What the Secretary Said Next: 'Public Rhetorical Leadership' in the Australian Public Service

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Title What the Secretary Said Next: 'Public Rhetorical Leadership' in the Australian Public Service
Author Grube, Dennis
Journal Name Australian Journal of Public Administration
Year Published 2011
Place of publication Australia
Publisher Wiley-Blackwell Publishing Asia
Abstract Every year, senior departmental secretaries in Australia deliver keynote speeches to a range of audiences. What are these secretaries talking about, and to whom are they directing their comments? This article will examine keynote addresses by the secretaries of the two key central agencies in Australia – the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and The Treasury – over the calendar years 2009 and 2010. I argue that 'public rhetorical leadership' by secretaries poses challenges for traditional understandings of Westminster governance. Utilising the concepts of public value theory, the significance of this 'public rhetorical leadership' is assessed in terms of its impacts on policy implementation and questions of accountability. Departmental secretaries remain pivotal figures at the heart of Australian government. They oversee budgets in the billions. They propose, analyse, implement, and evaluate policy. They are increasingly called upon to defend the workings of their departments in the national press, and to account for policy successes or failures. The role of departmental heads in the modern bureaucracy in Westminster systems has received significant attention in the research literature of the past two decades. There have been multiple studies undertaken into the mandarins and their evolving role at the centre of government (Barberis 1996; Rhodes and Weller 2001; Weller 2001; Bevir and Rhodes 2003, 2006; Rhodes, Wanna and Weller 2008), and some former departmental heads have provided insights and reflections on aspects of public administration (Osbaldeston 1989; Podger 2004, 2007a, 2007b; Shergold 2004, 2005, 2007). This collective literature has provided important insights into how secretaries interact with ministers, how they cope with the complexities of modern governance, and how they shape the work and culture of the departments which they lead. These understandings have been developed against the backdrop of ongoing debates about whether or not the senior echelons of the public service have become politicised (Mulgan 1998, 2010; Keating 1999; Spooner and Haidar 2005; Podger 2007a, 2007b; Shergold 2007). What public service leaders are doing, how they are doing it, and what they should be doing, remains fiercely contested. One suggestion that has received particular attention in the literature is that what bureaucratic leaders should see themselves as doing is searching for 'public value'. The public value concept derives from the work of Mark Moore (1995), and it sees public servants as having an activist role to play. In Moore's conception, public servants are active seekers of 'public value', using their experience of the way modern governance works to achieve the most positive policy outcomes possible in any given situation. What has been fiercely debated is whether the concept of 'public value' is in fact compatible with the governmental structures and traditions of Westminster systems (Rhodes and Wanna 2007, 2008; Alford 2008; Gains and Stoker 2009; Rhodes and Wanna 2009; Davis and West 2009; Colebatch 2010). Critics suggest that the hierarchical structure of Westminster bureaucracies leave innovative bureaucrats who search for public value exposed to a high risk of political censure or worse (Rhodes and Wanna 2007, 2009). Defenders of public value theory argue that bureaucrats understand that any policy environment has risks, and that this is no reason for them to abandon the search for public value (Alford 2008). None of the examinations of public value to date have directly considered what happens when leading bureaucrats not only advocate their preferred policies, but do so publicly and on their own authority. 'Public rhetorical leadership' by leading bureaucrats is a reality of modern governance. Speeches by the heads of public service agencies are made publicly available on websites, are delivered to external as well as internal audiences, and are reported widely in the media. Are these contribut
Peer Reviewed Yes
Published Yes
Alternative URI http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8500.2011.00724.x
Volume 70
Issue Number 2
Page from 115
Page to 130
ISSN 1467-8500
Date Accessioned 2011-07-07
Language en_AU
Research Centre Centre for Governance and Public Policy
Faculty Griffith Business School
Subject Australian Government and Politics; Public Administration
URI http://hdl.handle.net/10072/41307
Publication Type Journal Articles (Refereed Article)
Publication Type Code c1

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