Abbott, Public Service Basher, Repents

This article appeared in the Canberra Times.

By VERONA BURGESS, Public Service Reporter

Tony Abbott was never averse to the age-old sport of public-service bashing that is, until he became a minister.

Now the new Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Australian Public Service says he is a “complete convert” to its quality and strengths.

Mr Abbott – who is also the Minister for Employment and Leader of the House of Representatives – heaped praise on the Public Service yesterday, telling The Canberra Times his department’s senior public servants had very high-level skills which he thought “would leave many private-sector managers for dead”.

Mr Abbott said he could not speak about the whole Public Service yet, nor outline any agenda, because he was still “learning the ropes”.

But he admitted he had done an about-face on the Public Service during his six years in government.

“I have to say that when I became first a parliamentary secretary and then a minister, I was probably inclined to the standard outside-of-Canberra view of public servants that those who can do and those who can’t teach administer, that sort of thing.

“I was probably as susceptible to that kind of facile bureaucrat bashing as the next person. But my experience of the Department of Employment . . . has given me a great respect and appreciation for the qualities of the Australian Public Service. I have become a complete convert to the strengths of our Public Service and have learnt to very much appreciate what it can do.”

He said he found that the Public Service always got the job done.

“It always happens; it may not happen perfectly but it never fails and I think that’s greatly to the credit of our public servants. It’s a tribute to their professionalism and a tribute to how hard they work.”

When he first became a minister and tried to contact public servants on a Sunday, he was surprised by how many of them were at the office.

“Again, different departments might have a different approach to things but certainly at the senior levels of the Department of Workplace Relations the hours that people put in are phenomenal, simply phenomenal.

“And again, if it’s necessary to get the job done they’ll basically work around the clock until it’s done rather than just throw up their hands and say, ‘It can’t be done’.”

Mr Abbott also revealed a taste for frank and fearless advice.

“A public servant who just says, ‘Yes, Minister’ is a public servant who isn’t doing his job.

“In the end the Public Service is there to carry out the policy of the Government and if, on a policy matter, the minister is unpersuaded, they must in the end carry out the minister’s direction with as much enthusiasm as they can muster. But nevertheless it’s important that they tell you what they honestly think and believe.”

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