Reform continues to be the buzzword in the Australian Public Service, with its leadership and the government determined to make 2023 a year of significant change for the sector.
As it prepares for what will undoubtedly be a busy year ahead, public servants can expect to hear a lot more about building integrity and accountability.
At the most recent Secretaries Board meeting, held just before Christmas, APS reform was the most discussed topic.
Public Service Minister Katy Gallagher repeated her insistence that the APS become an employer of choice.
She told the gathering of the sector’s highest level of leadership that the public service must be more transparent and be a “dynamic place to work”, while also becoming a true reflection of the community.
One APS contact told Region that the Minister’s push isn’t just “pie-in-the-sky” wishful thinking.
“She is determined to effect some real changes in the APS. Things that will be noticed,” they said.
“Changes will definitely be noticed inside the APS, but there will be a flow-on to the general public. The Minister wants the public to recognise a difference in the public service.”
Reform has begun, with the focus on replacing a significant number of contractors with actual public servants.
Changes will also be seen in the sector’s approach to the digital delivery of services, with specific goals for improvement.
Data protection has, by necessity, become a top priority for the APS. The government is hoping to avoid a repeat of last year’s embarrassing and costly data breaches at a number of agencies. But improving transparency and becoming recognised as a bastion of integrity will be easier said than done.
One senior APS insider told Region that such APS reform will take years.
“We’re talking about institutional resistance,” they said.
“There are so many old world views and practices so entrenched in the service that they will be almost impossible to shift. In some areas where reform is badly needed, it will almost be a case of waiting for the dinosaurs to disappear before the next generation can really effect change.
“And when it comes to consultants – they’re entrenched too. They might be able to get rid of a bunch of contractors, but the consultancy budget will always be huge.
“It is a monumental task for any government thinking it can change these entrenched ways and habits to any noticeable degree.”
Public sector reform secretary Gordon de Brouwer used the Secretaries Board meeting to discuss creative recruitment practices, such as hiring more people from outside the public sector in order to provide the service with more diversity of skills and knowledge.
Such a move would also go a long way towards combatting the ‘this is the way it’s always been done’ mentally permeating much of the APS.
APS Commissioner Peter Woolcott touted the importance of the APS Academy in the quest for reform.
Continued investment in the academy would ensure its “transformational initiatives” would be taught across the workforce and help to improve APS capability.