris Parker, CEO, Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority

I’ve always been in agriculture and for me being part of the Australian public service is a real opportunity to be able to contribute more broadly across the whole of Australia. Essentially to people being able to farm better, to grow more food and also to be able to look after the environment and their own properties.

Melinda Smith, Chief Service Delivery Officer, Australian Taxation Office

The legacy that any leader would want to leave is one where you can honestly say you helped the organisation to take that step forward. You want to leave an organisation fitter than when you got there, you want to leave people more empowered and enthusiastic than when you got there, and I think that you want to feel like you’ve added value by making Australia a better place.


To do that, we all have a role. Thousands of public servants have signalled the need for change. The message for leaders – make it happen.

Martin Parkinson, Secretary, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

And I'm going to say to you that if you feel you need authority from me or from the Secretaries Board, never ask that question again because I'm telling you, you've got it.

End screen #BeTheChange #APSReview