Reforming the public sector for a more equal society

Australian Fabians pamphlet series: No. 67, 2016
Victoria Fielding (Ed.)
5 December 2016

As Fabians we believe in harnessing the power of the state to drive social and economic progress, and to protect our community and environment from exploitation.

Now, more than ever we need a skilled and motivated public sector to continue the social democratic project in an era of unprecedented pressure and change.

As progressives, we need to understand these challenges, so that we can defend those elements of the current model that are essential and support the real reforms needed to modernise the public service.

This collection of essays makes an invaluable contribution to doing just that.

Senator Jenny McAllister’s piece on Public Service Excellence tackles some of the great challenges and contradictions of the public service head-on. How can institutions built on impartiality, also show empathy, and connect with citizens? Is an organisational form de ned by its scale capable of being nimble and of delivering services in ways that meet the needs of diverse communities?

We badly need this sort of clear-eyed assessment of the public sector if we want to defend its role against simplistic neoliberal attacks.

Sam Hurley discusses the Centre for Policy Development’s (CPD) report Grand Alibis which dives into the murky world of outsourced social services and wonders how we can get the best results for the disadvantaged when; ‘at every level, people have been asked to do more with less: less money, less memory, fewer tools, less time’.

But CPD’s work reveals a more fundamental problem than just impacts of cost-cutting. Sam unpacks the many contradictions that quasi-privatisation creates.

Melissa Donnelly’s contribution on A Progressive Approach to a 21st Century Public Service takes a wide-angle lens to the question of the purpose and performance of the public service, not just in terms of service delivery, but as a provider of ‘frank and fearless’ advice in the interests of the community, not the interests of the government of the day.

How this can be achieved in an environment where public servants are being sacked, senior bureaucrats are on short contractual leashes and governments prefer to buy their advice from hand-picked consultants, are questions Melissa is uniquely well placed to consider.

Reforming the public sector is perhaps the least politically sexy area of public policy, and yet it should be a topic of vital interest to all progressives.

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Jenny McAllister, Sam Hurley, Melissa Donnelly, 2016, Reforming the public sector for a more equal society, Australian Fabians, viewed 02 March 2017, <http://apo.org.au/node/72109>.

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