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Justice, Fairness, Inclusion, and Performance.

Fellow Spotlight: Andrew Podger

Academy Fellow Andrew Podger is Honorary Professor of Public Administration, Research School of the Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University, and an award-winning Australian Public Administrator.

Who or what inspired you to enter into public service?

My parents worked in the public sector – my father as an engineer in the forestry and transport fields and my mother as a math teacher. Both older brothers also chose public sector jobs, one as a telecommunications engineer and the other as a government architect. So I knew the public sector offered good careers, and I heard of an opportunity to gain a cadetship with the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) which linked with my strong interest in mathematics and statistics.

What is your favorite class you have ever taught or taken, and why?

After completing an honours science degree in pure mathematics, my work in the ABS on social surveys sparked my interest in social policy, and in public administration. I studied politics and public administration part-time and found the final year in public administration at the Australian National University extremely stimulating and of lasting value throughout my career. I studied the history of public administration from Taylorism through the Hawthorne experiments and organizational theories.

Of greatest interest was the wonderful debate between Lindblom and Dror on incrementalism and rational decision making. This provided important grounding as I became involved in Australia’s New Public Management reforms, ensuring I encouraged a pragmatic approach eschewing ideological arguments.

What advice would you give to those interested in pursuing public policy or public administration as a career?

Public service is a noble career. Most importantly, it involves serving others – the community, people in need, and the wider public with their shared concerns for safety, economic, social and cultural development and general wellbeing. It also offers opportunities for continuing professional development and applying skills to a vast array of interesting challenges.

What area of public policy interests you the most and why?

I first became involved in social security when working in the ABS on surveys to assist the Commission of Inquiry into Poverty established in 1972. This led me to move to the Social Welfare Commission in 1974, an agency advising the then Whitlam Labor Government on social policy including on the Poverty Inquiry’s emerging recommendations for a guaranteed minimum income scheme. When the Government received conflicting advice from other inquiries into superannuation and compensation, I was seconded to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to help identify a coherent overall approach to Australia’s income security system.

Over the rest of my career, and subsequently in academia, I have continued my interest in social security policies including family assistance and superannuation, both of which require appreciation of the interaction between taxation and cash transfers.

My concerns are with both alleviating poverty and helping people to spread their lifetime earnings so as to maintain living standards through different stages of the life cycle and through contingencies such as sickness and unemployment. It is essential that everyone appreciates that the system is there to help all of us, and to avoid stereotypes of welfare dependencies. It was the failure to do so that lay behind the recent ‘Robodebt’ disaster in Australia (

What is your favorite cuisine?

Hard to choose. Probably seafood, whether Asian-style stir-fried with chilies and coriander, or Mediterranean-style with capers and olives. I am the main cook in our household.

What is your favorite hobby or activity that you enjoy doing in your free time?

I have always loved surfing – body-surfing and boogie boards, not surfboards. I try to spend every second weekend at the beach. I also follow rugby league (the Canberra Raiders) and rugby union (the Brumbies, and the Wallabies of course).

Who in your life has been an influential mentor or inspiration for you?

My book on the Role of Departmental Secretaries ( identifies three people who have particularly inspired me as a public servant. Ian Castles was a brilliant policy analyst, perhaps the most intellectual of Australia’s public servants in the 1970s and 1980s. His economic advice played a crucial role in Australia’s economic reforms while also promoting social welfare reforms to address inequality. Tony Ayers was perhaps the best people manager in the APS from the 1970s though to the late 1990s. He was also the most ardent believer in providing ‘frank and fearless advice’ to ministers. I was privileged to work for both Castles and Ayers.

Helen Williams and I worked more as peers from the 1970s to the 2000s. I followed her as Australian Public Service Commissioner. She was not only the first female departmental secretary but inspired all who worked with her to be rigorous and to apply due process and integrity in all their work in the public service.

What was your dream job as a child?

I thought I was going to be a doctor. But fainting at the sight of blood made me realize I’d better think again!

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