The federal government's embrace of health advice during the COVID-19 emergency is unlikely to mark a sea change in its attitude toward public service expertise, public administration experts have warned.
There have been hopes that the government's success in squashing the virus outbreak might encourage it to pay greater heed to public service expertise in more controversial areas such as climate change and energy policy.
But close observers of the relationship between politicians and the the public service think that is unlikely, echoing concerns raised by former Department of Human Services secretary Renee Leon that the government is "sick of experts".
In a forthright interview with The Conversation and contentgroup five months after she was dismissed from her job as part of a shake-up of the Australian Public Service, Ms Leon bemoaned a growing intolerance of "frank and fearless" advice from public servants.
"[There is an] increasing number of ministers these days who think that independent advice from the public service is some kind of affront if it is not what the minister had already asked for," Ms Leon said.
"There are [ministers] who see it as an affront to their ego if you don't agree with them all the time."
Former Labor minister and Crawford School of Public Policy visiting fellow Bob McMullan said such strong aversion among ministers to contrary views was a relatively recent phenomenon.
"I would not say it has never happened before but the scale of it seems to be quite different," Mr McMullan said.
"We are all human. If someone comes back and tells you 'I think you're wrong', you don't always say, 'thank you very much'.
"But most people at least take a measured response to it, and the idea that you only get frank and fearless advice that you agree with is an oxymoron."
Mr McMullan said the Morrison government's willingness to heed expert advice during the pandemic was "very welcome, and if it were to become the new norm that would be a very good thing".
But he said recent developments in the climate change debate were not promising.
Australian National University political scientist Professor Richard Mulgan said the government's use of Health Department and Treasury expertise during the COVID-19 crisis had been important, but he was cautious about it signifying a change.
"That shows some degree of respect for experts in the government," Professor Mulgan said.
"Whether one should extrapolate from that to say, well, they will now start listening to bureaucrats on other contentious matters such as energy policy, water policy, climate change, is another thing entirely."
Griffith Business School dean Professor Anne Tiernan said there had been an explosion in the sources of advice ministers were drawing upon, including consultants, academics, think tanks, lobby groups and informal networks.
"The APS is an important source of advice, but it is not the only one," Professor Tiernan said.
Government spending on consultancies has soared. In the four years to 2017 it jumped 40 per cent to reach $545 million.
Professor Tiernan and Melbourne School of Government senior fellow Dr Marty Bortz said ministers picked and chose expertise based on their views and preferred outcomes.
"Expertise is a political weapon. People will draw on expertise as a way to burnish their argument," Dr Bortz said.