Address to Public Service Graduate event at Parliament House

Some years ago as I was campaigning in Tasmania I stumbled across a sandstone quarry and I stopped there and talked to a number of the workers. There were three workers there and I asked them what they were doing. The first said, “What does it look like - splitting rocks.” The second turned and said “I’m here earning a living for the Mrs and the kids.” The third, when I enquired, told me that he was helping to build a cathedral. All three of them doing exactly the same job, but one had a broad vision about what his actual role was.

As you commence your career in the Australian Public Service could I invite you not to think of yourselves as rock-breakers or paper-shufflers or simply ‘it’s a job’, but see yourselves in the role of building a cathedral or in helping to build our nation.

Yours can be, I understand, a very, very satisfying role. If you have the broad vision you can, and will, make a very real difference, not only for yourselves but also for your nation.

You are a fortunate this morning to also hear from the Secretary from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Dr Ian Watt, and from the Australian Public Service Commissioner, Mr Stephen Sedgwick. Both have distinguished careers in the public service and hopefully you will be inspired by them and by what they have achieved in their careers thus far.

In short like any job, the job and the career you have embarked on, will ultimately be what you make it.

You have entered the much respected calling of the public service. Sure, like politicians, you will be the butt of jokes, of criticism, and thinly disguised envy. But, more importantly you will be engaged in the business of nation-building, advising the democratically-elected Government of the day, giving full, frank, and professional advice to a Minister or Government. That is highly rewarding, responsible and satisfying. As a Minister, it is absolutely essential and I rely on it every day.

You will be, and already are, in the engine room of informing, delivering and implementing the Government’s agenda. A wise Government will use the public service as its preeminent source of advice. We, the Government, however, are there to decide. So, in brief, the idea is that we Ministers make our own mistakes but we do so fully informed on the advice that you give us.

You will be serving in a sound and stable democracy based on a rich history of tradition. Never forget that and always respect it.

We are one of the oldest ongoing democracies in the world, with freedoms and wealth untold, and the envy of the world. We change Government without loss of life, Ministers vacate their offices in an orderly fashion, and most public servants feel able to continue to serve the elected-Government of the day.

You have embarked on a noble career; a career where opportunities are boundless, a career where satisfaction can be high; a career where you are helping to build our nation; a career where you can make a real difference for your individual fellow Australians.

Please, like I have to remind myself, remember your salary and Departmental expenditures are only possible courtesy of the contributions of your fellow Australians make through their taxes.

That is why a strong and healthy economy has to be front and centre of responsible Government decision-making.

Without a healthy economy we simply can’t afford to pay for hospitals, schools, roads, or public servants.

As a Minister it is encouraging to see approximately 600 young Australians dedicating their careers to the service of the public. Can I also say, it’s especially good for me to welcome those that have chosen the Department of Employment for their careers. I congratulate you on your choice and wish you well in your careers.

Enjoy the day, and thank you very much. 

About Eric

Eric Abetz has been a Liberal Senator for Tasmania since 1994 and has served in a range of Leadership, Ministerial and Shadow Ministerial roles.

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