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Secretary's Review

Dr Martin Parkinson AC PSM, Secretary, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

For PM&C 2017–18 was a year of contrasts. There were many achievements in which we all took great pride. However, there were also moments when we needed to acknowledge failure, and then learn and grow from it. Reflecting on the areas in which we are working to improve should not stop us from acknowledging the successes we have had thanks to the dedication of PM&C staff across the country.



A strong focus for PM&C was supporting the Government to Close the Gap on disadvantage for First Australians. The environment in which Indigenous Affairs operates is complex and has changed significantly over the last several years. We are working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to help shift the direction of government support from a social welfare model to one focused on strength, opportunity and economic development.

Strong partnerships between our Regional Network and First Australians are essential for delivering effective outcomes at a local level. Our Regional Partnerships continued to build and deliver for local communities over 2017–18. Successful Regional Partnerships this year included partnering with the Northern Territory Government to establish Multi-Agency Partnerships (MAPs) to support local Aboriginal Corporations in achieving their social and economic aspirations. The first MAP and related implementation plan were agreed with Yugul Mangi Development Aboriginal Corporation in Ngukurr in May 2018. In South Australia, our Regional Office partnered with local community leaders to develop local tourism initiatives designed to raise the region’s tourism profile and support a key element of the regional economic development agenda.

One of the great success stories for 2017–18 was the take-up of the Government’s Indigenous Procurement Policy. Since launching in July 2015, this policy has achieved a significant increase in the number of Indigenous businesses awarded Commonwealth contracts, in both number of contracts awarded and value. In the first 2.5 years of the policy over 1,000 Indigenous businesses across the country won over 6,800 contracts, delivering goods and services worth over $1.084 billion. This is a substantial increase on the former Indigenous business policies, which saw approximately 30 Indigenous businesses winning just $6.2 million in Commonwealth contracts, in 2012–13.

To build on this momentum, in February, the Government launched Australia’s first Indigenous Business Sector Strategy, developed in partnership with First Australians, to support the needs of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses across the country.

It is anticipated that the growing number of Indigenous-owned businesses will create more jobs for First Australians and drive real economic empowerment across the country.


PM&C has led a number of large-scale projects that will contribute significantly to advancing the wellbeing of all Australians.

  • The PM&C Home Affairs Taskforce led the establishment of the Home Affairs portfolio and the restructuring of the Attorney-General’s portfolio to bring Australia’s main integrity bodies under the same umbrella.
  • The creation of the Home Affairs portfolio is the most significant reform of Australia’s national intelligence and domestic security arrangements in more than 40 years. Subsequent machinery of government changes impacted the remits of PM&C, with National Security and Cyber Security functions transferred to the new Home Affairs portfolio. However, PM&C retains its critical role of leading the nation’s strategy to keep Australia safe.
  • In May 2017, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the $89 billion Naval Shipbuilding Plan. PM&C has worked with relevant agencies on building naval capability and the implementation of naval projects, infrastructure works, and education and training initiatives.


While it is easy to celebrate PM&C’s high-profile achievements it is also important to acknowledge those areas of the Department tasked with keeping the business of government running smoothly. Ensuring ministerial correspondence, ministerial briefs, Cabinet papers and minutes are of the highest quality is vitally important in providing support to the Prime Minister, the Cabinet and our portfolio ministers. Over the course of the year, we continued to make improvements to our CabNet and Live Briefing systems.


PM&C plays an important role in welcoming Heads of Government and State to Australia and supporting the Prime Minister’s schedule of international visits. Both are vitally important in promoting Australia’s interests internationally and securing trade and security deals to ensure a safe and prosperous Australia. Over the course of the year:

  • Our Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) taskforce organised the ASEAN–Australia Special Summit 2018. Held in Sydney and hosted by then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, it was the first time ASEAN had met in Australia. It provided an unprecedented opportunity to strengthen our relationships across the region.
  • Our G20 taskforce, led by our G20 Sherpa Dr David Gruen, supported the Prime Minister at the G20 Leaders’ Summit held in Hamburg, Germany in July 2017.
  • We hosted a significant number of visits from Heads of Government, Heads of State and other senior international visitors, including welcoming our neighbouring Heads of Government from the Pacific region. We also supported the Prime Minister’s participation in a range of important international meetings to further enhance Australia’s bilateral relationships.


Of all the challenging issues we faced in 2017–18, it was the unauthorised disclosure of Commonwealth documents that had the most significant impact.

As soon as I became aware of the incident, I immediately instigated an AFP investigation into the circumstances that led to the disposal of two Commonwealth Government filing cabinets containing classified material. I commissioned Mr Ric Smith AO PSM to undertake an independent review of PM&C’s security procedures, practices and culture, including the implications for the Australian Public Service (APS) more broadly (the Smith Review).

In March I received the Smith Review report, and I have wholeheartedly accepted all the recommendations. I have also established a dedicated team to strengthen PM&C’s protective security practices, procedures and culture.

I am deeply concerned that such an extraordinary lapse of security could occur. It is important that the APS heeds the lesson of this incident, and it has been the subject of attention at the Secretaries Board. Each Secretary across the APS has reviewed their department’s security arrangements and asked all agencies within their portfolio to do the same.


In May 2018, the Prime Minister commissioned an independent review of the APS. This major independent review is an opportunity to build a modern, fit-for-purpose APS that delivers for government and for the community. It will inform how we position ourselves to best adapt to our changing environment in the years and decades ahead.



For almost two years PM&C has been reinvigorating what we do and how we do it, in order to better deliver government priorities. The ongoing transformation of PM&C remains one of our top priorities for the year ahead.

To be fit for purpose, PM&C needs to be a workplace that is technologically adept, and we need a workforce that is knowledgeable, can work flexibly and collaboratively, and is inclusive and diverse. These are our four pillars of transformation.

PM&C has taken great strides to enable us to work more collaboratively and flexibly.

Our challenge is to drive this transformation agenda forward over the next 12 months and beyond.


Supporting the new Prime Minister will be our key focus over the coming year. Preparing for the next federal election will also be a priority. We will need to ramp up our support to manage an effective caretaker period and a smooth incoming government process.

Our priority will be to ensure that the Government can continue to deliver for the Australian public throughout, and that the incoming government, whether returned or new, is well supported to hit the ground running.

The Closing the Gap refresh will be another priority. It will be an opportunity to drive generational change by focusing targeted investment in areas with the biggest long-term impact—early learning, health and positive cultural identity.

Understanding the public we serve is critical to the development and effective implementation of policy and programs. In July I announced that PM&C will conduct a regular national survey of citizen experiences and satisfaction with the APS and the services we deliver.

This year we will also drive a program of cultural change that will strengthen our physical, personnel and information security through initiatives that reach across people, systems and technology. We are committed to being an exemplar of best practice in protective security.

We have already started developing the survey in collaboration with relevant agencies, as well as designing a methodology and model so that the results are robust and useful to us.

Looking back, we achieved much last year and we paved a more robust path forward. It is an exciting time for the Department. Regardless of the challenges and issues that we may face, I have great expectations for PM&C for the year ahead.

Dr Martin Parkinson, AC PSM speaking at PM&C all staff address