The Public Service Act is to be strengthened to give agency heads greater control over who they can employ, regardless of what the government of the day thinks.
Ministers will no longer be allowed to override departmental bosses on employment matters or even direct them on who to hire and appoint.
The government has introduced a bill to amend the Public Service Act 1999 with a string of measures to strengthen the integrity and capability of the Australian Public Service.
Public Service Minister Katy Gallagher said the legislation was another step in the government delivering on its promise to build a stronger APS.
“At its heart, this bill and the Albanese Government’s broader APS reform agenda are about restoring the public’s trust and faith in government and its institutions,” Senator Gallagher said.
“The reforms will strengthen the APS’s core purpose and values, build the capability and expertise of the APS, and support good governance, accountability and transparency.”
The bill seeks to add a new APS Value of Stewardship, which the Minister has flagged since Labor won government last year.
It will also require an APS purpose statement, making regular capability reviews a requirement, and establishing at least one long-term insight briefing each year.
Once passed, the amendment will require annual APS Employee Census results to be published, along with an action plan responding to the results.
And interestingly, it will encourage decision-making at the lowest appropriate level.
It will also strengthen the relevant provision in the Act to make it clear that Ministers cannot direct agency heads on employment matters.
The move will hopefully avoid future cases of ministers installing political mates into high-ranking positions in the APS.
Whether it also ends the practice of governments ‘looking after’ party loyalists by ‘hiding’ or ‘retiring’ them in comfortable department jobs is yet to be seen.
The 2019 Thodey Review recommended a number of these initiatives.
Assistant Public Service Minister Patrick Gorman introduced the bill to parliament on Wednesday (14 June) morning.
It comes as the Australian Public Service Commission continues negotiations with staff and employee representatives over wages and conditions.
Community and Public Sector Union members have already voted to reject the APSC’s pay offer of 10.5 per cent over three years.
The CPSU is chasing a 20 per cent pay rise over the same period.
Meanwhile, the APSC has written to all agencies instructing them to pass on the Fair Work Commission’s recent minimum wage and award increases.
The FWC awarded a 5.75 per cent pay rise to workers on the minimum wage.
The APSC is making sure bosses know that it applies to the public sector workforce.
“Agencies should ensure that employees are paid at least the new minimum pay rates,” its missive said.
“The hourly base rate of pay for an employee must not be less than the hourly base rate payable under the award which covers that employee.”
Inconsistencies over the application of time-off-in-lieu in the APS is the latest condition being negotiated, with the government open to reforms in that area – particularly for the executive level of the service (47,000 EL1s and EL2s), where arrangements have often been loose and demands on the employees high.
The APSC’s chief negotiator Peter Riordan has acknowledged that agencies and managers apply EL time-off-in-lieu very differently across the APS.
“About 85 per cent of existing enterprise agreements usually provide EL toil at manager’s discretion, with no specific rate,” the latest APSC update states.
“Mr Riordan appreciates there is significant interest in defining what EL toil is reasonable and fair, and was keen to hear claims as we progress through bargaining.
“Unions and individual bargaining representatives presented their initial claims and Mr Riordan agreed to revisit this topic at a future date.”