'Not because it's broken': David Thodey sets out APS review vision
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'Not because it's broken': David Thodey sets out APS review vision

It ain't broke, but former Telstra chairman David Thodey is setting out to fix the Australian public service anyway.

Mr Thodey, now chair of the CSIRO, will lead the broad independent review into the whole of the public service, announced on the eve of May's budget, but he said review isn't needed to address specific problems within the sector.

David Thodey says the Australian public service isn't broken, but a review is needed to look at how it will serve in the future.

David Thodey says the Australian public service isn't broken, but a review is needed to look at how it will serve in the future.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

“It's not because it's broken or because there's any issues, it's more about trying to get ahead of what the future might hold for us," Mr Thodey said this week.

"I'm a great advocate for analysing where you're at, trying to determine where the future will be, and then putting in place great and exciting transformational change. So there will always be issues and opportunities on the horizon and our jobs as leaders is to do the best job we can to determine what they are and make sure we respond to them."

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Asked whether he shared the view of Industry Secretary Heather Smith that the APS has "no sense of a burning platform" and is not structured to navigate the changing world, Mr Thodey didn't convey a similar sense of decline.

"I think Heather's articulating some things that need to be said but when you're looking out in 20 years, I hope that the issues she's raising now are not prevalent in 20 years time. We're looking at the future of the APS, what structures do we need, what environment do we need to create, to make sure that the APS is as successful and relevant and impactful as it has been and continues to be."

The panel is supported by a secretariat staffed by employees of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, while just two of the six independent panel members have public sector experience, with the other members drawn from the private sector. Mr Thodey has responded to concerns about the independence of the panel.

"I don't think there's an issue there at all and should I feel compromised in any way I can assure you that I will make that known," he said.

"I'm not here to write a report for anyone except for the best interests of this country so I have no problem with the independence at all."

He said that extended to making recommendations that may go against government policy, including on issues like staffing caps.

"If we find there are things that we need to do differently that will make for a better public service, for the good of all Australians and supporting government then we will put those recommendations up with fearless and independent advice," he said.

The terms of reference for the review have been criticised as too broad and vague, and although Mr Thodey wasn't involved in their drafting, he said they "liberated" the panel.

"If you look at any form of strategy, be it in business, in not-for-profit, you have to go broad to be able to go narrow. If you're too narrow you run the risk of not being able to address some of the critical influences that will have a real impact so I think this is strategically and tactically exactly the right approach."

Mr Thodey said he was approached to lead the review by the prime minister's office and secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet Martin Parkinson. He has discussed the review with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull when it first started and expects to update him regularly on the review's progress until a final report is handed down next year.

Sally Whyte is a reporter for The Canberra Times covering the public service.

Doug Dingwall is a reporter for The Canberra Times covering the public service and politics.

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