Australian Public Service Commissioner Gordon de Brouwer has a vision to deliver a world-leading public service over the next five years, but he admits there is much to do to improve capability and integrity across the sector.
The Robodebt Royal Commission has clearly highlighted integrity issues, whereas the overreliance on external consultants raises continual questions about the APS’s own levels of capability.
The Commission’s 2022-23 annual report has just been tabled in parliament and outlines the challenges the APSC faced over the past year and the progress made towards some goals.
It reported an operating surplus of $1.6 million for the financial year, and after adjusting for unfunded depreciation and amortisation, it recorded an operating surplus of $3.4 million.
At 30 June 2023, the APSC had a positive net asset position of $14 million.
The reporting year also included the first full year of funding for the APS Digital Profession, which transferred from the Digital Transformation Agency in September 2021.
But it has been the APS Reform agenda, launched in October 2022, that has kept the Commission busy trying to rebuild trust in the government’s services.
“APS Reform focuses on the government’s priorities of creating an APS that embodies integrity in everything it does, puts people and business at the centre of policy and services, is a model employer, and has the capability to do its job well,” Dr de Brouwer states in the report.
“When we talk about integrity, it is our behaviours that matter. Integrity was a critical focus within the APSC throughout 2022–23.
“We made progress toward building a pro-integrity culture and practices in the APS, working closely with the Secretaries Board, APS Integrity Taskforce and agencies responsible for integrity.”
While stressing his pride in the government’s workforce and their “deep commitment to serving our community and the contribution they make,” the Commissioner noted it hadn’t been the best of years for the image of public servants.
“The past reporting year has been challenging for the APSC and APS as a whole,” he said.
“We heard, with empathy, the testimonies of people affected by the Robodebt Scheme through the Royal Commission hearings and the failures and mistakes of public servants, as well as instances of courage.
“The APSC is responsible for the whole-of-service code of conduct process following the release of the Royal Commission report, which it will implement with objectivity and fairness.
“More generally, the APSC will play a significant role in working with the public service to strengthen integrity and work practices when the APS Integrity Taskforce report and government’s response to the Royal Commission recommendations are released.”
Proposed changes to the Public Service Act 1999 are underway to strengthen the APS’s core values, including enshrining a new APS Value of stewardship.
The report notes that the Senior Executive Service performance framework was developed to ensure APS performance management focuses on outcomes and behaviours, aligned to the APS Values.
The APSC will release the new framework this year, and the Commissioner stressed that behaviour and outcomes-based performance frameworks will be applied to all APS levels over time.
Regular capability reviews of departments and some of the more prominent APS agencies began to assess future capability needs in the past year.
The APSC was the first agency to undergo a capability review as part of that program, and it is now driving a number of capability-building initiatives in the service, with the APS Capability Reinvestment Fund supporting 10 projects underway across 14 agencies.
“Work is underway on projects across the public service that build capability, including in evaluation, First Nations cultural safety, gender budgeting, lifting cultural diversity, raising capability in line agencies about Asia and the Pacific, and boosting strategic foresight capability,” the Commissioner said.
“We are working to reduce reliance on consultants and contractors across the APS and rebuild capability within the public service.
“Informed by the Department of Finance’s Audit of Employment, the APSC began work on a strategic commissioning framework that, over the coming years, will support agencies to make well-informed decisions about roles that should be filled by APS employees and the use of the external workforce.”