Former Liberal leader John Hewson says Prime Minister Scott Morrison's plan to overhaul the Australian public service risks further bureaucratising the bureaucracy.
Mr Morrison released the Thodey review and his government's response to it simultaneously on Friday, rejecting many of the recommendations that would have most fundamentally changed the Commonwealth bureaucracy.
Critically, the Coalition rejected recommendations to move to common pay and conditions across the public service and make it tougher to fire department secretaries.
Dr Hewson, who is now a professor at Australian National University's Crawford School of Public Policy, said there seemed to be an intention in the government's response to "consolidate political power" in both policy design and implementation and delivery.
"[It's] hard to see how with a PM who operates with slogans and on prejudice, rather than good evidenced based policy, that service delivery will improve," Dr Hewson said.
"Also, what will these changes do to effectively address key longer-term policy challenges - housing affordability, cost of living, energy prices, child care, private health insurance, and a host of others as well as structural challenges such as climate and national productivity?
"There is a real danger of further 'bureaucratisation' of the bureaucracy."
Dr Hewson said this response - on top of last week's public service restructure - had guaranteed a very anxious and uncertain Christmas for Canberra's public servants.
"Morrison is the sort of guy who would boo Santa," Dr Hewson said.
The government said recommendations around common pay and firing secretaries had been rejected on the advice of the secretaries board.
But Former Australian Public Service Commissioner Andrew Podger said that surprised him.
"Surely secretaries don't reject Thodey's advice about bringing in robust processes for the termination of secretary appointments. Self interest say they should support that," Professor Podger said.
Professor Podger also said he didn't know if anyone in the public service thought the current variation in pay and conditions was appropriate.
"We all know it causes problems for mobility, and enormous problems for the machinery of government changes changes announced last week," Professor Podger said.
"How will they handle the amalgamation of so many agencies with different enterprise agreements? It's a huge task that simply illustrates the problems with so many different pay arrangements."
But former Finance Department deputy head and Pegasus Economics director Stephen Bartos said common pay scales did not make sense when the government was trying to make the public service more about localised service delivery.
"There's a balance. While there's an argument for common pay scales, there's also an argument for diverse pay to reflect the diversity of operations," Mr Bartos said.
Mr Bartos said the review itself lacked overall historical perspective.
"To give you an example, they have a section suggesting a greater focus on evaluations, coordinated by the Department of Finance, ignoring the fact that back in the 80s, there was exactly that and they haven't included any analysis about why it was abandoned by government," Mr Bartos said.
"It's an example of those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it."
Mr Bartos also said the review proposed structural changes to overcome cultural problems, when in fact the only way to shift that culture was to change the underlying incentives.
The review also recommended seamlessly integrating government services at Commonwealth, state and territory levels, something that's been attempted without success for the last century, Mr Bartos said.
"The key observation I would make is saying what should be done is the easy part, but actually doing it is the hard part and no one should underestimate how difficult changing the culture of the public service will be," Mr Bartos said.
"I've done public service reform - it's incredibly hard. It's all very well to have ideas but to actually implement them is incredibly difficult."
But Labor's public service spokeswoman Katy Gallagher said the government's response was "a missed opportunity".
"After sitting on the review for three months, the government has today delivered a totally inadequate response to the considered and substantial work of David Thodey and his team," Senator Gallagher said.
"There is no doubt that there are challenges ahead for the APS but the government's response today indicates that it will do very little to prepare for those challenges.
"Scott Morrison doesn't get the APS, he doesn't respect the APS or its workforce and he clearly doesn't understand its important role in delivering services to Australians. Today marks a major missed opportunity to modernise the APS and ensure it is properly equipped to deliver for Australians into the future."
Unions also say the government's response falls short.
Professionals Australia ACT director Dale Beasley said while the government response contained some positive signs, it was inadequate in many ways.
"While the government has set itself some good tasks in its response, such as standardising performance management, building internal skills and capability, and nurturing skill development and professionalisation, it's dismaying to see they have rejected calls to address the two key drivers of the hollowing out of STEM professions in the APS: the ASL cap on staff numbers, and the government's restrictive wages and bargaining policy," Mr Beasley said.
"The ASL cap on staff numbers, and the restrictive wages and bargaining rules are centrepieces of the government policy settings driving so much of what's broken in the APS."
"The government has really missed an opportunity for meaningful change here. It's difficult to see how the government will be able to succeed in building internal skills and capability if agencies are not able to recruit and retain the STEM professionals they need."
Mr Beasley also hit out at the timing of the release.
"It's ridiculous timing, dropping this announcement on APS employees as they commence their summer holidays with their families and friends," Mr Beasley said.
"This should be one time of the year where employees have an opportunity to rest and recuperate, now our members are left wondering what sort of workplace they're going to be returning to in 2020."
Community and Public Sector Union national secretary Melissa Donnelly said the review put pressure on the government to remove the average staffing level cap and fix the "broken" funding model for the public service.
"All we have seen from the government today is $15.1 million for the Secretaries Board. That won't go any way increasing access to services. It won't answer the millions of unanswered calls to Centrelink, or help the community get to the bottom of their illegal Robodebt, and it won't help us meet our climate targets," Ms Donnelly said.
"A good government would lift the ASL cap and invest in the services Australians need. But Scott Morrison continues to disregard expert findings and chase short-term budget wins instead of delivering on his election promises."
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