When Scott Morrison spoke to more than 700 public servants in the room in Monday with hundreds, perhaps thousands, more tuned in online, he stuck with a style that would have surprised none.
It was a serious message delivered in soundbites and slogan, folksy references and even an appeal to the values of veterans. In a testament to the Prime Minister's talent for communication, though, the substance of the speech made good sense to the public servants in the room.
Essentially, Morrison's message to the country's 240,000 federal bureaucrats was don't be bureaucrats. Don't write briefs as exercises in self-protection. You shouldn't be about logging risks so you can put them in the "told-you-so file" for the future and your memoirs. Dwell less on the beauty of your brief and the elegance of your strategy and more implementation. Don't measure success via progress though the infinite grades of the public service. Stop talking about what a bad job some other section or team is doing and focus on doing your own job. Stop wasting time thinking about how to impress departmental secretaries or ministers, all 18 of whom were at Parliament House's Great Hall for Morrison's speech on Monday. And don't ask for more "because Mathias will say no".
Phil Gaetjens, incoming head of the prime minister's department, will suit this throw-off-the-shackles approach, at least judging by his appearance. Despite the formality of the occasion with an audience even asked to stand and applaud as the Prime Minister entered and walked the aisle, wedding style, Gaetjens didn't wear a tie. "He tells me it's where it always is, at home, not around his neck," Morrison told the gathering.
Morrison took this happily in stride; it suits his preferred ordinary-bloke style, to which the bureaucrats were treated aplenty. "Ben and Stuey" can be decoded as ministerial allies Ben Morton and Stuart Robert. "Nigel and Angela", the public servants he observed working so hard to understand the disconnect in key indicators on wages, might never be identified. Who was this admirable analytic pair?
"Look beyond the bubble," Morrison exhorted, even while speaking in the bubble to the bubble, and avoid the "myriad vested interests that parade through this place".
You need a "clear line of sight" from the most senior or junior public servant to the people impacted by the policy. Whether in "Bunbury or Belconnen", nothing should stand between you as a public servant and the customer you are trying to serve.
"Keep to the code", he told them, this message one that probably contributed to the positivity with which the public servants received his speech. Morrison managed to equate the public service code to the "unbreakable code" that binds war veterans, allowing them to act with "the highest levels of integrity under extreme pressure".
He managed to pronounce 'acadamia' like macadamia and characterise Thodey's review as 'fair dinkum'.
Be humble, Morrison told them, a word he uses often. He also managed to use "agile", "responsive" and "disruptive", which have become the cliches of modern bureaucracy and sit significantly less comfortably with Morrison's desire to see things done differently.
Remember your job, he told them. You're not there to set policy, or lead your minister by the nose, but to advise and implement.
As his rugby coach used to say, it's the bacon and eggs principal: "the chicken's involved, but the pig is committed". The audience chose to laugh along rather than roll its collectives eyes at this analogy, which was about explaining that politicians were at the pointy end. Public servants advise on policy and deliver the services but politicians have to answer for it, and there's nothing like the perspective you get from having to look voters in the eye and explain yourself.
There were some more subtle signals in Morrison's message. He referenced the United States social psychologist Jonathan Haidt who speaks against the smothering liberal orthodoxy that has taken over American university campuses. Morrison wants to ensure such "stale conventions and orthodoxies" have no place in Australian government departments.
He gave a handy fill-up for the hard-line maverick conservative Jim Molan, who lives near Tuggeranong and who is hoping to win Liberal preselection for Arthur Sinodinos's seat. Morrison referred to Molan as a "friend" of his and of Stuart Robert, and quoted Molan as saying "no strategy ever survives contact with the enemy". Molan will be happy to get the nod.
There was a did-he-really-say-that moment when Morrison lauded the unit dealing with the government's engagement with the Pacific as one of his favourites sections in the public service. After the mess he left behind last week in the Pacific, you'd think the few reminders the better.
Speaking of favourites, Morrison managed to draw all of his entreaties for a fresh public service together in a comparison with one of his favourite movies, Apollo 13. His favourite scene is when the bits of a lunar module are thrown on a table and the best of NASA comes together to work out how to bring the space heroes back to earth. There were no departments in that room at NASA, there were no people thinking their degree was more important than someone else's degree, Morrison told the bureaucrats. Just a bunch of people working under extreme pressure to save the lives of three blokes in an escape pod in a lunar module.
It's quintessential Morrison. Folksy, relatable, blokey, lessons from rugby coaches and NASA action movies.
He even managed to pronounce "acadamia" like macadamia, and characterise Thodey's review of the public service as "fair dinkum". Despite the wage cap, the cap on numbers, the threat of decentralisation (a word, by the way, that significantly wasn't mentioned), outside the room, the public servants wore smiles. Morrison's message was one that somehow found a supportive audience.