Hardline Immigration Department boss Mike Pezzullo has called out timidity and risk aversion in the public service, arguing stereotypes of governments avoiding bad news do not exist.
Asked about former Defence boss Dennis Richardson's suggestion that bureaucrats who avoided frank and fearless advice were "cowards", Mr Pezzullo said ministers wanted to hear bad news as well as solutions to policy problems.
A veteran of Customs, Prime Minister and Cabinet and Defence, he said Mr Richardson was right to argue prime ministers and cabinet members needed honesty and forthrightness.
"Both he and I have worked in some contentious areas, edgy areas in terms of strategic risk and high profile and indeed controversial issues," he said.
"I've never seen a minister behave in the way the stereotypical, trope of the minister that doesn't want to hear bad news.
"They want to hear both what is the problem or the threat, what's your solution, and if I decide to go with one of the options you're presenting to me, can you commit to action and can you deliver?"
In an interview with the Lowy Institute released this week, Mr Pezzullo said he'd seen professional cowardice from public servants during a career advising ministers from both sides of politics.
"It's more of an aversion to accountability," he said.
"I say this about both sides of the aisle, ministers are not there to observe a problem.
"They need to know what the problem is, they need to know the drivers that have got us to that position.... and they want to know options that are consistent with their priorities, their strategies, their value system and their ideology, and then they want to know that you can deliver.
"Ministers get quite frustrated at the timidity and the risk aversion that occasionally they might be confronted with."
He said graduates often brought insight and savvy that should be fostered by departmental leaders.
"If you over correct to the brilliance of youth, sometimes things that are a bit infeasible or impractical can get too far up the system.
"If you overly privilege caution, safety, everything has to be checked to within an inch of its life, you potentially create inertia and paralysis in the system.
"That's how you develop good policy: it's a combination of insight and wisdom and brilliance on occasion with achievability."
Appointed to lead Immigration by the Abbott government, Mr Pezzullo is a former adviser to Labor figures Kim Beazley and Gareth Evans.
He revealed he had considered a career in academia before joining the public service, to fulfil his love of World War II history and figures including Winston Churchill and Franklin D Roosevelt.
The son of Italian migrants to Australia in the 1960s, Mr Pezzullo said his ethnicity and surname had never impacted his career.
He brushed off the casual racism faced during his school years but said contemporary Australia was different.
"I think we should be very, very careful... in terms of how we set examples to our children and how we educate them, particularly about social media.
"What in the 70s might have been dismissed, just water off a duck's back, these days echos through social media, it echos through the internet. That stuff is never erased and it can affect different people in different ways," he said.