How Peter Woolcott’s journey to the centre of bureaucracy began


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At no time was he nearer to the centre of presidency than when he was chief of workers to Malcolm Turnbull for a 12 months in 2017, a 3rd stint working in a Coalition political workplace that he says geared up him for the subsequent problem his boss set him. Upon the resignation of former public service commissioner John Lloyd, the then-prime minister requested Mr Woolcott if he’d be interested by taking up. His journey from the fringes of the paperwork continued.

“I stated sure, it is an enchanting alternative to get into the centre of presidency and the problems the general public service faces,” he stated.

“He was eager for me to do the job however we by no means acquired an opportunity to truly sit round and discuss how I used to be going.”

Mr Turnbull’s political demise adopted shortly after Mr Woolcott arrived within the public service fee’s Treasury constructing places of work. After working abroad by means of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years, and thru the Abbott-Turnbull transition, it was the primary management change he’d seen up shut. Mr Woolcott was impressed by the best way public servants calmly acquired on with the job.

The brand new public service commissioner grew to become one among Mr Turnbull’s legacies to federal bureaucrats. The prime minister left one other in personally pushing the most important overview of the paperwork headed by businessman David Thodey.

“He genuinely was involved to verify the general public service was match for the long run,” Mr Woolcott stated of his former boss.

“He was frightened about a complete lot of those elements whether or not or not it’s how we’re coping with the general public, how we’re coping with know-how, how we’re sustaining our capabilities. All this stuff have been key in his thoughts in why he arrange the overview, and you may see that within the phrases of reference, which he took a private curiosity in.”

Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull with his then-chief of staff, Peter Woolcott. The prime minister asked Mr Woolcott if he would like to take over the public service commissioner role.

Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull together with his then-chief of workers, Peter Woolcott. The prime minister requested Mr Woolcott if he wish to take over the general public service commissioner function.

A brand new prime minister and public service minister has modified a number of the personnel, however the overview – which additionally bears the fingerprints of Prime Minister’s division head Martin Parkinson – has already had the eye of Scott Morrison and Mathias Cormann. Mr Thodey, anticipated to complete the overview subsequent 12 months, will report by means of Mr Woolcott and Dr Parkinson.

A change of tempo

The general public service commissioner, talking outdoors his new workplace final week, repeated Mr Thodey’s assertion that the paperwork was not damaged. He admitted it was challenged on a number of fronts: know-how, geopolitics and the altering expectations of the general public. Australia was blessed with a powerful public service, he stated, however all establishments have been underneath query as residents misplaced belief in governments, and different elements of the civic world. Know-how had offered extra platforms to criticise, and the rise of single curiosity teams had modified the character of energy. In the meantime, the federal government had misplaced a few of its levers.

“Out of the blue issues are taking place on this planet which we’ve got to react to, slightly than set the tempo on or management,” he stated.

Mr Woolcott stated the paperwork may change on a number of fronts. The connection between businesses and ministers’ workplace wanted fine-tuning and the general public service needed to react to the pace of decision-making required in parliament. The federal paperwork must be extra permeable to these coming from and going to state governments, the personal sector or non-government organisations, and may make it simpler for former workers returning to the Australian Public Service.

Out of the blue issues are taking place on this planet which we’ve got to react to, slightly than set the tempo on or management.

The common staffing stage cap imposed by the Coalition authorities – a goal of criticism from unions, Dr Parkinson and departments alike – had helped convey price range restore, Mr Woolcott stated. Nevertheless he stated he hadn’t had an opportunity to have a look at the coverage and acknowledged the difficulty had been raised within the APS overview. He stated it could be an essential a part of Mr Thodey’s report.

Even earlier than the overview findings, the general public service had launched into reforms, he stated.

“One is round making certain that we work a lot better when it comes to the connectivity with folks. You’ll be able to see that taking place already when it comes to a number of the applications being executed by the Division of Human Providers and Veterans’ Affairs and others the place they’re designing issues with the general public, they’re attempting to verify the interface with the general public is working very easily.


“It is about additionally ensuring we have the aptitude when it comes to coping with the general public and assembly these expectations.

“The Commonwealth authorities is far more concerned in service supply implementation than it was, and once more that raises the stakes, however after all it means we’ve got to have the wherewithal to have the ability to ship on that.”

Federal businesses additionally wanted to work higher with the states, take a much less siloed method to issues, and settle for the general public service not had a monopoly on coverage concepts.

The brand new negotiator

Mr Woolcott takes over the commissioner’s function from a predecessor whose tenure was marked by a chronic spherical of enterprise bargaining. If public servants anticipate any additional battles between the general public service fee and the principle public sector union, Mr Woolcott could take a distinct method from Mr Lloyd, who lately described his function as to problem union insurance policies and ways. Mr Woolcott believes a number of the warmth has left the bargaining situation.

“We’re now within the second spherical, I feel folks perceive higher the parameters. So I get a way that, definitely up till the subsequent election, folks know the place they sit. My sense is that a number of the warmth has gone out of this for the second.

“Folks could also be ready, however for the second, folks totally perceive the place the federal government sits, the place the general public service fee sits and the place they sit.”

The brand new bargaining coverage is much like the earlier one, blamed partly by the CPSU for the final spherical of negotiations that delayed pay rises for bureaucrats by a number of years. Mr Woolcott pointed to elements of the most recent coverage, launched earlier this 12 months, that created room for compromise. He’ll meet with the CPSU to listen to its issues and has already spoken to its nationwide secretary, Nadine Flood.

“One of many issues that got here out of the brand new pointers was the flexibility basically to barter situations other than some sure key ones like hours labored or wage features. So you possibly can commerce off one set of situations for one more set,” he stated.

“We’re completely happy to have a look at these flexibly and we’re completely happy to try to make it extra enticing the place we will so that individuals vote ‘sure’.


“An essential a part of my work is to speak to all of the related stakeholders.”

Mr Woolcott backed the bargaining coverage, and stated that each he and the Coalition believed it was working. Pay rises for bureaucrats have been according to the personal sector and “within the vary” of state governments, he stated. He additionally stated he was to listen to the union’s views on the coverage, however that adjustments weren’t coming.

“I feel the federal government’s proud of the best way the coverage’s working.”

On one other controversy that marked Mr Lloyd’s tenure, the discharge of social media pointers that might have public servants punished for liking social media posts, Mr Woolcott stated he would await the choice of the Excessive Court docket on the case of former Immigration division employee Michaela Banerji, sacked for pseudonymous tweets that have been crucial of Australia’s asylum seeker coverage.

The previous diplomat stated his profession within the Overseas Affairs division had given him an method that managed issues throughout authorities, and his stint in Mr Turnbull’s workplace had confirmed him what the prime minister and ministers needed from the general public service, and the way points have been interconnected.

Mr Woolcott has spoken to Mr Thodey and met with the panel the previous Telstra chief government leads as they embark on what is predicted to be the paperwork’s largest overview because the Coombs royal fee between 1974-1976. It additionally had to have a look at previous suggestions of the numerous inquiries into the paperwork since, and discover out why they weren’t pursued, and whether or not they need to be reconsidered, Mr Woolcott stated.

Mr Turnbull’s sleeper legacy for the general public service may additionally be one among his most enduring, if the suggestions of the Thodey overview are adopted by the federal government receiving them. They’re anticipated to seek out their strategy to the general public by means of the workplace of his hand-chosen high bureaucrat, Dr Parkinson. Mr Turnbull’s former chief of workers could possibly be tasked to assist see them by means of.

Doug Dingwall is a reporter for The Canberra Occasions masking the general public service and politics.

Sally Whyte is a reporter for The Canberra Occasions masking the general public service.

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