In a year like no other trust means traction

Phil Gaetjans, Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

Phil Gaetjans, Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

Over 200 senior leaders gathered in person last week to hear Phil Gaetjans, Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, deliver the Annual Address to the Australian Public Service at Hotel Realm in Canberra.

The event was hosted by Dr Steven Kennedy PSM, Secretary of The Treasury and IPAA ACT President.

Steven began with an acknowledgement of country that included the Ngunnawal people of the Canberra region and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people attending the event, as well as the Elders of all the lands reached by the live stream.  He then gave a few words of welcome and introduction, before inviting Phil to deliver the keynote address.

The year that was …

Phil Gaetjens also acknowledged and paid his respects to the Elders of the Ngunnawal people, and acknowledged and welcomed any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people attending the event.

He began by reflecting that 2020 has been ‘a year like no other’ — one that ‘brought out the best in the APS’.

‘For me, I’ve never been more proud of the APS after almost 44 years of time in the public service …

A vital ingredient to our achievements in 2020 was our willingness to work together.

We worked as one enterprise with one dominant purpose.

At the very time that the Australian community demanded government action and public service, we proved to the community — and to ourselves — that we could step up and deliver.’

National Success

Phil spoke to the results that Australia has achieved across health, the economy and a number of other scoreboards.

‘On health, by any metric, Australia has fared exceptionally well.

We have successfully suppressed the virus across the country, with community transmission remaining very low.

We have the third lowest case rate and the fourth lowest death rate in the OECD.’

And he quoted the World Health Organization’s validation of Australia’s preparedness: ‘Australia demonstrated strong regional and global leadership and a robust capacity to prevent, prepare for, detect, and respond to public health threats’.

On the economic front Phil expressed pride in Australia’s performance:

‘Outside of the oil-producing countries, Australia’s economic performance over the last nine months is among the best of the countries that have managed the virus well, including Japan and Korea.’

He reflected on the role of the federal budget in being a ‘shock absorber’:

‘Between March and May, 870,000 jobs were lost, and more than one million Australians had working hours cut.

But 700,000 jobs were saved as a result of the Government’s economic measures. And about 650,000 Australian have found jobs or been re-employed since May.’

And observed that:

‘The recovery has begun, but it’s going to be a very long road back to sustainability, with the economy being smaller than what it would have been for many years to come.’

Success too for the APS Enterprise

Phil drew on a recent Australian National Audit Office performance audit to reflect on what the APS has achieved from a management perspective during the pandemic.

The report found that management of the APS workforce was effective in implementing the Government’s COVID-19 priorities, to which Phil said:

‘I may be biased, but that audit language translates to me into a resounding endorsement of the performance of the APS this year and its ability to act on an enterprise, or whole-of-government basis.’

He also referenced the Citizen Experience Survey which has measured public satisfaction, trust and experience with Australian public services since March 2019. The results, after five waves of the survey to June this year, show improvement over time.

Phil observed that ‘the picture wasn’t encouraging back in March 2019’, when those inclined to trust APS services was sitting at 59 per cent, and the number of people who were somewhat to wholly satisfied with the services they used was around 71 per cent.

The results of the survey in March 2020 were worse.

However, by June 2020 the ‘results not only stopped falling — they had started climbing’ — with trust to 65 per cent, and satisfaction at 78 per cent.

‘These might seem like small changes, but they are significant. They show that we’ve turned a corner.’

Phil went on to observe:

‘You can’t effectively manage a pandemic and respond to it without public trust. You’re asking people to curb freedoms, to change (or sometimes upend) their lifestyles and everyday behaviours.

Trust in times like this means traction.’

And he provided the following advice as on how to maintain public satisfaction in services and trust in the APS:

‘…provide simple and clear information; do what we say we will; and deliver reliable services.

These are key to the satisfaction with, and trust in, public services.’

Looking to the year ahead

Phil acknowledged that the APS had worked at an increased tempo for months, and that it was now time to breathe, to rest over the summer, and return refreshed.

He thanked the APS for everything it had done in 2020, and urged public servants to look after themselves and their colleagues in the new year.

Following the Address, Dr Steven Kennedy PSM engaged Phil Gaetjans in conversation with several public service leaders central to the government’s response to the pandemic — Professor Brendan Murphy (now Secretary, Department of Health), Rebecca Skinner (Chief Executive Officer, Services Australia), and Katherine Jones PSM (Associate Secretary, Department of Defence and IPAA ACT Councillor).

Peter Woolcott AO, the Australian Public Service Commissioner, then provided some final observations on the year gone before closing the official proceedings.

A video of the address and the panel discussion can be viewed below, and a full transcript is also available for download.

The Annual Address to the APS was hosted by IPAA ACT and delivered in partnership with The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Australian Public Service Commission.

Annual Address to the APS