Q&A Institute of Public Administration

19 Aug 2019
Parliament House, Canberra
Prime Minister

FRANCES ADAMSON: The first question is from Holly Noble. Holly is the Director of Strategic Planning, Data and Governance at IP Australia and she is also part of IPAA’s Future Leaders Group. Over to you Holly. 

QUESTION: Good morning Prime Minister. I'm part of the Future Leaders Committee. We are a network of emerging and future leaders from across the public service. We're very passionate about the future of the public service and the opportunities that are ahead for us. I wonder, can you tell us about your vision for the future culture of the Australian Public Service and what role future and emerging leaders may play in driving this country? 

PRIME MINISTER: One word answer, you’ll be pleased to know - collaboration. I want the APS to have a collaborative culture. Not just collaborative internally within agencies and departments and across agencies and departments because there's not one department that has the answer to everything Australia is facing. It’s sort of [inaudible] the collaboration has to exist internally within our agencies, across agencies and the collaboration has to reach out, as I was saying before, into relationships at the community level, on the ground, within academia, with business, with industry, within the charitable sector. All of those who are involved in solving the many problems and addressing the many opportunities Australia faces. It's a big task and it’s way bigger than government, and that means we need a collaborative public service.

FRANCES ADAMSON: Thanks Prime Minister. The second question is from David Hazlehurst. David is Deputy CEO of the Australian Trade and Investment Commission at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio.

QUESTION: Prime Minister, thank you for your remarks this morning. You've in recent times been outlining your expectations of the public service and confirmed those this morning around being more public-facing, bursting bureaucratic bubbles and getting on with the job of implementing the Government's agenda. And previously and as well this morning you referred to the Queensland floods response as being an example of us at our best. From your time as PM and as a Minister across multiple portfolios, could you share with us one or two other examples of what good looks like - perhaps an example or two of where the public service has engaged well with government right from the beginning of a policy process all the way through to a successful implementation? Thank you. 

PRIME MINISTER: Well thank you. We're very limited by time on that, and the OSB experience I think is well chronicled, so I won’t go back over that. I think that has been one of the times when the public service has worked together well with the government, setting a clear direction to solve… address one of the most difficult problems I’ve ever been involved in and having to find a solution for. But. I'll give you two, and one might just seem well how does that feature as a big achievement? When I was Treasurer we were working through some of the difficult issues of trying to understand how wage movements were being impacted in this country and I sat down with Nigel and Angela who were then in their roles at the time. And I just simply asked them the question - we’ve got to understand this better, what's driving these forces? Because we were seeing a disconnect in how some of these key indicators of wages were moving. And it is some of the finest work I’ve seen done by economic analysts in my experience. It went into great detail, they did it over months and months and they, I think, came out with three ways and it greatly assisted me in then forming tax policy and a range of other issues, because it gave me a really good understanding, bringing in new insights based on some great research. So I thought that was a great example of policy advice and economic analysis that greatly lifted the understanding there was to make policy. 

The other one, I mean, I remember… this happens in every single Budget, it's why I used to love doing Budgets. In the 17-18 Budget we pulled together quite a significant housing affordability package. It was everything from establishing the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation through new tax measures that impact on supporting affordable housing, which is now being extended into the disability sector. This was quite a lengthy process that went through [inaudible]. It was engaging with social service organisations. There was an enormous amount of collaboration and I thought it brought together a great package of measures that has set us up well today and now we're leaning on further in subsequent Budgets on those institutions we set up as part of that process. When I worked in Social Services, we would go through what seemed like endless rounds of iterations when we were going through the child care reforms, as Finn will remember, and it was just the attitude of let's just keep working it until we get it right. And my request for further modelling or further options or further iterations was never met with an, ‘Oh, isn’t he annoying.’ Well, maybe it was, but they never said it to me.


But that certainly wasn't the spirit that I felt I was engaging in the public service and neither of them with me. And we just kept working until we thought we got the balance right, and it’s the same when you’re working through tax policy changes as well. You’ve got to be open to a lot of ideas that perhaps mightn’t always sit neatly with you. But you’ve got to be able to test those against the ones you’re looking at to ensure you’re landing in the right place. And the last one that I've mentioned, and it's an ongoing one, is just the enormous professionalism and knowledge and expertise of our national security agencies. It’s been my pleasure to work with now, in my time on the National Security Committee which I've served on a number of different roles, the application of the respect which these agencies are held in. Not only in this country but by other countries means that we are an extremely reliable partner when it comes to understanding alliance relationships. I’m not at liberty to tell you what a lot of those things were - only a few of you in the room would have that clearance - but that is a part of the public service which meets the highest standards.

FRANCES ADAMSON: Thank you Prime Minister. Now to Chun-Yin San who works in international science and innovation policy at the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science in your part of the graduate data network, the APS-wide network of graduates interested in digital and data. Your question please.

QUESTION: Good morning, Prime Minister. At your address to public service agency heads in May, and of course in your address today, you've emphasized the need for congestion busting in the bureaucracy, ensuring that Australians can access the services that they expect from government, and many services at that. In recent years we've seen a lot of attention being paid to digital transformation and public sector innovation and we're making progress but still have a long way to go. And you've alluded to this I your speech today but I was wondering if you could speak more about your take on the digital transformation of government service delivery and also what do you expect to see happen in this space over the next three years?

PRIME MINISTER: Let me just make two points. First one is the process we've been going through with [inaudible] for some time is the biggest ICT programme we’ve seen in the public service. It’s a beast of a thing to accomplish, it’s been going for many years and we’ve been making extraordinary progress. I think though what we always have to keep in mind how we drive our ICT projects is, again, keep the customer on side. It's not about making the public services’ job easier. It's actually about making the service deliver to  the customer, to the public, to the citizen. So long as you’ve got to look at these systems from the outside in, not just the inside out. And I know that's what we're doing at present, I know it's a very big job. I think the interconnectedness with our ICT platforms across government is also a big challenge. The silo mentality isn't just limited to how we make decisions through public service. 

The other issue I would raise is really understating the potential. I'm a big fan of regtech and whether it's in the financial services sector or elsewhere. I mean, we will see, I hope, within the next decade - if not sooner - legislation written in code. I don’t mean… I mean in computer code. Because when it is written in code then that makes for its very rapid implementation and application to the various practices it is seeking to regulate. See, regulation is supposed to help get better decisions. I don't think the public sees it that way because it often can't see the benefits of what the regulation is intended to achieve. And that's because it's bound up in these massive volumes. And I think digital technologies have the ability to demystify that and the regtech process that you can see in the apps of various technologies that are emerging I think will open up, particularly for state and local government, not just federal. There's no reason why development building of codes and planning codes cannot be written in code, and you simply submit a cab design and it can provide for real-time approvals. That's totally possible but we’re not doing it. But I think that's a good goal to set.

FRANCES ADAMSON: Finally, to Dr Jill Charker. Jill is the Deputy Secretary and Chief Operating Officer at the Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business and Jill is also an IPAA councillor. 

QUESTION: Prime Minister, thank you very much for your address this morning. As you know, the APS is very focused on supporting you and your government to deliver on the priorities and the agenda that you've set. I wonder with that lens you could comment on what you see as the key workforce skills and capabilities that the APS needs to continue investing in to help support you with implementation of your agenda.

PRIME MINISTER: Good question. Problem solving skills - that's the most important thing, because we’re in the problem solving business. We’re in the opportunity-taking business. And that requires complex problem solving skills that can work across disciplines that can see the full complexity of problems in one view and not just view a bit of it. That harks back to my first answer to the first question. You get some problem solvers in the room, all sorts of good things happen. One of my favourite movies is Apollo 13, and I agree with Gene Kranz that Apollo 13 was probably NASA's greatest ever moment, arguably even greater than Apollo 11. Because I love that scene when they're all up there and they've got to use the lunar module as an escape point. And they walk into the room with some of the brightest minds in NASA, they throw everything that is physically on that lunar module on the table and they say, ‘We need this stuff to do that. And you've got this many hours to do it, or they die.’ There were no factions in that room. There were no departments in that room. There were no people who were thinking that their degree was more important to someone else's degree. There were just people who were trying to save the lives of three blokes in an escape pod off a lunar module. And you know, they were the greatest problem solvers we’ve probably seen in the last 50 years. Under such extreme pressure. But don't think that the work that you all do isn’t saving lives - it is. As I said, the North Queensland floods recovery exercise has saved lives and I hope it continues to. You’re all in involved in life-saving businesses here, in one way, shape or form, in creating opportunities for young Indigenous Australians, or people in rural Australia at the moment through some of the most difficult times that they have ever had in their lifetimes, generationally difficult times this year. And you are the ones they’re ringing up and you’re the ones they’re hoping, together with my government, will be delivering responses - as we have been - to help make their lives just that little bit easier in tough times. So my answer is I want people that know how to solve problems, and I want them to work together collaboratively so we can take the opportunities and we can deal with the problems that we have to face. Thank you.