The new Public Service Minister Mathias Cormann has made his first speech on the public service since the portfolio was added to his finance responsibilities.

Senator Cormann has laid out what he says is a vision for a more innovative and responsive APS, with a range of cost-cutting measures.

“When we improve the efficiency and productivity of the public service, we create space in the budget for outward facing programs and services, which directly benefit Australians,” Senator Cormann said at the APS Wide conference, hosted by the Australian Public Service Commission.

“I have for many years made the point that public service spending, yes should be as much as necessary but also should be as little as possible – that we should always focus on the value of activity and that we have a responsibility to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.”

He said high quality government services can be delivered at a low cost.

“They are certainly competing objectives. That is, it is certainly fair to say and that it is a matter of finding the right balance.”

“It is not just about saving money, it is also about higher quality services delivered in new and different ways, about better public policy outcomes.”

Senator Cormann defended cutting the amount spent on administration, arguing that it is good for the public service.

He said the average staffing level cap and heavy use of contractors have helped keep budgets under control.

“The overall cost of the federal government’s administration as a proportion of overall expenditure, including, dare I say, the cost of consultants and contractors supporting government administration, has fallen from 8.5 per cent in 2007-08 to 6.8 per cent in 2017-18 and is projected to continue to fall to 5.6 per cent by 2021-22.”

Senator Cormann also said relying on outside contractors “should never be seen as a weakening of the APS”.

“To the contrary, I believe these are all approaches that strengthen the Australian public service.

The APS works at its best when it is open to new ways of operating and prepared to move on from old familiar ways – where it takes opportunities to anticipate the needs and requirements of the government of the day on behalf of the Australian community.

“Innovation won’t always be digital, but it will always mean working differently and in new and better ways.”