One of the great privileges of being a minister in Federal Parliament is working with the Australian Public Service. It's nearly 20 years since I had that opportunity. Whilst lots of things will have changed, I imagine that essentially it is still one of the best working experiences one could have. It is not just the institution it is also the privilege of working with the senior public servants. In life, there are always exceptions, but generally speaking the top public servants I knew were exceptional. They were a workplace luxury. The public rarely get to see much of the inner workings of departments and that is as it should be. They work in the background providing the best possible advice to the government of the day. Regular citizens like you and I rarely get to see that advice. There is good reason for that. And incidentally centuries of experience of the Westminster or Washminster system. How can governments sensibly and calmly go through a process of decision making if, before a decision is made, the media and the public are squabbling over whatever advice the public service has offered? Do we want a public service where the fear of media criticism affects the advice offered? No. The recent focus on some public servants and their role in the robodebt saga gave a rare insight into the public service for many Australians. It reminded everyone, that as good as it can be, the public service is not perfect. Whether it's the quality of the advice or the individual public servant, perfection is not guaranteed. The public service is, in many ways, just like other workplaces. There are some bosses at all levels who are aggressive, egotistical power hungry warriors. Junior public servants may have to watch their p's and q's. There are people who rise above their level of competence and everyone around them suffers. Each department has a different culture making it a very different workplace. A colleague remarked once that in Foreign Affairs ambitious recruits didn't need a mentor as much as they did a patron. It is a club. The absence of media scrutiny is a blessing for them. Being able to quietly get on with your work without media interference would be a dream. It is the ministers job to consider the advice but other considerations have to be taken into account. A recommended change may be for the better, but will the public wear it? The ministers and parliamentarians are far more in touch with the man in the street. Cabinet may decide that another policy area should have priority. Whenever there is a leak of public service advice it's a fair bet it didn't come from a cabinet colleague. Some in the public service practise the dark arts and leak to embarrass a minister for whom they do not care or to push public opinion in the direction they think best. It just shouldn't happen. The system built up over centuries requires that public service advice remains confidential. Robodebt is just one, bad example. A few others might be instructive. One bureaucrat, promoted above her competence, messed up badly. Members of the public were badly affected. The junior minister responsible for the area was hiding. In the private sector the defalcator would no longer have a job. I was told she would go down one pay level. It wasn't my business, that's for the departmental secretary to handle. However sometime later my chief of staff suggested asking if she was still on that lower level. No doubt he suspected it would be a very temporary move. READ MORE VANSTONE: Surprise, surprise. She hadn't been moved down. The explanation was that they were waiting for some superannuation point to click in and then she would be moved. Sure. Tell me another one. Once, horrifically, an Australian citizen of Filipino birth was sent back to the Philippines. It was before my time as immigration minister. The people who did it, if they didn't know at the time would have soon after. I found out because her former husband rang my office years later, concerned for her. My chief of staff was initially brushed off by the department but he was no dope and kept at it. The cover up was uncovered. When with incredulity I asked if she had claimed citizenship, a senior bureaucrat, who I had admired, said calmly, "She only said it once". Once the gig was up a few public servants quickly retired to protect their superannuation. The Commonwealth contribution would have otherwise been at risk. Off scot-free ... and yet we'll jail an Indigenous kid for much less. My point is the public service are mostly fabulous. A credit to us. But don't imagine they are immune from having rotten eggs amongst them. There are however, better, heartwarming stories. This is my favourite. If you're old enough to remember Cyclone Tracy, you will understand that many people in Darwin had no cash. If you were dependent on welfare, you were in deep trouble. They couldn't buy basics from whatever shops were open. I'm told some dedicated public servants, over the weekend when banks weren't open, found a very innovative solution. They worked fast and realised the one place guaranteed to have cash on the weekend was a TAB. How they did it, I don't know, but allegedly a few taxis in Sydney, with bureaucrats on board, loaded up the boots with cash and flew to Darwin. I hope no-one disillusions me. It's a great story of public servants hunting for a solution that will work. Just so practically Australian. Despite the publicity given to the duds ... we are served very well.