Thodey wants 'big bold ideas' for APS review

Thodey wants 'big bold ideas' for APS review

The APS review isn't seeking to hand down 50 recommendations that must be implemented within the near future, but is more likely to provide a few big ideas to ensure the public service is fit for purpose in 2030, David Thodey said on Wednesday.

Addressing the risk that the review may become another report that fades into history if it can't be implemented, the review's chairman said he was wary of ending up like many reviews that "don't land".

David Thodey doesn't want the APS Review to become another report gathering dust on a shelf, but a document that leads to transformation in the public service.

David Thodey doesn't want the APS Review to become another report gathering dust on a shelf, but a document that leads to transformation in the public service.Credit:Peter Braig

"What we're looking for is your ideas for how we can recognise this wonderful future, that you have, and the next generation has for the next generation public service, so we're seeking suggestions that are truly transformative, and I will say it publicly, if we end up with a list of 50 recommendations that you have to implement, we will have failed," Mr Thodey said in an speech to the Institute of Public Administration Australia's ACT conference.

"Fifty recommendations will mean another committee to be set up to monitor the implementation, what we need is big bold ideas."


While flagging his intention to move beyond standard lists of recommendations, Mr Thodey reserved the right to change his mind when challenged by former senior public servant and professor at the Australian National University Andrew Podger, who said he was concerned that if the review was too intangible, it would have no ability to transform the public service.

"Even as I present today there is a grave danger of motherhood platitudes, so I'm acutely aware of it but I do want to persevere to find some big impactful things," Mr Thodey said.

"I remain open but I'm going to try to do a few things well rather than many things poorly, and the other thing is I should quickly say, there are so many good reports, but many of them don't land and so I sit here and say ... I hope that's not the case."

Mr Thodey said while there was optimism and pride in the work of the public service, submissions to the APS Review had revealed a vein of frustration about the service. It is necessary for the public service to look at the reasons behind the lack of change in some areas, and to ask tough questions, he said.

"We’re not the first to say that collaboration across the APS is vital to success. But how many times have we all seen that undercut by process, structures, funding or culture?"

The submissions and consultations had resulted in five themes for the review panel's vision to keep the review focused on making sure the public service is fit for purpose in 2030.

The five themes of the vision are, a strong Australian public service united in a collective endeavour; a world-class Australian public service in its policy, regulation and delivery; an Australian public service that is truly an employer of choice; trusted and respected by its partners; and renowned for using dynamic, digital and adaptive systems and structures.

Mr Thodey said he was confident and optimistic about the public service, while recognising the barriers and frustrations faced by public servants.

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

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