Anthony Albanese will hit the international circuit again next week. He will be at the NATO summit in Madrid, where the war in Ukraine will obviously dominate discussions that will also touch on China and climate change.
Albanese, who previously attended QUAD in Tokyo and visited Indonesia, is not going to be a minimalist when it comes to spending time abroad.
International conferences give the new prime minister the opportunity to meet with several leaders, gather information and point out continuity and change (eg in climate policy) in Australia’s national priorities.
The newly elected prime minister needs to be careful about how much trips abroad to take, especially when there are problems at home and many ordinary people are fighting for their lives. At some point, too long an absence draws criticism.
But given that NATO has invited four non-members – Japan, South Korea and New Zealand, as well as Australia – such an invitation would be hard to refuse.
The trip includes Paris, after the Labor government paid compensation for a canceled submarine contract. This stop seems like something of an indulgence, although it may provide an opportunity to explore cooperation with France in the Pacific.
Albanese obviously also wants to visit Ukraine. On Wednesday, he indicated that this would depend on the advice of the Australian security authorities.
The prime minister was equally itinerant within the country. He has already traveled to every state and territory since the election.
The ministers were also the first overseas travelers: among them Foreign Secretary Penny Wong, whose second home now seems to be the Pacific Ocean, and Defense Secretary Richard Marles, who had what was thought to be a (perhaps) pivotal meeting with his Chinese counterpart in Singapore. before visiting India.
A particularly important trip was Home Secretary Claire O’Neill’s visit to Sri Lanka this week. One of Labor’s fears materialized when smugglers began checking the border. The government acted quickly, with O’Neill diplomacy and a $50 million humanitarian aid package for the country. Australia will also fund, the coalition government has announced, thousands of GPS trackers to be installed on Sri Lankan fishing boats.
The trickle of boats, none of which have reached the Australian mainland, yet poses a serious danger, but the government knows the risks if it is not stopped quickly.
In general, we are seeing a high activity of the new government on several fronts, due to circumstances, especially the energy crisis, as well as choice. It was notable this week that after months of the previous government downplaying COVID despite significant deaths, Health Secretary Mark Butler stepped up messages about vaccinations and treatments, including launching a public campaign.
In addition to intensive work on the shelves, big changes are taking place in the office of the government, in the public service.
Labor made it clear during the campaign that they wanted to rebuild the bureaucracy after it was crushed and demoralized by the coalition government.
Read more: Albani government mobilizes diplomacy and assistance to fight smugglers from Sri Lanka
Scott Morrison downplayed the bureaucracy’s advisory role, outsourced most of his work to consultants, failed to deliver on some of the most important Todi review recommendations, and arbitrarily fired a number of department secretaries.
This week, Albanese used his own axe, removing Foreign Secretary Catherine Campbell (Penny Wong was not a fan, and Campbell had a history with Robodolg) and infrastructure chief Simon Atkinson from office.
Immediately after the election, Albanese appointed Glyn Davis as head of his department, indicating that he is determined to leave public service in better shape than he found it. Davis is a political specialist with extensive administrative experience and a penchant for reform; he was a member of Todi’s review.
Changes this week reinforced the point. Former high-ranking bureaucrat Gordon de Brouwer, also a Tody Review member, returns as “Secretary for Public Sector Reform”.
In this context, one of Australia’s most eminent civil servants recently offered some advice on Thursday evening. Frances Adamson is a former ambassador to China who served as foreign affairs adviser in the office of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and later headed the Foreign Office. Adamson, who is now Governor of South Australia, knows bureaucracy inside and out.
In a speech named after her, she laid out what she called four “encouragements” and one “plea” to civil servants. They set an agenda for improvement.
Read more: Foreign Minister Katherine Campbell fired due to reshuffle in public service
First, she called for the full implementation of the Todi Review “in spirit and in letter”. The consequences of the recommendations, which were not implemented, would be to provide senior civil servants with greater independence and protection.
Second, Adamson urged public servants to “think more about our time and what they require of you.”
“This is a time for persistence, for listening and consultation, for close collaboration, and for a new appreciation and respect for expertise in policy making — whether it be in the economy, climate change, China or homelessness,” she said.
“The time has come to purposefully build on this experience through recruitment and development and share it widely. And, of course, time for frank, fearless, well-informed, creative and constructive advice.”
Her third “encouragement” concerned a culture of public service: the importance of fostering “a genuine sense of belonging that goes beyond how we usually think about diversity, fairness and inclusiveness.”
“Belonging,” she said, “is about meaningful work, relationships, agency, and responsibility.”
Fourth, Adamson emphasized the importance of good relations between civil servants and colleagues at other levels of government. While it did not take that path, cooperation between the federal and state governments will be vital if the Albanian government is to achieve its goal of increasing productivity.
Adamson’s “plea” was about honesty. “The 2022 election campaign should leave us in no doubt about the value the Australian people place on integrity and the structures needed to support it,” she said.
“Acting with integrity is how the service maintains the confidence and trust of the public. Indeed, integrity is what really changes public attitudes and trust in government, which is why it is one of the tools civil servants use to strengthen state institutions.”
Adamson concluded that “the quality of the public service contributes to the strategic weight of a country.” […] Australia’s strategic weight, in turn, contributes to the stability, security, prosperity and development of our region and its character.”
The higher the quality and reliability of advice coming from the civil service, the more likely the Albani government is to leave the kind of “legacy” that its prime minister says he is striving for.