Let’s hear it from the public service: Moran

Terry Moran is urging public servants be allowed to use new technology to speak about their jobs more frankly. AAP/Alan Porritt

Public servants should have greater scope to speak out publicly about long-term issues, the former head of the Prime Minister’s department Terry Moran has said.

Moran also urges bureaucrats to make more use of what opportunity already exists for them to blog.

Writing in the Australian Journal of Public Administration, Moran said that public sector leaders should be “more prepared to talk sensibly about the long-term and self-evident truths about the work of their agency or department.”

This meant political leaders “recognising that this may, on some occasions often be a desirable outcome.” The public and media would also have to accept that such speaking out did not entail a breach of the Westminster system or a vote of no confidence in government policy.

There should “be a greater acceptance of the idea that public administrators can legitimately talk about long-term strategy in a similar manner to what is now broadly accepted for leaders of the Reserve Bank and Treasury.”

Elaborating on his article, which was based on a speech delivered to the IPAA Moran, who was secretary of the PM’s department 2008-11, told The Conversation that the decline of the traditional media and the rise of smaller specialised media outlets provided more scope and reason for senior public servants to be able to discuss their work.

It was not a matter of secretaries being on the front pages of newspapers everyday, but recognising the profound change in the media and starting to explain things through the available online publications.

He said that public service rules had been changed to allow senior brueaucrats to get involved in certain circumstances in blogs. But this hadn’t happened because everyone is “too cautious.”

Moran gave as an example of what could have been explained by those involved the success of arrangements for hospital service pricing under the federal-state health reforms.

This was not widely understood or appreciated, and it would have been more desirable for specialist information to have been canvassed by the public service.

In his article Moran, a one-time secretary of the Victorian Premier’s Department, also repeated his proposal that departmental boards, sitting alongside ministers and secretaries, should be created.

The boards would import members from outside the public service, who would bring particular skills and insight into the running of a department.

He also argued that ministerial staff should be made more answerable to parliamentary committees and other bodies, in the same way as public servants are.