With the Benefit of Hindsight

With the Benefit of Hindsight

Valedictory Reflections from Departmental Secretaries, 2004–11

Authored by: John Wanna orcid, Sam Vincent, Andrew Podger orcid

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Secretaries of government departments in Australia are the bureaucratic leaders of their generation. They are ambitious, highly-talented executives who have risen to the very pinnacle of their chosen vocation – public service to the Australian nation – usually after having spent most, if not all, of their professional careers dedicated to the public service. They serve governments as their top advisers and in policy terms are often some of the most important decision-makers in the country.

This collection brings together the valedictory speeches and essays from a departing group of secretaries (and one or two other equivalent agency heads) who left the Australian Public Service between 2004 and 2011. Over this period of time it gradually became accepted that departing secretaries and heads of significant agencies would present a valedictory address to their peers at a public farewell function. The first two speeches in this collection were initiated informally and given at functions organised by their agencies; in 2005 the process was formalised with the Australian Public Service Commission acting as organiser.

These contributions contain reflections, commentaries, occasional fond memories or key turning-points in careers, critiques of changes that have occurred and an outline of the remaining challenges their successors will face as the public administrators of tomorrow.

From the outset it is clear that there is no uniform message, no single narrative levelled either in praise or in criticism, other than pride in the public service and strong belief in the contribution it makes to the Australian community. They have their own personal ‘takes’ on how the public service looks to them, on its performance and on the challenges confronting public administration into the future. Most spend some time looking back, reflecting on the extent of change that has occurred over the length of their careers; but equally importantly they look forward, anticipating future policy dilemmas and capacity challenges.

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With the Benefit of Hindsight »

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  1. Yes, minister – the privileged position of secretaries (PDF, 103KB) – Roger Beale doi
  2. My fortunate career and some parting remarks (PDF, 109KB) – Andrew Podger doi
  3. Performance management and the performance pay paradox (PDF, 191KB) – Allan Hawke doi
  4. Thirty-eight years toiling in the vineyard of public service (PDF, 141KB) – Ric Smith doi
  5. The last count – the importance of official statistics to the democratic process (PDF, 124KB) – Dennis Trewin doi
  6. Balancing life at home and away in the Australian Public Service (PDF, 149KB) – Joanna Hewitt doi
  7. In the national interest (PDF, 130KB) – Peter Shergold doi
  8. Impressions, observations and lessons from a Canberra outsider (PDF, 133KB) – Robert Cornall doi
  9. An unlikely secretary – a boy from the outer agencies (PDF, 102KB) – Mark Sullivan doi
  10. As if for a thousand years – the challenges ahead for the APS (PDF, 130KB) – David Borthwick doi
  11. Reflections of an ‘unabashed rationalist’ (PDF, 123KB) – Peter Boxall doi
  12. Our custodial role for the quality of advisory relations at the centre of government (PDF, 219KB) – Patricia Scott doi
  13. A road less travelled – reflecting on three professional pillars of support (PDF, 115KB) – Michael L’Estrange doi
  14. There’s a telegram for you – fashioning Australia’s unique model of public administration (PDF, 126KB) – Ken Matthews doi
  15. The opportunities, challenges and policy responses for the Australian economy (PDF, 1.1MB) – Ken Henry doi
  16. The boss in the yellow suit − leading service delivery reform (PDF, 114KB) – Lynelle Briggs doi
  17. The challenges for the public service in protecting Australia’s democracy in the future (PDF, 108KB) – Terry Moran doi


An extract from “With the Benefit of Hindsight: Valedictory Reflections from Departmental Secretaries, 2004–11″ appeared in the Canberra Times‘ May 1 Public Sector Informant liftout, with a short review by Markus Mannheim describing the book’s “excellent contributions”: “Some of them were rippers, and should be mandatory reading for today’s public servants.”

The Public Sector Informant published former Defence Department secretary Allan Hawke’s essay “Performance management and the performance pay paradox”.

(Markus Mannheim, Canberra Times Public Sector Informant; May 1 2012; review p2; extract p4.)

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