Press Conference

25 Jul 2019
Canberra, ACT
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: I’m conscious that we’ve got divisions going on in the House, so excuse me if I have to return to the Chamber. I just want to start by saying last night I had the opportunity to talk to Boris Johnson and to congratulate him at that time on being the elected leader of the UK Conservative Party. Of course, since then he has now become the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. We are going to have a very strong relationship. I am looking forward to spending time with him and meeting with him at the G7 next month, and we are both looking forward to that opportunity. Moving very quickly, when the opportunity presents, to be able to move to an agreement between the United Kingdom and Australia on trade. We will be one of the first cabs off the rank, as has been the case in our discussions with the UK for some time. This is a time of change for the United Kingdom, and I think the new Prime Minister will bring a new opportunity, I think, to resolve what had been some very difficult issues, and that it is in the interest not only of the United Kingdom and Europe to be able to resolve these matters, but for the broader global economy to get some resolution on these issues. So I wished him all the best on those matters, and it was good to be able to catch up with him last night and I look forward to our meeting.

But the purpose of being here today is to say that when it comes to the public service, that is the engine room through which a government implements its agenda. And I have always had the good experience of working with the public service in providing very clear direction and leadership to the agencies I have worked with that enabled them to get on with the job. And I have always seen the public service at its best when it is really getting on with things. I have had that experience in multiple portfolios, and as Prime Minister, I have seen it in the eyes of our public service officials when they are responding to difficult challenges. The North Queensland floods, I think, was a very good example of our public service at its best, responding to people's needs, understanding what needed to be done, getting rid of barriers that were in the way of them helping people.

So when it comes to the public service, my view is to respect and expect. Respect their professionalism, respect their capability, respect what they can bring to the table and what they can do, and expect them to get on with the job of implementing the Government's agenda. That has always been my approach in working with the public service, across many portfolios, including as Prime Minister. The Thodey review is in its final stages, but I have already made it clear in speaking to all the secretaries of all departments - in fact, even before I swore my Ministry in - what my expectations were. And this is of a very public-facing public service. A public service that is very focused on the delivery of programs, whether it is in our infrastructure programs and the pipeline of support to the states to get those projects happening. In water infrastructure, in delivering in the government services agenda where we have a new Minister responsible for Service Australia, Government Services Australia.

These are the initiatives I want to see the public service focus on. Implementation, implementation, doing. And it's not just the regulations that can frustrate investment and getting services to people, whether it is Indigenous remote communities, supporting our veterans, or delivering education services in our major capital cities. It's just not the funding and the regulations that can frustrate this. It can just be the practices of administration within the bureaucracy. And I know that frustrates the bureaucracy as much as it can those who are expecting and waiting on those services. So that's the culture of service that I want to see in the public sector, and that is the approach I'll be taking and working closely in partnership with the Secretaries.

Now, you've seen that following the election, the Secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet and I have agreed that it is an opportune time for new leadership of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. I want to start off by thanking Dr Parkinson for his service to Australia. Not just as the secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet, but long service to Australia. And he has been a respected public official and senior secretary in this town for a very long time, and that remains the case in terms of the respect that he is held by me, my Ministers, the Government, and I think all of those who work professionally in this place.

We agreed it was time for some new leadership there, but going forward, I will continue I’m sure to call on him from time to time as I suspect other Ministers will, in meeting difficult challenges and issues in the future. But I particularly want to thank Martin for his great support and friendship to me over the past 12 months, almost, in coming into this role, and to thank him and his department for the support he has given to our Government. In putting a new set of leaders in place, I will be appointing Phil Gaetjens as the Secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet. Phil has forty years of experience, state and at a federal level. He has been more closely involved in central agency planning and budgets than most people around this town, at all levels. Again, at a state and at a federal level. How we work with state governments is absolutely critical to my agenda. As you know, I have worked closely with Phil in the past. I am looking forward to working closely with him again, and I am looking forward to what he will bring to the delivery of the Government's agenda, and ensuring it is well understood across the public service, and that we are getting on with the job of delivering on that agenda.

To replace Phil at Treasury will be Dr Kennedy. He will be coming in from the infrastructure portfolio. He is an outstanding public servant and official, highly respected. I think he has done a tremendous job, and I know the Deputy Prime Minister shares that view for the work that he has done at infrastructure in pulling together and rolling out our $100 billion infrastructure plan over the next decade. They both have experience working in the political realm as well. Stephen has obviously worked on the Labor side, Phil has worked on the Coalition side.

This is about merit, this is about people that know how to get a job done, and people have earned the respect for the roles that I believe that they will now be able to serve in. How our public service works, how our Government sector works, has an important role in boosting productivity in this country. Productivity Commission actually highlighted that in their Shifting the Dial report which I commissioned when I was Treasurer. So I want to see the public service able, equipped, supported, backed-in, respected, to do the job that I expect them to do.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, appointing your former senior adviser as the head of the bureaucracy will inevitably be seen as a politicisation of the bureaucracy. How can you give an undertaking that that traditional break between departmental officials and the political wing of government will be maintained?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, in the same way that previous Labor Prime Ministers have been able to give that same obligation and accountability and commitment to the Australian people in the numerous appointments they have made of everyone from Don Russell, to Mike Pezzullo, to Tim Lee, to Jody Fassina, to Geoff Fary, Ruth Kearon, Paul Grigson, Jan Adams, Chris Moraitis, Richard Maude. This is not uncommon, that people who have worked in the political sphere and the bureaucratic sphere, because it is both. And where they have that experience, I think that aids them well in the tasks that they have.

In the secretaries that I currently have working under the Coalition government - Rosemary Huxtable, Steven Kennedy, Mike Pezzullo, Chris Moraitis, Daryl Quinlivan, Mike Mrdak, Frances Adamson - all of them have served in both political roles for Labor and are doing an outstanding job for me in the secretary roles they have. It is about merit and it is about quality. And in the two appointments I have announced today, I believe they are two men that have done an extraordinary job and have earned my trust and my respect and the respect of my Government.

JOURNALIST: You stressed implementation a number of times in your opening remarks, Prime Minister. But you haven't mentioned the important advisory role of the public service. Do you think that this role is somewhat in the background these days? That implementation is their primary role?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, let me explain to you what I mean by implementation. It is the job of the public service to advise you of the challenges that may present to a Government in implementing its agenda. That is the advisory role of the public service. To highlight, and they do. But the Government sets policy. The Government is the one that goes to the people and sets out an agenda, as we have, which the Governor-General articulated in some precision when the Parliament was brought back together. That's the agenda that we are implementing, that's the agenda we were elected to get on and do. The public service will rightly, and always do, in my experience, be very full and frank in what they say to me as a Prime Minister and what they have said to me previously as a Minister. But once the Government policy is set, it's their job to implement it, and that is what the Australian people expect.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, are these two appointments the extent of the changes you are looking to make, or are you looking to make further changes in the public service?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I will always reserve that right to make further changes where I believe they are necessary. I think these are the ones that are necessary right now. We will have an acting secretary in infrastructure until such time as we make a permanent appointment in that area, but these are matters that I am looking at closely. I am working closely with all the secretaries of all departments and agencies, and I look forward to that continuing. I am obviously consulting closely with my Ministers as well about the best set of arrangements that we can put in place. But when it comes to PM&C and Treasury, I think you'll all agree they are fairly central agencies but we will continue to work with the others as the Government dictates.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, bureaucracy isn't the only place where you are getting advice. You are also getting some frank advice from your backbench.


JOURNALIST: On superannuation, for example, some of your Liberal colleagues are concerned about the increase in the super guarantee that starts from July 2021, saying that there is concern in especially a low-wage growth period, that this will have an effect on take-home pay. And then there is Andrew Bragg who is saying that voluntary superannuation is the way to go for those under $50,000. How do you respond to this very warm advice?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I respond by as I always do, encouraging all my members to participate in the policy process, and we have many of those processes. In fact, the primary way we do that is through our internal processes as a party. When people give their first speeches, their maiden speeches in the Parliament, it is not unsurprising that people will set out broader, particularly personal, views, and I welcome that. That is what we have seen in first speeches in this place for a very long period of time. And I think that it is important that members and senators have the opportunity to do that, particularly in their first speeches, so I wouldn't over-interpret on that front. Hang on, I am still answering. On the points of policy that you raised, I have been very clear. The Government's policy has not changed. The Treasurer made that very clear also yesterday in Question Time. Because I am very keen to ensure, particularly in a time of low wage growth, which we have - it has been modest, I have always acknowledged that - and the best way to improve that and improve what people have in their pockets is to ensure they keep more of what they earn. That is why we were so adamant at the last election and prior to that, and now, to deliver that tax relief which the Labor Party sought to do everything they could to oppose. They will always be for higher taxes, not for lower taxes, and that is something on which I know all members agree.

JOURNALIST: On the retirement incomes revenue that’s coming, will things [inaudible] increasing the super guarantee or indeed Senator Bragg’s idea of making Super voluntary, will they be looked at?

PRIME MINISTER: That is a recommendation that has been put to us. We conduct that review, it’s one will be actioning and are not going to limit it. But the Government’s policy, let me be very clear, is what is set out in what the law of this country is and our policy hasn't changed.

JOURNALIST: That’s the policy now, but these things are free to be looked at as part of the review?

PRIME MINISTER: Reviews look at all sorts of things, but they are reports of reviews, not of the Government. And the Government responds as appropriate, but I can only refer you again to what the Treasurer said yesterday about our plans, and what the Finance Minister has said about our plans, and indeed what I said about our plans on this topic. I was asked about this in the lead up to the last election. And my answer to that was very clear, and I will keep the commitments that I made to the Australian people, not just on that matter but on all matters.

JOURNALIST: Back to the public sector changes, the economy is facing a testing time at the moment and you have also implemented or are working on the implementation of the Hayne Royal Commission. Did you take that into consideration when you changed horses in Treasury, are you confident of those processes?

PRIME MINISTER: Absolutely, absolutely. Let me be clear, because this came up in Question Time yesterday. There is already legislation that has passed the Parliament in relation to implementing the recommendations, many of the recommendations that are being implemented don't require legislation and are being implemented in either a regulatory or in a ministry capacity. But there is currently quite a bit of legislation out there in exposure draft form for public consultation. What we need to be very careful to do - as particularly you would know, Phil, writing for the AFR - that we have to be very careful in the precision of this legislation when it comes forward into the Parliament. Now, I'm not going to rush that and see things put into legislation that could have been addressed through the consultation period that would otherwise have avoided some unintended consequence. I'm going to make sure we give that time to work with the sector to make sure that these legislative responses are correct. I don't understand Labor's position. What are they expecting, that we should have some rushed and harried legislation? That's how you end up with pink batts fiascos and overpriced school halls, when you don't take care on making responses to these things. And we are taking care. This is a very, very significant priority of the Government, to get this right. Just as all the other matters are, and we will continue to just work through that process of delivering on our agenda. And to deliver on that agenda, you have to be hand in glove. Hand to hand with your public service, working closely with them, with strong leadership from the Ministers and the Prime Minister, the expectation of performance and delivery and a respect for the great capabilities of our public service.

Thank you very much.