A year in the life…day 290: resilience

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This statue, which is outside Industry House, the headquarters of my Department, is entitled ‘Resilience’. Which is interesting because, as my boss has said, “resilience” should be the top of every selection criteria at the moment. Now, I won’t for a moment pretend that being a public servant is the worst job in the world – it is fulfilling and challenging and interesting and is reasonably well remunerated. But resilience has become a theme. As a public servant, one has to be resilient. One has to be resilient in the face of politicians – who are essentially your bosses – talking about slashing public servant jobs and denigrating our role to appeal to populist prejudices. One has to be resilient when one sees one’s colleagues in state public services being cruelly sacked and demeaned, and then is told that those likely to be in power soon want to cut more than ten per cent of your colleagues. Resilience is required when you and your staff work excessive hours over and over and yet popular opinion (and sometimes that of people know directly) is that public servants are lazy and over paid. It takes resilience to work for months on policy initiatives you think are important, only to have them abandoned at the last minute due to the vagaries of the political winds. It takes resilience to polish a speech in the long late hours of a night in an office alone, only to see the Minister fold it up as he (or she) walks to the podium. When faced with regular restructures, new bosses, discovering at lunchtime on your BlackBerry that you are being moved to a new Department, it can require resilience to keep moving forward. it takes resilience to get up at 5am and fly to Melbourne to spend all day in a meeting at a hotel across the road at the airport before flying home again at 6pm. And then to do it again a fortnight later. It is vital to have resilience when you deal with the public day after day desperate for a payment/migration outcome/just to make sense of it all and you can’t always help. It takes resilience to know that you will always have to pay for your own Christmas Party, and that getting coffee machines which mean you can have the odd free coffee will end up in the media for weeks and dominating Senate Estimates because why should public servants get anything. It takes resilience to watch an election and know that this could dramatically and directly affect your life.

I am not asking you to feel sorry for me. I love being a public servant, I love the good I can do, I love that it brings challenges and rewards. I actually wouldn’t be doing anything else. But I want you to know, in the public service, you need a lot of resilience.

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