It’s our job to be responsive and not a hand-brake: Pezzullo

Michael Pezzullo AO in conversation with David Pembroke and Megan Aponte-Payne

Michael Pezzullo AO in conversation with David Pembroke and Megan Aponte-Payne.

Michael Pezzullo, Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs, was recently interviewed for the WORK WITH PURPOSE podcast.

In a wide-ranging interview in which Michael spoke about the early influences that shape his decision to become a career public servant, his strong belief in the Westminster system of government, the work of Home Affairs in responding to COVID-19, and why the Australian Public Service should look to embrace disruption.

‘In a democracy… the grand scheme of what is done is set through the democratic purpose by those who are elected to make these decisions.

Then at the next tier down, we come in and it’s our job to translate those policies which are then formed by values and an ideological programme and a political programme, because that’s what a democracy is.

They’ve got the mandate, it’s then our job to make it happen and to be responsive and not to be a hand-brake.’

Michael described how in the initial phase of the coronavirus pandemic his management team made a decision to thin out some work and free up atround 1,000 staff to enable their allocation to whatever task was required.

‘We were able to make ourselves available to our colleagues in Health, in Industry and elsewhere saying, “What do you need done and when do you need it done?”…

…We said to our staff then, and we continue to say it now, “Don’t worry about the fact that you’re not deeply expert in how supermarkets restock their shelves because… you’re an Australian Public Servant — you can problem solve, you can work your networks, you can collaborate. You can draw other connections, both your own personal skills and knowledge plus that of your network and apply yourself to a problem.”‘

He also expressed his belief — based on its success within Home Affairs and within Defence operations more generally — that changes in the way the public service operates are required.

‘I think the public service at large needs to transition from a model where you still have home divisions and branches — because it’s also important to have a home base for professional development, career management, performance management, your payroll etc., — but you can wield on top of that very flexible working arrangements…

…We need to have Departments of State because you need to have accountability, you need to have budgets that are allocated, but increasingly we should be working in this much more flexible and fluid way.’

WORK WITH PURPOSE is produced in partnership between contentgroup and IPAA ACT, with the support of the Australian Public Service Commission.

The podcast can be accessed from the link below and is also available on Spotify, SoundCloud and iTunes.

Work with Purpose

Episode #17: Oceans 19 - A new approach to working in the Australian Public Service with Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs, Michael Pezzullo