Un trop fort mouvement de balancier ou l'angoisse existenielle des hauts fonctionnaires Australiens
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In November 2007, Australians elected a new federal government. Throughout the election campaign, Kevin Rudd's Labor Party emphasised its commitment to Westminster traditions of public service independence and neutrality. It promised that if elected, there would be no purge of senior public servants as had occurred when the government changed in 1996. Ministers would be expected to allow time to develop good working relationships with department and agency heads. Labor would remove performance pay and introduce a more rigorous and transparent appointments process, with five-year contracts for agency heads (Wong 2007). Public service traditionalists breathed a sigh of relief, hoping the challenges of the reform era would soon be past. But within months, Rudd, the first Australian Prime Minister with prior experience as a senior bureaucrat, a department head and a ministerial chief of staff, was encountering problems with the Australian Public Service (APS). Notwithstanding its generally positive attitude towards the APS, the incoming government seemed underwhelmed by its performance, particularly its ability to provide creative and innovative policy ideas. The bureaucracy seemed to be struggling to adjust to the new government's priorities and style. Embarrassing leaks and persistent complaints about workloads and the long hours required to meet the relentless demands of a prime minister dubbed 'Kevin 24/7' because of his ferocious work ethic, raised questions about public service loyalty and competence. Senior ministers, some with experience in earlier Labor governments, report the APS is much changed from the institution they had known little more than a decade earlier. One described it as 'a more cautious, less confident beast than it was when I was a minister before. I've been surprised and even shocked by their desire to please'. Many commentators, including the ALP, attribute this real or perceived change in the attitude and culture of the APS to its experience under the Howard Coalition government. Serious analysts appreciate that the Howard government continued and accelerated trends already evident in the relationship between ministers and their public service advisers. In this article we profile the history and practices of the link between the two and ask if the angst so often portrayed is well-based.
Copyright 2009 L'observatoire de l'administration publique. The attached file is reproduced here in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher. Please refer to the journal's website for access to the definitive, published version.