PM&C Centenary 100 years of serving government
Mr Terry Moran
Secretary, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
Launch of "From Postbox to Powerhouse"

Invited guests,
PM&C staff,
Ladies and gentlemen.

Can I also acknowledge former Secretaries of the department who are here with us today.

  • Mr Michael Codd AC
  • Mr John Menadue AO
  • Mr Max Moore-Wilton AC

It is wonderful to see you all here on this very special day.

And it is indeed an honour to welcome Senator John Faulkner here today to help us celebrate turning 100.

Senator Faulkner is representing the Prime Minister and will shortly pass on a special message from her to you all.

I think it would be fair to say there is a lot of affection for Senator Faulkner here in PM&C.

As former Cabinet Secretary and Special Minister of State he worked closely with many people in the department.

He of course worked closely with our Cabinet and Government Divisions, in particular with Joan Sheedy and her team on FOI reform

He is no stranger to 1 National Circuit, and visited us after being made a minister in the portfolio, for morning tea.

He also visited after his appointment as Defence Minister to say goodbye and thanks, here in the Amenities Room.

So we are indeed delighted to have him here once again as we celebrate the start of our centenary year with the launch of From Postbox to Powerhouse.

We are also delighted to have with us today the grandson of Andrew Fisher, John Fisher, who has travelled to see the department his grandfather established. You are most welcome John.

I would like to congratulate Pat Weller, Joanne Scott and Bronwyn Stevens who, with funding through an Australian Research Council Linkage grant and fantastic support from the University of the Sunshine Coast, have compiled this wonderful history of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

I should also acknowledge here the contribution of Ross Laurie, who very sadly passed away during the project. He was very much the fourth author of this history.

From Postbox to Powerhouse is a fascinating look at how this department has changed over its 100 years in existence.

When it started in 1911 it was little more than a clearing house for correspondence from the Prime Minister to London and the states.

It wasn’t until 1919 that the department had a branch devoted to delivering policy advice.

Now, of course, we play a crucial role in the Cabinet process and with administrative arrangements and in decisions that affect every corner of the nation: climate change; health; the economy; Indigenous; education; foreign policy and the list goes on.

The departmental structure reflects every portfolio in the government.

We are definitely no longer a postbox.

The book by Pat Weller, Joanne Scott and Bronwyn Stevens traces that evolution and gives us great insight into how this department, perhaps like no other, has to respond to an ever evolving reform agenda.

Has had to be flexible and able to easily advise on new and emerging challenges as society has changed…

…and yet has had to also remain steadfast in the robust nature of its advice.

Through two world wars, numerous conflicts, depressions and recessions, the recent Global Financial Crisis, through major social, political and economic upheavals...

…PM&C has provided professional advice and support to the government of the day in the best Australian Westminster tradition.

And you will find in the book Senator Faulkner there is an interesting PM&C connection to Gough Whitlam when he was a child.

In fact, not just a connection but quite possibly to be credited with Gough Whitlam ever being around to become Prime Minister.

This may sound a little like a plot from Days of Our Lives, but stay with me.

George Whitlam came to Canberra to work in the department in 1918.

He lived with his brother Fred, who was Solicitor-General at the time, and Fred had two children Gough and Freda.

George took his niece and nephew to the Cotter for a picnic and young Gough promptly fell in the river…

…only to be rescued by Treasury official Herb Yeend.

Now this seems to only perpetuate the myth that everywhere you turn in Canberra there is a public servant but I would advise people not to always expect that there will be one handy to pull you from a raging river.

But, back to the story, Herb Yeend’s son Geoff was to be a senior official in PM&C when Gough was Prime Minister and, of course, also went on to be Secretary of this department.

And to bring the story to the present, Geoff’s daughter Julie still works in the department today in our COAG Skills Taskforce.

Of course the file note from then Secretary, Sir John Bunting, to Gough Whitlam on the dustcover of the book gives us an interesting counterpoint to the depth and breadth of the briefing that greeted you after last year’s election.

The note outlined Sir John’s response to the newly elected Prime Minister’s list of instructions…

…identifying 15 major points the Whitlam Government wanted to attack when it won government, ranging from equal pay and conscription to contraceptives and the excise duty on wine…

…the Incoming Government Brief PM&C prepared for the Prime Minister at the time of the last election was somewhat longer, with advice on major domestic and international trends, advice on implementation of election commitments and machinery of government arrangements.

It most certainly would not have been able to fit on a file note, but it was a snug fit for an iPad.

Of course PM&C’s role certainly became critical in the 17 days after the election and showed just how a solid democracy with a good public service should function during an interregnum.

Someone even remarked that Barbara Belcher, who is here today, could have run the country single-handedly had she not retired!

The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has certainly grown in its role and in its stature.

I assure you, Senator Faulkner, it does not escape our notice that as staff of this department we are in a very privileged position.

We consider it an honour to serve and support the Prime Minister, the Cabinet, the Cabinet Secretary and portfolio ministers.

As Secretary I am also honoured to lead a department of such hard-working people.

The commitment that is shown on a daily basis to provide the Prime Minister with the very best advice and services is humbling.

You don’t just have a ‘job’ when you come to this department, you have a very real sense of purpose and pride.

The names of every person who has worked in this department over its 100 years may not be found in From Postbox to Powerhouse but they have certainly each contributed to the history of the department that was created to serve our nation’s leader.

Congratulations again to Pat, Joanne and Bronwyn and I’d now like to invite Senator John Faulkner, on behalf of the Prime Minister of Australia, to address you.


Last Updated: 11 July 2011