Major changes to the public service proposed in the recent Thodey review would improve the chances of policy reform currently lacking for the nation, a new report from think tank the Grattan Institute says.
Former institute chief executive John Daley wrote that weaker governance had led to governments adopting less policy reform that would improve the lives of Australians.
Among the causes was a weakened public service either not asked for policy advice, not capable of providing it, or overly pliable in serving the political interests of the government of the day.
However Thodey recommendations discarded by the federal government when the review finished in 2019 would be a "good starting point" in increasing the policy role of the public service, Mr Daley said.
Changes proposed included reforms bolstering the independence of the public service, including requirements that department secretaries only be dismissed on specific legislated grounds and after independent evaluation by the public service commissioner.
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Another recommendation suggested that secretaries be appointed only after a selection panel had provided a ranking of preferred candidates, and possibly requiring governments indicate when they had ignored this preference.
"The Morrison government rejected all these proposals on the basis that rejection was 'consistent with the secretaries board's advice' - advice which did little to counter impressions of public service pliability," the Grattan Institute report said.
"There was a clear pattern to the government's response to the Thodey review - it systematically rejected changes that would reduce the power of ministers.
"Unfortunately, those changes are precisely those most likely to improve the chances of reforms that would otherwise be blocked because they face hostile public opinion, party shibboleths, vested interests, or lack independent evidence."
The government accepted more than 20 of the Thodey review's 40 recommendations only in part and rejected several others, including reforms relating to secretaries.
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