Turnbull wants more women in top public service roles and more tech-savvy staff
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Turnbull wants more women in top public service roles and more tech-savvy staff

The public service must encourage more women into senior roles and embrace the technology prowess of younger staff, the Prime Minister says.

Malcolm Turnbull spoke to about 800 mostly senior public servants in Parliament on Wednesday morning, in what is understood to be the first prime ministerial address to the bureaucracy in about six years.

Malcolm Turnbull's government had the opportunity to make the super contribution permanent but chose not.

Malcolm Turnbull's government had the opportunity to make the super contribution permanent but chose not. Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

He exhorted them to find the courage to experiment with technology, saying government agencies needed to harness data to measure and improve their services.

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"Unwillingness to embrace technology is, to put it bluntly, simply not acceptable."

Malcolm Turnbull meets children in the Parliament House foyer after addressing the public service on Wednesday.

Malcolm Turnbull meets children in the Parliament House foyer after addressing the public service on Wednesday. Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Baby Boomers, Gen X must 'swallow their pride'

Mr Turnbull also suggested older public servants needed to "swallow their pride" and learn more from the Generation Y and Millennial staff they manage.

He referred to futurist Chris Luebkeman's description of a "clay layer" in workplaces, made of "managers in the 40-plus age bracket who did not grow up with the digital technology of today and are therefore not what we call digital natives".

"They do not fully understand it and in some instances fear it," Mr Turnbull said. "And that fear, according to Dr Luebkeman, acts as a barrier to its implementation and is not only does a disservice to the manager but inhibits the success of their business."

The Prime Minister called for "reverse mentoring" in the Australian Public Service, asking "Baby Boomers and Generation X to swallow their pride and call on the Millennials to share their experience of the technology that is second nature to them".

"We must all commit to learn about the technology at our disposal. That is non-negotiable."

Gender equality 'critical to APS'

Mr Turnbull also warned the bureaucracy that he expected "more leadership to be shown on gender equality".

Women outnumber men at all levels of the public service up to executive level 1, but remain under-represented among EL2 ranks and in the senior executive service.

Mr Turnbull said Employment Minister Michaelia Cash would release an APS gender strategy later this month to help bridge these gaps.

"We have set out a clear goal of 50 per cent women for appointees to government boards," he said.

"We won't always reach it, but that should clearly be the target. Gender equality is an important, a critical objective in the APS."

He also said the public service needed to become more a flexible workplace – such as by embracing teleworking and part-time hours – to allow women to progress further.

He cited his and his wife Lucy's experiences running businesses, saying they "always focused on workplace flexibility because we know it enables gender equality and it enables workers, men and women, to have a much better family and work balance".

"This is absolutely critical," Mr Turnbull said.

"As a leader, as a manager, of a business, a department, a unit or a section, part of your job is, as far as you can, to make sure that the people you are responsible for are able to get the right balance between home and work."

Labor demands end to APS bargaining impasse

Meanwhile, federal Labor berated the Prime Minister for failing to use his address to discuss the bureaucracy's stalled pay talks with staff.

Enterprise agreements covering about 120,000 public servants expired almost two years. Yet most government agencies have failed to strike new deals under the Coalition's tough bargaining policy, which requires that some conditions be removed and any pay rises be offset by savings.

Labor's employment spokesman, Brendan O'Connor said Mr Turnbull had ignored the issues that mattered most to staff.

"If you truly appreciate the 'true value of the public service', as you claim, why are you cutting the real wages and working conditions of public sector workers?" Mr O'Connor asked.

"Given you claim to 'expect leadership at every level', where is the leadership in resolving public sector bargaining – a process at a two-year impasse?

"You can really tell a lot about this Abbott-Turnbull Liberal government by how it treats its own workforce."

Mr Turnbull's address was organised by the Institute of Public Administration Australia's ACT division.

Markus Mannheim edits The Public Sector Informant and writes regularly about government.

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