Public service may escape shake-up

Public service may escape shake-up

The public service might escape wholesale change despite the extensive shuffle of the Rudd government ministry.

While new ministers were sworn in, and existing ones took new portfolios, the government has not announced it will realign departments with ministers' responsibilities.

The public service may escape wholesale change despite Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's extensive reshuffle.

The public service may escape wholesale change despite Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's extensive reshuffle.

Photo: Simone De Peak

The office of the Minister for the Public Service, Mark Dreyfus, did not reply by late Monday as to whether this major change would occur so close to the election, through an amendment to the administrative arrangements orders.

Senior public servants are expecting to spend Tuesday briefing the new class of ministers who have been sworn in to form the Rudd government's new frontbench.

Climate Change has been shifted from Industry back to Environment.


Immigration has another new minister, while the opposition is critical of ''rotation'' in the Sports portfolio.

Stephen Bartos, governance expert with ACIL Allen Consulting, said the public service had come off well.

''Often if you change ministers, you also change all the departments underneath them. They haven't done that; there is not a wholesale reshuffling of the arrangements underneath the ministers,'' he said.

"In a sense they've done the public service a favour and there's no need for anyone to physically move as a result of these changes.

"Ministers have changed, they'll need to be briefed but departments won't need to change and hopefully departments will be in a good position to brief ministers because they've been given enough advance warning.''

Mr Bartos said new ministers would have their ''hands on the tiller'' from Tuesday. "The expectation is that the moment a new minister is sworn in, they have a briefing with the department,'' he said.

"I imagine they will have had oral briefings from their heads of departments pretty soon after they were sworn in.

"Normally the head of department goes over to the minister's office to tell them what the key issues are, whether there are any instant burning political issues they have to deal with that day and also gives them a bunch of folders.''

Richard Denniss, executive director of the Australia Institute, said it would be a waste of public sector time and political capital for new ministers to rearrange departments.

"There are a lot of new ministers here and it will take them a lot of time to get their heads around the policy

issues,'' he said. "If they spend couple of months thinking about administrative issues, I'm not sure the public will reward them.''

Dr Denniss said Kevin Rudd's challenge for Tony Abbott to have a debate this week about debt and deficit was good news for the public sector. ''There aren't many economists who would suggest sacking a lot of public servants when the economy is slowing is consistent with the principles of sound fiscal policy,'' he said.

"Tony Abbott has said repeatedly he will rely on natural attrition to generate his job cuts but in reality that means the public servants with the most transportable skills will leave without being replaced while those with nowhere to go are more likely to stay put.

"You'll lose all the IT workers, accountants and lawyers and you'll be left with those approaching the end of their career who don't think anyone else might employ them.''

Writing in The Public Sector Informant, former departmental secretary and public service commissioner Andrew Podger says: ''Portfolio responsibilities should, as far as possible, reflect longer-term functional relationships, limiting the extent of administrative churn required as political priorities change.''

Ross Peake

Ross Peake is a senior reporter for The Canberra Times

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