Public servants might welcome the praise Anthony Albanese has bestowed on them this week, but it carries only so much weight.
Until a politician is in government, leading a portfolio and making decisions, it's hard to know what they really think about the bureaucracy.
It's with this caveat that public servants should listen to Mr Albanese's comments.
No doubt they are music to the ears of many in the bureaucracy. Labor has given reason enough to expect the fortunes of the public service would change if the ALP won government.
But if bureaucrats expect a return under Labor to the days of a frank and fearless public service, they might be disappointed.
Mr Albanese's refusal to guarantee the jobs of departmental secretaries will send a shiver up the spine of some APS bosses.
Before each federal election, there is speculation about which senior officials would stay, or go, with a change in government.
In 2019 it was then-newly appointed Treasury secretary Phil Gaetjens who many believed was likely finished in the public service if Bill Shorten led Labor to victory. The opposition treasury spokesman at the time, Chris Bowen, made it clear he believed Mr Gaetjens was unsuited to the role.
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Should the ALP come to power, there would also be an obvious question around the future of the controversial Home Affairs secretary, Mike Pezzullo.
Labor has flagged it may continue the tradition blamed most for the decline in the public service's frank, fearless stature. If Mr Albanese sacks department heads as prime minister, it will echo John Howard's dismissal of six secretaries upon winning office in 1996 - at least in a small way.
It will also do nothing to promote the independence and fearlessness needed to restore the bureaucracy to a higher place in the policy-making chain.
It's important that prime ministers have bureaucrats they trust to implement their agenda. But new governments that sack APS secretaries they dislike perpetuate a cycle - one that undermines an apolitical, frank public service. It has become one of the public service's most dismal traditions, and it's one that looks nowhere close to ending.
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