Trust, integrity, and pride highlighted at IPAA National Summit
IPAA National Summit participants from left to right: Belinda Drew, Elizabeth Tydd, Prof Glyn Davis, Brigid Monagle, Mark Webb
The Institute of Public Administration Australia’s National Summit brought together state and federal perspectives on crucial issues affecting today’s public service.
Across Australia, public servants are experiencing integrity and trust challenges and are seeking ways to strengthen trust with citizens.
At our recent IPAA National Summit, our panel of leading public servants, chaired by Mark Webb FIPAA, Chief Executive of the NSW Department of Parliamentary Services and President of IPAA NSW, shared their thoughts on these issues and reminded public servants that they have much to be proud of.
Feeling pride in public service
Professor Secretary Glyn Davis AC, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, highlighted some of the work he has seen public servants do at the coalface, including at the NDIS.
“Watching a small group of public servants make very difficult choices around the services that should be provided to NDIS participants and the care with which they did it, the interactive way they operated with the people they were working with, the determination to use all of the resources they had to get a better outcome for these people, just reminded me what we get to do in the public service and why it’s worth being here,” he said.
For Belinda Drew, Deputy Director-General, Communities, Department of Treaty, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships, Communities and the Arts, Queensland, well-executed collaboration was another big point to celebrate.
“To engage collaboratively across government and between governments and organisations outside of government, when that magic occurs, that work to achieve a policy or program objective, that truly is awesome,” Deputy Director-General Drew said.
In similar vein, Brigid Monagle, Commissioner, Victorian Public Sector Commission, highlighted how people pull together to achieve a common goal, particularly in times of crisis.
“During the COVID years, in Victoria but indeed across Australia, I was so proud of the role my colleagues in the Victorian public service played in responding to that.”
All panellists agreed that integrity was absolutely essential for good public service and needed to be reflected in everyday behaviours and interactions within and outside of organisations.
“There are three things that matter in integrity…it’s culture, systems and accountability,” Secretary Davis said.
“It’s got to be more than not being corrupt. It has to be all about every interaction and every move we make in the workplace, being in pursuit of the public interest,” Commissioner Monagle added.
To drive this, Elizabeth Tydd, Information Commissioner, Information and Privacy Commission NSW, recommended to take a step back and look at the authorising environment and have a harm mitigation strategy in place.
“I treat it a bit like risk management: what are the harms that we know, what are the harms that are unknown or latent that might exist in this new system, this new way of operating? What are downstream and upstream impacts, and what would mitigate those risks?”
Integrity is intrinsically connected to trust in public service, which enables people within government to do their best work for Australia’s communities.
“Our policies and programs are not going to have the desired effect unless our communities trust and can rely on them,” Commissioner Monagle said.
Deputy Director-General Drew noted that this level of trust is best built through a feeling of connection with community.
“I reflect on that in the context of our agency’s work in community recovery. When a disaster occurs and people are severely impacted – the sense that you’re there for that community, ready to respond to their needs and issues as they emerge in what are often chaotic environments, is really critical.”
“In non-disaster times, having the relationships, building that proximity with those communities over time really helps in moments when delivery has to happen rapidly,” she said.
A level of trust outside the public service also requires a culture of trust within it and leaders need to remind everyone they have a role to play.
“Culture lives at the intersection between values or what people value and everyday behaviour,” Deputy Director-General Drew said.
“At times that includes being a bit vulnerable yourself and say ‘I got it wrong’ or ‘as a team we didn’t take that in the right direction.’”
Safely leveraging technology
Using technology influences perceptions of trust and integrity. Taking this opportunity to transform services and inform decision making requires governments to look more carefully at systems, procurement and IP rights, according to Commissioner Tydd.
“When we’re using technology as governments, we need to realise we’re not the tech experts. We’ll be reliant on industry, and industry has a great deal of power.”
“We need to better prepare ourselves to ensure that our systems, particularly systems of procurement are such as to preserve the fundamental human rights not only vested on citizens through statute but also that we underpin our democratic system of government.”
Secretary Davis highlighted the role of stewardship in making trust and integrity truly sing in the public service.
“That emphasis on stewardship that you’ve been hearing from Minister Katy Gallagher in relation to the APS and from APS leaders, is, in a sense, a recognition that it’s time to rethink that philosophy of a narrow and thin public sector and to remember that we need capability for bad times, for problems that don’t arise often but need serious attention when they do.
“In one way it’s a truly permanent public service, and it’s our job to ensure that it stays so.
“Our public services are full of honourable people pursuing an honourable mission in the interests of the country.”