The highly successful 2006 series of Meet the CEO concluded with a rare insight into the workings of the engine room of Federal Government. Dr Peter Shergold, Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, shared his passion for public policy with an audience of over 300 alumni and friends of the Faculty of Commerce and Economics and the AGSM. This appearance by arguably the most powerful CEO in the Australian Public Service followed two other highly successful events in 2006 with guest speakers Steven Lowy of Westfield and David Morgan of Westpac.
What are the hot issues currently on Peter’s desk? The Solomon Islands, East Timor, water, indigenous affairs and childhood obesity to name but a few. Tackling these and myriad other public policy issues is all in a day’s work for Dr. Shergold. In conversation with Helen Trinca, Editor of the AFR’s BOSS magazine, he spoke with passion and enthusiasm about his role at the final event in the 2006 series of Meet the CEO on October 5th.
Sponsored by Deloitte, Meet the CEO is an initiative of the Faculty Advisory Board and is generously sponsored by Deloitte. Dr Shergold said that each day he relishes the opportunity to make a difference and to bring about social change. Dr Shergold captivated his audience with a rare and candid insight into the complexity of government, and the importance of creating positive change. “There has never been a day when I have had to drag myself to work,” he says. A former lecturer in Economic History at UNSW, Peter Shergold was recruited by the Hawke Government to head the newly-formed Office of Multicultural Affairs. Since then, he has headed several government departments, including the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission for the Keating Government. He spoke candidly of his experience serving governments from opposite ends of the political spectrum, and of his passion for driving strong public policy to serve the citizens of Australia. He believes firmly in the profound difference between ‘customers’ and ‘citizens,’ and sees his role as paramount in prescribing the ‘rights and responsibilities’ of the Australian people. Dr Shergold believes that those who possess true leadership qualities understand the importance of being themselves.
By his own admission, he is ‘impossible to shame.’ He is not afraid to reveal ignorance, ask for advice, and he believes in the importance of retaining a sense of humour. The brainchild of Peter Shergold, the SHAG (Stay Here and Grow) program was developed to counter low morale and high staff turnover within the Public Service. One development within the APS of which Dr Shergold is most proud is that two thirds of new recruits now have degrees. When recruiting staff, he looks for “bright, sparkling, people who want to make a difference, can work as part of a team and who bring intellect and creativity” to their roles.
On working with Prime Ministers as different as Paul Keating and John Howard, Dr Shergold explained that it is imperative for the Public Service to provide “frank and fearless” policy advice, but that this must be in response to the directives set. He revealed that Prime Minister John Howard does not lose his temper, and that it is often not the big issues that cause the problems, but the smaller ones caused by people not thinking through the political implications.
As Giam Swiegers, CEO of Deloitte said in his closing remarks, “the country is in safe hands” with Peter Shergold at the helm.
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