A prime minister with greater interest in the public service would allow long-term agenda items to get a better hearing from government but risks the service having to focus on being responsive rather than offering independent policy advice, an academic has warned.
Stephen Mills, a senior lecturer at the Graduate School of Government at the University of Sydney, said Prime Minister Scott Morrison making himself Minister for the Public Service would see high-level attention given to the Thodey review and the government's decentralisation agenda.
"At one level, it's good news for the public service. You could certainly say anything which gives the public service as an institution this kind of high-level salience within the political structure is a very good thing," Dr Mills said.
Mr Morrison appointed himself Minister for the Public Service when he announced his reshuffled cabinet on Sunday.
Dr Mills said the unexpected move would be negative for the public service if the government focused entirely on its service delivery functions rather than its policy advice work.
"If Morrison's view of the public service is, as I suspect it is, merely about service delivery, rather than policy advice, I think that's not a healthy sign," he said.
Health Minister Greg Hunt, who is also assistant minister for the public service and cabinet, told ABC Radio Melbourne on Monday the public service was doing a good job but could improve its delivery functions.
"Are we getting the answers to people? Are we really focused on getting services to people so as their lives can be better? And ensuring that the economy helps them build jobs and have the dignity of work as well as the economic security that comes with that.
"That's the big vision for the government," Mr Hunt said.
Dr Mills said public service decentralisation would be positive if services that could be closer to communities than governments were moved, but it should not be used to bolster political support in regional areas.
He said the public service would be faced with the challenge of declining staff and resources, but there could be opportunities for bureaucrats to add to the government's policy agenda.
"Having a majority government with an authoritative prime minister might be good for the public service if it allows them to, as it were, fill out the government's agenda with overdue initiatives," he said.
"On the negative side, I think cuts for cuts sake is not a good way. I think outsourcing to achieve apparent cuts in staff numbers and apparent savings is not the best way to cap growth in the public sector."
Mr Morrison told departmental secretaries last week that there would be clear performance targets for the public service, which needed to bust bureaucratic congestion. He said the public service should give frank and fearless advice but it was "professionally responsible" for service delivery.