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Thodey 2.0: Davis as PMC Secretary

by Jack Le Guay •
Free resource

Glyn Davis is the first appointment to the APS under the new Albanese Government, replacing Phil Gaetjens as Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PMC).

The move is a sign that the Albanese Government is serious about its commitment to reduce outsourcing in the public sector.

Davis is a distinguished professor of public policy who has served as Vice-Chancellor of both Griffith and Melbourne Universities.

In addition to his academic credentials, he has also had stints in the public sector.

Most recently, he was a member of the six-person panel responsible for the Independent Review of the APS (the Thodey Review), which released its final report in December 2019.

Davis comes to the top job in the federal public service after serving in the equivalent role in state government twenty years ago.

He was the Director-General of the Queensland Department of Premier and Cabinet between 1998 and 2002, following the election of Peter Beattie as Premier.

It was during this time that Davis first met a young Jim Chalmers, who was hired as a researcher in the department.

In 2000, the pair co-authored a research paper for the federal parliament, entitled “Power: relations between the Parliament and the Executive”.

Davis is clearly a strong influence on the now-Treasurer, receiving mention in many of his speeches about the shape and direction of the APS.

In 2018, Chalmers stated the government had created a “false economy” by curtailing the APS through the average staff level (ASL) cap and efficiency dividends.

This had led to “perverse outcomes”, with the Treasurer specifically calling out the government’s growing spend on ICT contractors and consultants.

The Albanese Government has made clear that it plans to cut consultancy spending in government and replace contractors with APS staff.

Davis has been similarly critical about the effects of outsourcing on the public sector, citing loss of internal capacity and potential for corruption in a 2021 lecture.

Broader reform of the APS will also be on the cards. Chalmers has backed this ambition, noting that the Thodey Review had been a “missed opportunity” for the public service during the Treasury debate in the lead-up to the 2022 election.

While most of the review’s recommendations were accepted by the Morrison Government, it had some notable disagreements with the independent panel.

Several of the recommendations that were not agreed to by the Morrison Government concerned changes to the Public Service Act 1999, citing the importance of the Westminster tradition of allowing ministers to retain considerable autonomy and discretion over their portfolios.

Other recommendations with a digital focus that may be reconsidered under an Albanese Government are:

  • Recommendation 12 – More collaborative relationships and joint delivery of services between the APS and states and territories. This recommendation was not agreed to by the Morrison Government, which said that existing Council of Australian Governments (COAG) arrangements were already effective. COAG has since been replaced by the National Cabinet, which has been praised for enabling greater collaboration between federal, state and territory governments.
  • Recommendation 13 – Improving funding, structure, and management of APS digital functions. This recommendation was “agreed in part”, with the Morrison Government ‘noting’ the recommendation to move the Digital Transformation Agency to a standalone department.
  • Recommendation 14 – Conduct ICT audit and develop WofG ICT blueprint. Although this was agreed to, no audit was publicly released under the previous government.

Davis’ ascension could see a wider engagement of stakeholders across the board on policymaking. He has written extensively about public participation in the policymaking process, and was co-chair of the Australia 2020 Summit, established with the election of Kevin Rudd as an attempt to set long-term priorities for the APS.

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