Speech to the Institute of Public Administration (SA)

The Premier addressed an audience of around 800 people, about the important role public sector employees play in helping South Australia realise its full potential.

A strong, confident, resilient public sector will set our state on a path to sustained prosperity.

Better Services

IPA SA President, Erma Ranieri,

Vice President, Ruth Ambler,

Executive Director, Renae Haese,

Councillors and members

I thank Jack Buckskin for yet another wonderful Welcome to Country.

I too would like to acknowledge that the land we meet on this morning is the traditional land of the Kaurna People.

I pay my respects to their spiritual relationship with their Country and to their Elders, past and present.

Be Open

Be Honest

Be Accountable

Be Collaborative

These are words I kept close all the time I was running my family’s furniture businesses.

But I didn’t just think about them.

I firmly believed in them.

And constantly practised them.

Because as a team, we had a shared responsibility to our customers.

And just as importantly.

To each other’s success.

As a leader, it was my job to motivate.

To inspire.

To ensure we worked together to get the job done.

I valued my staff - their contribution and commitment.

I wanted each and every one of them to be driven by a purpose.

To believe in what they were doing.

And to be proud of what they were achieving.

In my experience, when our staff felt good and were energized, so did our customers about the services and products we delivered.

So fast forward to today.

My team is now just a little bigger

My responsibilities are greater.

But my attitude as Premier to being open, accountable, honest and collaborative remains the same.

It is an honour to give my first public address to the team I am now privileged to be responsible for – to the South Australian Public Service.

I appreciate your attendance.

I thank the IPA for the invitation to address you this morning.

I would like to talk in the main about two things:

  • The expectations I have placed on my ministerial colleagues to govern well for all South Australians
  • And the role I want the Public Sector to play in creating a stronger and better State

It’s the IPA’s stated objective to champion excellence in public administration and to provide leadership in the development of a high quality, professional public sector.

I have been Premier for a little under six months.

In that time, I have already seen a lot of evidence which confirms the South Australian Public Service is fulfilling the IPA’s objective.


During the transition, my Government asked a great deal of the Public Service.

We were eager to shoulder the responsibilities bestowed on us by the people of South Australia.

To get on with implementing the Strong Plan for Real Change they had voted for.

We didn’t want to lose the momentum our election victory provided.

Proceeding slowly wasn’t an option.

We had a clear understanding of what we wanted to achieve.

The challenges we faced.

And the strategy to deliver.

Notwithstanding our energy and eagerness, as you know, with any change of government there are always early complexities involved in setting up a new administration.

On this occasion, after 16 years without a change of government, this transition was perhaps more challenging than usual.

My Government had many different priorities from its predecessor.

There was a major streamlining of the ministerial portfolios.

This required extensive machinery of government changes.

I thank Erma for leading this in a way which made everything appear seamless to the public from the time of my swearing-in as Premier within 48 hours of the election result being clear.

It’s marvellous how our democracy works on such occasions.

Erma’s experience and leadership have been invaluable to me and my ministers.

I will say more about her on-going role later.

While bedding down the machinery of government changes by July one, the public sector was also tasked with our 100 Day Plan.

It was an ambitious and extensive plan, closely scrutinised by journalists who perhaps questioned whether we had the experience to deliver.

Its implementation in full could not have been achieved without the contribution of many of you present this morning, as well as all of those in the agencies.

And just last week, we introduced our first budget.

It contains many more new policy initiatives.

And requirements for efficiencies and savings – as responsible budgets always must.

Agencies have been practical and professional in working through the budget process.

So on behalf of all of my Ministers, as we approach the completion of our first half year in office, I thank all members of the public sector.

In my view, all South Australians can be proud of the public service we have.

The work done in the transition and preparation of our first budget has confirmed to me that our public sector comprises people who are passionate about South Australia and keen to make a difference for their fellow citizens.


Before talking more about my hopes and expectations for the public sector, let me make some comments about the expectations I have already put on my ministers.

Relationships between ministers, public sector agencies and the community have evolved over time.

As agencies have increased in size and scope.

While the complexity of their tasks and responsibilities has become more challenging.

But there are some enduring principles that can’t be ignored.

The community quite rightly continues to expect the highest standards of performance and behaviour by those employed on its behalf.

In our preparations for government therefore, I spent a lot of time talking to my parliamentary colleagues about ministerial conduct and the lines of responsibility and accountability at the highest levels of government.

This is necessary to avoid risky or inappropriate behaviour in the public sector and by ministers.

And to provide better service to the community.

As you know, on coming to government, I immediately reduced the number of ministerial portfolios from more than 50 to the 16 now held by my 14-member cabinet.

These changes echo my commitment to drive accountability and simplify reporting.

Agency Chief Executives no longer report to as many as seven ministers.

Now Chief Executives only report to one minister.

I’ve grouped portfolios and functions by natural, logical alignment.

It simply makes sense.

I made the changes because we need a focused and efficient administration to meet today’s challenges and to pursue tomorrow’s opportunities.


I have also restored strong cabinet government.

Any deliberate sidelining of cabinet only encourages poor decisions.

So no more deliberately walking in submissions at the last minute in an attempt to prevent adequate consideration by ministerial colleagues and their agencies.

Our decision-making process is supported by an effective cabinet office providing proper analysis of proposals including risks, costs and benefits from a whole of government perspective.

A robust cabinet system is essential because recommendations can have unintended consequences in other areas of government or externally that cabinet must be aware of before making its decisions.

For this reason as well, I’ve established an effective Cabinet committee system to encourage more interaction between ministers and public servants before proposals come forward to the full cabinet.

A properly functioning cabinet process improves the quality of decisions, avoids unnecessary costs imposed by poor decision-making and enhances government accountability.


Another principle I insist all my ministers uphold is that of recognising and respecting the independence of the public sector.

For more than 90 years, the IPA and its predecessor organisations have been custodians of this vital tradition.

It always works best when there is a proper partnership between elected leaders and senior public officials through which the boundaries between politics and the public service are clearly set and understood.

I would not expect any Chief Executive to frame advice to a minister through a purely political lens.

Such advice has to remain independent, frank and fearless.

The politics must be left to the minister.

This includes taking ministerial responsibility for decisions and actions of agencies.

This is another essential principle.

Ministers must be ultimately responsible to the public through parliament for the quality of services funded by taxpayers and the actions of those providing them.

If serious errors or worse occur in an agency, the minister takes responsibility, particularly where there has been evidence of warnings or maladministration not acted upon or ignored.

I have told my ministers that they cannot expect to remain in cabinet if they see nothing, hear nothing and question nothing.

Ministers have to be inquisitive, inquiring and challenging.

Responsibility ends on the minister’s desk, not at the departmental door.


The proliferation of ministerial staffers is one reason why the boundaries between politics and the public service have become increasingly blurred in recent years.

Recognising this, my government has at last count, 49 fewer staff in ministerial offices than our predecessors.

Those we have employed know there will be no room for staffers who believe they can lean on a department to give a particular recommendation, change a submission to the minister or generally try to intimidate public officials to give purely political rather than professional advice.

At the same time, I do not regard the role of the public sector as being limited to delivering services and implementing policy officials have no part in developing.


I want to encourage the public service to be more active in creating policy as well.

In initiating and analysing options before proposals come to ministers and cabinet.

Unlike other professions with a narrower focus, you in the public sector have the continuing opportunity to put the interests of the wider community and the State first and foremost.

You have wider perspectives and I want more of your thinking brought into the centre of government.

I want working in the public service to be accepted as an opportunity to make a major contribution to the delivery of change and action that impacts peoples’ lives for the better.

While the final policy decision must remain the responsibility of the minister and cabinet, the process can only benefit from greater input from you.


I’ve spent a little time talking about what I want my ministers and their advisers to do – and not do.

Now let me talk some more about you.

I referred briefly at the beginning to my time in business.

Before my election to Parliament eight years ago, all of my work had been in the private sector.

During that time, I always understood our most important asset was not on our balance sheet.

It’s the same in the public sector.

The most important asset of any organisation is its workforce.

And that’s you.

It was your determination, dedication and commitment – and pure grit at times – that helped me and my ministers to hit the ground running.

That’s why our Strong Plan for Real Change is well underway.

You and your colleagues are playing a critical role in delivering this significant reform agenda.

Our plan is big.

It is bold.

But I firmly believe it’s the right one to set South Australia on a path to prosperity, and to enable us to contribute much more to national prosperity.

With collaboration, we can do this.

If we are open to new ideas.

And accountable to the people we serve.


By its very nature, the Public Service must be driven by what our citizens need.

As members of the public sector, every day you tap into the community’s pulse.

To listen.

To learn.

To act.

South Australia’s Public Service must feel empowered to make bold decisions.

To do that, we must operate as one team.

Our community cannot afford for us to work in silos.

To duplicate effort.

To impose too many rules and regulations.

Or administer them inefficiently.

We – you and me – are responsible for providing efficient services to more than 1.7 million people.

The quality of our public services is critical to the State’s economy.

Our ambitious reform program is essential to create the right environment for business to invest and grow employment.

And to generate prosperity for all South Australians.

That’s why we need to look at the best ways to boost productivity, encourage agility and match the right skills to the right projects.

I am passionate about South Australia.

What South Australians need.

And what they deserve.

We must ensure we’re in touch with what the community cares about.

What’s important to South Australians.

In our first 100 days, we were loud and clear that South Australia was open for business and ready for change.

Last week’s budget showed what the government wants to do.

What we believe it is right to do.

To deliver urgent economic reform.

Reform to provide a strong foundation for the future of all the citizens our public service works for.


In carrying out this vital role for all South Australians we – you and me – must ask ourselves – what     more can be done to deliver good public service?

How do we work together to make the Public Service more confident, more responsive.

So that we activate real change for our community.

I ask myself these questions every day.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers yet.

But I do know the power and the value of collaboration.

Of building a culture of shared success and shared responsibility in delivering for the community we serve.

Making sure members of the public sector are equipped to do their jobs well – and giving you the tools to do so – is absolutely critical.

Whether it’s the IT equipment on your desk or training, development and career progression opportunities.

Implementing our Strong Plan for Real Change relies on your skills and capability.

Your commitment, your motivation and your drive.

Your willingness to show up with ideas every day.

We need people – both at the coal face and in our administration – to work as one to deliver for our State.


I want the Public Service to be synonymous with all the elements of an employer of choice.

An employer that attracts and retains the best people.

The best leaders.

People equipped and ready to serve South Australians well.

Over the past few months I have already seen your agility and spirit.

Putting new policy directions into action takes courage.

It takes tenacity.

It takes integrity.

When I hear discussion about the Machinery of Government, I immediately think of a big wheel.

The wheels of government.

With each gear powering.

And when you start thinking about the size of this machine – which makes up South Australia’s largest employer – it is sometimes hard to imagine how many gears and cogs it takes to keep ticking.

On their own, they don’t work.

But together, they can turn even the biggest and most complex wheel.


As well as the machinery of government changes I’ve mentioned, other actions are smoothing the way ahead.

The Senior Management Council comprising the most senior leaders in the Public Service – now meets twice a week.

This means your chief executives – your leaders – are collaborating much more.

But collaboration doesn’t stop here.

We’re building on this momentum.

We have a renewed focus on intergovernmental relationships.

On collaboration with the Federal Government and other jurisdictions.

During 2018-19, we’re active participants in national discussions to advance key intergovernmental agreements on energy policy and the defence industry, schooling and health.

The Murray-Darling Basin Agreement and a new Closing the Gap framework will also be front and centre on the inter-governmental agenda.

Closer to home, we’re encouraging further collaboration between the public and private sectors through our plans for Infrastructure SA and South Australia’s first Productivity Commission.

These are tremendous opportunities for South Australia.

To make it easier and simpler for everyone, including the public service – to do business.

They’re examples of reform which will remove barriers, cut red tape and support productivity growth, jobs and investment.

I’ve made no secret that it is absolutely essential that the public and the private sectors work together to deliver the best services for our community.

As I announced in July, the new head of Premier and Cabinet is Jim McDowell.

Jim brings to his new role decades of international business experience in industries that are critical to South Australia’s future prosperity.

We’ve also appointed Dr Chris McGowan to Health and Caroline Mealor to Attorney-General’s, while recruitment for Environment and Water and Transport, Planning and Infrastructure, is well advanced.


Before the election, I committed that a Liberal Government would value and utilise the public sector as a prime asset of our State.

As a further demonstration of that, I have expanded Erma Ranieri’s role as your Commissioner for Public Employment.

Erma will spearhead responsibility for strategic workforce and leadership development in the public sector.

Her work will be critical in supporting you as a robust and capable workforce delivering for South Australia.

As I have emphasised today, this can only happen if we work together.


My Government values each and every one of you as a member of our workforce.

And for your commitment to serving South Australians guided, as I know you are, by the Public Sector’s Values and Behaviours and the Code of Ethics.

I truly believe that when we are open.



And collaborative.

We can drive real change.

So that South Australia’s confidence, competitiveness and productivity grow.

We all have a role to play to help South Australia realise its full potential.

A strong, confident, resilient public sector will set our community – and the South Australians we serve – on a path to sustained prosperity.

Thank you.

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