This paper is a contribution to a program of work – involving similar discussions among a wide cross-section of participants from multiple industry sectors – on national resilience in light of COVID-19. It is one of the products of the National Resilience Project being co-led by Global Access Partners (GAP) and the Institute for Integrated Economic Research Australia (IIER-A).

Key messages:

  • The public service is a core social institution whose foundations, purpose and performance need to be rescued and restated and, as a result, better protected into an uncertain future to which it will be an inescapably central part of any effective response.
  • The public service needs to develop its capabilities to better manage various dichotomies, such as the relationships between policy and delivery, strategy and execution, specialist expertise and generalist skills, private sector and public sector, stability and innovation, all within a context characterised by speed, complexity and intensity.
  • The policy capability of the public service has reached dangerously low levels and needs to be rapidly and purposefully rebuilt. The odds of the current generation of politicians accepting that as a legitimate and high priority for their time, attention and spending are low, which is a big risk in itself.
  • Part of the reformation of the public service is the revaluing of expertise and knowledge. Public servants need to know things and be able to go deep as well as wide. Convening collective assemblies for better public problem solving is a skill and capability in its own right, but it is intimately connected to a depth and nuance of actual knowledge that has also apparently reached dangerously low levels.
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