PM warns public service of ‘congestion busting’ ahead

Scott Morrison and Deputy PM Michael McCormack ahead of Thursday's meeting with public service chiefs.

Scott Morrison and Deputy PM Michael McCormack ahead of Thursday's meeting with public service chiefs. Photo: AAP

Scott Morrison has issued a blunt warning to the public service that “congestion busting” starts with his government urging officials to fast-track approvals for investors.

The Prime Minister has urged the nation’s top public servants to remember that while “frank and fearless advice” is important, it is the delivery of services that Australians rely on.

Mr Morrison said on Thursday his three key priorities would be the economy and investment, service delivery (including the National Disability Insurance Agency) and the Indo-Pacific region.

“Congestion busting just doesn’t need to happen on our roads and around the country,” Mr Morrison said.

“Congestion busting needs to happen in the bureaucracy. I want to see some congestion busting in the bureaucracy, ensuring that we get things done.

“When your ministers are appointed and you sit down with them, you can expect them to have very clear views about the direction that the government will be taking. I will certainly be doing that as Prime Minister.”

Mr Morrison was in Canberra on Thursday, finalising his cabinet reshuffle, which is expected to be announced by the weekend.

Senior frontbenchers, including Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, Finance Minister Matthias Cormann and Attorney-General Christian Porter (who takes over from Christopher Pyne as manager of government business) are not expected to be moved.

However, there is speculation that Communications Minister Mitch Fifield could be moved from his portfolio and that Environment Minister Melissa Price – who was accused of being “missing in action” during the election campaign – will be dumped from cabinet or have her responsibilities carved up. In a debate with Labor leader Bill Shorten during the campaign, Mr Morrison pledged Ms Price would retain the portfolio.

Former cabinet minister Arthur Sinodinos, who stepped down from the ministry to fight cancer, is expected to return to a senior role, possibly energy and climate change.

Former health minister Sussan Ley is also looking to return to cabinet after she was forced to quit during Malcolm Turnbull’s prime-ministership over a political expenses scandal. A report later found that a single Comcar ride she took fell outside of the rules: She took the taxpayer-funded car on a short trip from her hotel to attend an auction for an $800,000 investment property.

Mr Morrison told the nation’s public servants on Thursday that while “frank and fearless advice” was important, Australians relied on service delivery.

“A big part of the way I intend to direct over the next three years is there will be very clear targets about performance levels we expect from the delivery of the public service,” he said.

“That Australians should expect to see things turned around quickly. That investors that are looking to invest in Australia, the blockages that often frustrate them, they will be dealt with.”

Mr Morrison issued his warning on Thursday after meeting public servants at Parliament House with Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack.

Mr McCormack was re-elected unopposed as Nationals leader on Thursday, with Bridget McKenzie remaining as his deputy.

“I deeply respect, as does Michael, the work of the public service in delivering on the agenda of a government,” Mr Morrison said.

“It is a partnership that I respect professionally and I’ve always had that respect returned to me with all of those I’ve worked.

“With that, I thank you for all the work that you and your departments are already doing in the years ahead. It will be a very busy time, I assure you.”

Mr Morrison said he would set a clear agenda in three key areas.

“The first of those is, obviously, that we need to ensure that our economy remains strong to support the budget and the financial management that enables us to do all the things that we intend to do across all the various portfolio areas: Health, education, Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, mental health, in particular for young people, the National Disability Insurance Scheme,” he said.

“Secondly, the world is an increasingly uncertain place. I have had many discussions with people around this room around the uncertainties that present not just in the economic sphere but in the strategic sphere as well.

“I think it very important that we continue to focus on the ways we can use our influence and our relationships and build on those relationships in the Indo-Pacific region and with our friends and partners around the world to continue to be a voice of reason and common sense that is focused on the prosperity and the peacefulness in our region for the people of our region.

“The third area, and I think this is the most important for everyone sitting around this table, of course the public service gives us fearless and frank advice, but the thing we depend on and that you’re professionally responsible for is the delivery of those services.

“Whether it’s in the National Disability Insurance Scheme or whether it’s in hospitals and infrastructure delivery … this all needs to work seamlessly and efficiently.”

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