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Decade of hardship looms for public servants, Ian Watt warns

Tony Abbott and Dr Ian Watt, Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Tony Abbott and Dr Ian Watt, Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Australia's top bureaucrat has warned public servants to prepare for a decade of hardship.

The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet's head, Ian Watt, urged staff to reassess their work immediately and find ways to save money, rather than wait for the government's commission of audit to do it for them.

We, as bureaucrats, cannot and should not simply wait for the commission to do our thinking for us. 

PM&C secretary Ian Watt

Speaking at the Institute of Public Administration Australia's national conference on Wednesday, he said one "can't have a discussion in Canberra among public servants these days without talking about the fiscal environment".

"We know we have a challenge of a very tight fiscal environment in the [Australian Public Service] and it's probably getting tighter.

"In my view, the fiscal environment will be tight for at least a decade."

Dr Watt said the bureaucracy had faced similar challenges during John Howard's first term as prime minister.

"We came through the last one fairly well and I see no reason why we won't do that in this case as well. But we do need to embrace opportunities to be more effective and a smarter public service.

"And a more stringent fiscal situation is a powerful signal for us to do so, and incidentally we have received that signal now from both sides of politics."

Last month, the new government appointed a commission of audit, headed by former Business Council of Australia president Tony Shepherd, to find ways to cut public spending.

The commission will publish its interim report before the end of January.

Howard, Dr Watt said public servants could not afford to wait until then.

"We, as bureaucrats, cannot and should not simply wait for the commission to do our thinking for us. We should already be adjusting priorities to meet the tightening fiscal environment, which is going to to stay tight, and the new government and thinking about the major changes that might come.

"I'm sure you are. If you're not, I suggest you do.

"We should not only be assessing the way we work, but also what we're working on. We should be reviewing our critical functions and looking at what we can and should stop doing."

Dr Watt also said public servants' advice would be subjected increasingly to competition from outside sources, such as consultants, thinktanks and lobby groups.

62 comments so far

  • Of course Ian Watt wants the public servants to find ways to save money! How else can the government afford to pay his excessive wage, and bonus?

    Ian Watt, if you are so good at what you do, why don't you go and get yourself a job in the private sector? We need to save money, and we can't do that while you and your mates are paid excessive wages and bonuses.

    I'm sorry Ian Watt, but the taxpayers cannot afford you any longer.

    Commenter
    Sharron
    Location
    Canberra
    Date and time
    November 20, 2013, 1:30PM
    • Sorry Sharron, but you have no idea what you are talking about. Dr Watt could walk into any private sector consulting firm in the country and earn more than he does now.

      Commenter
      Steve
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      November 20, 2013, 1:43PM
    • Absolutely every year its the same old sing song ..' oh we need wage restraint , doing more with less , efficiency dividends ( or cash for sacking people) blah blah and then what happens ? the top bananas or head executioners are awarded huge bonuses and pay increases that they don't need !! no wonder there's less money to go around because they took it . .. in short go to hell Mr Watt .CUT YOUR WAGES FIRST BECAUSE YOU DON'T NEED IT. Now there's a saving

      Commenter
      Dan
      Date and time
      November 20, 2013, 1:44PM
    • Spot on Dan!!

      As for you Sniffling Steve, if your Ian Watt can go out and get a real job in the private sector, then why doesn't he do it right now instead of bludging off the taxpayers' money?

      The public service is the public service, it is not a private sector corporation. This point seems to elude you.

      If Tony Abbott continues to pay these "top" public servants excessive wages and bonuses, Abbott will be shown the door at the next election.

      Commenter
      Sharron
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      November 20, 2013, 2:03PM
    • The irony in this is Mr Watt is being directed by the most overpaid and underworked bludgers in the country - our self serving politicians. They who recently fed themselves a 40% pay rise and earn more than the US President yet still continue to bill everything on the public tab whilst crying poor.
      And of course we all know when they start cutting back the numbers it is always the lower ranks who can least afford it and get hit the hardest.

      Commenter
      TuffGuy
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      November 20, 2013, 2:16PM
    • Perhaps Sharron, because Dr Watt is interested in serving the nation rather than making money in the private sector. As do many public servants, including myself.

      Commenter
      Zoidberg
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      November 20, 2013, 2:51PM
    • I am completely convinced that Sharron has had multiple PS job applications knocked back and has a serious vendetta against PS employees, and the Defence Force. Her constant dribble about them is wearing thin. Your pattern of intolerance and poor knowledge, and arrogant, negative attitude is apparent. Sharron, go away!

      Commenter
      BJ
      Date and time
      November 20, 2013, 3:48PM
    • Sorry to disappoint you both, Zoidberg and BJ, but the public service is one place I would never apply to work. You both must be either related to Ian Watt or simple crawlers.

      So, if you both are quite happy for Ian Watt et al., to receive the excessive wages and bonuses then hand them your wages! But do not expect to keep your jobs. The taxpayers cannot afford to pay your wages along with the "top" public servants' wages and bonuses, one of you has to go.

      And as for your arrogant attitudes towards non-public servants, I really believe that a huge cull is needed to bring down the number of idle public servants who spend their work hours posting on the local paper.

      So, it won't be me who is going to go away, it will be the public servants because you are costing tax payers too much money. (Oh yes just waiting for the next mind blowing public servant comment of - "who's going to help you in the dole line up if we are sacked?")

      Commenter
      Sharron
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      November 20, 2013, 4:19PM
    • BJ...or is a pseudonym for a liberal front bencher?

      Commenter
      Get a real job
      Location
      In the private sector
      Date and time
      November 20, 2013, 4:25PM
    • I am completely convinced that BJ is an executive level or higher public servant whose comments on here attack others to try and justify his or her overpaid and low workload position. I am convinced he or she was promoted on a nudge wink who they knew basis. Little skill or experience. They will now do or say anything from the comfort of their aircon Monday to Friday office to protect their 6 figure high pay cushy position.
      This is where the job cuts need to be targeted, not the lower hard working levels.

      Commenter
      Tax money saver
      Date and time
      November 20, 2013, 4:28PM

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