Bonuses for senior bureaucrats should not be used to produce a single outcome such as reducing red tape, the federal Coalition was told on Wednesday.

As reported in The Canberra Times, an Abbott government would link salaries and bonuses of senior bureaucrats to "quantified and proven reductions in red and green tape".

Nadine Flood, from the Community and Public Sector Union, said the proposal was akin to ''back to the future'' and did not draw the best results from officials.

''We have seen very senior public servants [such as] Allan Hawke … [and] Andrew Podger, who was public service commissioner, and a range of others say this didn't actually work,'' she said.

''The reason why it didn't work is because the nature of the public service means that people are operating on co-operation, on teamwork, on finding whole-of- government solutions.

''What this actually did was put resources into rewarding a few without changing what actually occurred in the public service.''

Ms Flood said she was concerned about linking a performance bonus to a particular outcome such as reducing red tape and regulation.

''It is actually a fair bit more complicated to come up with public policy solutions, so what you are doing is providing quite a skewed incentive to provide a particular sort of advice,'' she said.

As reported in The Canberra Times, an Abbott government would link salaries and bonuses of senior bureaucrats to ''quantified and proven reductions in red and green tape''.

The chairman of the Coalition's deregulation taskforce, Arthur Sinodinos, told Fairfax Media the opposition favoured using financial rewards to get the best from staff.

Most senior public servants received bonuses under the Howard government, which used the payments to encourage executives to be more responsive.

However, Labor opposed the controversial scheme, arguing it encouraged bureaucrats to give only the advice that ministers wanted to hear.

After winning office in 2007, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd abolished bonuses for department heads and began to eliminate the payments from most senior executives' contracts.

Only three in 10 senior officers got bonuses last year, compared with almost seven in 10 five years earlier.

A former Finance Department deputy secretary, Stephen Bartos, said performance pay could work in the public service, but only if it was managed carefully and openly.

''It is feasible and it could potentially help reduce regulation. However, if this is just a sound bite, it will fail,'' he said. ''It could be very easy for the policy to produce perverse incentives. For example, agency heads could create additional regulation just so they could abolish it, so you would need to correct for that.''

Mr Bartos, an executive director with the ACIL Allen consultancy in Canberra, said an Abbott government would need to understand some agencies had more regulation than others, and be careful not to punish workplaces that were comparatively free of red tape.

''There's an argument that the people you should be paying bonuses to are those in the bigger processing factories, like the Tax Office, where it's relatively easy to measure how many tax returns you process and so on,'' he said.

Mr Bartos said he was not opposed to performance pay if it was transparent and everyone understood from the start the criteria for getting bonuses. Senator Sinodinos, who was chief of staff to prime minister John Howard, said on Wednesday he did not agree bonuses might encourage bureaucrats to tell the government what it wanted to hear.

''I have never known a senior public servant who would bend their advice to tell someone what they wanted to hear,'' he told the ABC.

''In my experience, public servants were very keen to make sure that ministers understood the full ramifications of things.''

Deregulation would become a core commitment under a Coalition government, Senator Sinodinos said.

Bonuses for senior bureaucrats should not be provided to produce a single outcome, such as reducing red tape, the federal Coalition was told on Wednesday.

Nadine Flood from the Community and Public Sector Union said the proposal was akin to "back to the future".

"We have seen very senior public servants [such as] Allan Hawke ... [and] Andrew Podger, who was public service commissioner, and a range of others say this didn't actually work," she said.

"A real concern is this notion that you create a performance bonus and tie it to a particular view, like reducing red tape and regulation.

"It is actually a fair bit more complicated to come up with public policy solutions, so what you are doing is providing quite a skewed incentive to provide a particular sort of advice."

Chairman of the Coalition's deregulation taskforce, Arthur Sinodinos, told Fairfax Media the opposition favoured using financial rewards to get the best from staff.

Most senior public servants received bonuses under the Howard government, which used the payments to encourage executives to be more responsive.

However, Labor opposed the controversial scheme, arguing it persuaded bureaucrats to give only the advice that ministers wanted to hear.

After winning office in 2007, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd abolished bonuses for department heads and began to eliminate the payments from most senior executives' contracts.

Only three in 10 senior officers got bonuses last year, compared with almost seven in 10 five years earlier.

A former Finance Department deputy secretary, Stephen Bartos, said performance pay could work in the public service, but only if it was managed carefully and openly.

''It is feasible and it could potentially help reduce regulation however, if this is just a sound bite, it will fail,'' he said.

''It could be very easy for the policy to produce perverse incentives. For example, agency heads could create additional regulation just so they could abolish it, so you would need to correct for that.''

Mr Bartos, an executive director with the ACIL Allen consultancy in Canberra, said an Abbott government would need to understand that some agencies had more regulation than others, and be careful not to punish workplaces that were comparatively free of red tape.

''There's an argument that the people you should be paying bonuses to are those in the bigger processing factories, like the Tax Office, where it's relatively easy to measure how many tax returns you process and so on.''

Mr Bartos said he was not opposed to performance pay if it was transparent and everyone understood the criteria for getting bonuses from the start.

Senator Sinodinos, who was chief of staff to prime minister John Howard, said on Wednesday he did not agree that bonuses might encourage bureaucrats to tell the government what it wanted to hear.

''I have never known a senior public servant who would bend their advice to tell someone what they wanted to hear,'' he told the ABC.

''In my experience, public servants were very keen to make sure that ministers understood the full ramifications of things.''

Deregulation would become a core commitment under a Coalition government, Senator Sinodinos, said.

''We are trying to create a culture that helps to drive the right sort of behaviour,'' he said.

''It is something that Tony Abbott will be taking a personal responsibility for, and therefore something that will be reflected in people's duty statements [and] mission statements.''