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Whatever Happened to Frank and Fearless?

Whatever Happened to Frank and Fearless?: The impact of new public management on the Australian Public Service

Kathy MacDermott
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: ANU Press
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    Whatever Happened to Frank and Fearless?
    Book Description:

    In this evidence-based and closely argued work, Kathy MacDermott plots the changes in the culture of the Australian Public Service that have led many contemporary commentators to lament the purported loss of traditional public service values of impartiality, intellectual rigour and — most importantly — the willingness of public servants at all levels to offer frank and fearless advice to their superiors and their ministers. MacDermott brings to her analysis an insider's sensibility and a thorough forensic analysis of the impact of some 20 years of relentless administrative 'reform' on the values and behaviour of the APS. Although this story has its beginnings in the Hawke-Keating eras, MacDermott convincingly argues that structural and cultural change compromising the integrity of the public service reached its apogee towards the end of the eleven years of the Howard government. This is a 'must read' for students of Australian political and administrative history. MacDermott offers cautionary observations that the new national government might do well to heed.

    eISBN: 978-1-921313-92-9
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Author Profile
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Foreword
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    Andrew Podger

    Dr Kathy MacDermottʹs monograph sets out a series of controversial arguments that challenge some widely and strongly held views.

    Many, like me, continue to regard the New Public Management reforms of the 1980s and 1990s in Australia as groundbreaking, demonstrating how the public sector can deliver efficient and effective services in an internationally competitive economy. Many also of my vintage and older continue to view favourably the Coombs Royal Commissionʹs other two emphases on responsiveness to the elected government and community participation in government, reinforcing democratic principles and breaking down the hegemony of the public service. And there are strong...

  6. Overview
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  7. Chapter 1. A failure of public administration?
    (pp. 1-24)

    Debate in the press about the politicisation of the APS has intensified in recent years. Undoubtedly these debates are not new. As will be seen, debate about the ʹproperʹ role of the public service has continued virtually unabated since the Whitlam Government introduced ministerial advisers following its election in 1972. Nevertheless, commentators on both sides of politics have reflected on both the number and profile of recent controversies involving perceptions of public service politicisation.¹ These include the ʹChildren Overboardʹ affair (known to the Senate as ʹA Certain Maritime Incidentʹ) involving the Departments of Defence, Immigration and the Prime Minister and...

  8. Chapter 2. The regime of contestability
    (pp. 25-42)

    Almost immediately following the 1996 election, the new Government made it clear that it was now up to public servants to prove that they could offer the services it required as efficiently and effectively as the private sector.¹ At the same time, the Government reduced the size of the public service by around 10,000 people in each of the years 1997, 1998 and 1999.² The Government argued that the disciplines of contestability would mean increased cost-effectiveness for the public. For the public service, as one secretary argued, it meant:

    Just generally greater insecurity—not just for you but for your...

  9. Chapter 3. Individual performance management and assessment and ʹassumption culturesʹ
    (pp. 43-68)

    While addressing the National Press Club in 2006 about claims that public servants had been politicised, Peter Shergold did not dispute the nature of their behaviour, only the reasoning behind it:

    Public servants, it is suggested, now willingly do what governments require of them because they are politicised. In fact they do it because they remain steadfastly apolitical. They would do it for any government.¹

    The question is whether this is the good news or the bad news. For those who question whether public servants may be ʹso concerned to serve the government of the day … that the urge...

  10. Chapter 4. Devolution
    (pp. 69-88)

    As the performance assessment and pay data indicate, the impact of broader systems changes introduced under the rubric of NPM is best understood in the context of agency-specific systems and culture. While the ʹsingle, distinctive ethos of public serviceʹ¹ underpinned by the legislated APS Values and Code of Conduct was meant to sustain a service-wide link between APS employees, agency systems shape their daily experience. These systems implement the direct controls that agency heads and their executive are able to exercise over individuals; they ʹhardwireʹ service-wide performance assessment requirements and other human resource practices into the daily experience of public...

  11. Chapter 5. Aligning the service: the impact of workplace relations
    (pp. 89-108)

    While it has become almost a commonplace to point to the likely link between secretariesʹ contracts of employment and the politicisation of the public service,¹ this issue has arisen much less frequently in relation to ordinary public servants, probably because of the widespread association of public servants with secure employment. Nevertheless, the contract model has been increasingly extended into the usual activities of public servants. State governments make widespread use of fixed-term contracts for senior executives² while, at the Commonwealth level, relations are increasingly being structured along the lines of a contract. Under the outcomes and outputs structure, the budget...

  12. Chapter 6. To market, to market: outsourcing the public service
    (pp. 109-128)

    Outsourcing in Australia has a long history.¹ While governments long had a practice of supporting not-for-profit organisations delivering caring services, the outsourcing of services previously delivered directly by government also began in those areas with clear commercial analogues, as a means of simply substituting private for public provision. Initially this included such services as school bussing and school cleaning and postal and telecommunication services. Outside private health and education services, however, clear commercial analogues for activities in welfare services were not so much in evidence, and ʹby definition this rule[d] out [outsourcing of] most human services, given that there were...

  13. Chapter 7. Reforming the reforms?
    (pp. 129-136)

    The ʹpublic interestʹ is a term with many meanings, some of them legislative and many contested.ʹ According to the Australian Public Service Commissionʹs Supporting Ministers, Upholding the Values, so far as Australian public servants are concerned, ʹthe elected Government alone has the authority to determine the public interest in terms of policies and programmes, while public servants assist Governments to deliver that policy agenda and those prioritiesʹ.² This makes the public interest look very like the policy and program interests of Government. The Commission does, however, introduce a broader notion of public interest when it advises that public servants also:...

  14. References
    (pp. 137-150)
  15. Appendix: Extract from Chronology no. 1 2002-03 — Changes in the Australian Public Service 1975-2003
    (pp. 151-160)