21 March 2023

Reform and integrity, the two words always on the lips of the APS leadership right now

| Chris Johnson
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Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet Glyn Davis. Photo: University of Melbourne.

APS reform is often the first thing the hierarchy of the Australian Public Service wants to talk about when bosses gather at the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to discuss the future of the sector.

And so it was at the March meeting of the APS Secretaries Board, which put reform at the top of the agenda.

Reassessing the overuse of external consultants in federal departments formed part of the reform discussion, with the secretaries keen on tapping more into the skills already within the service.

The cross-pollination of skills across departments is being closely looked at.

“The board also received an update on establishing a potential in-house consulting model, to reduce reliance on external consultants,” the secretaries’ communique stated.

“An in-house consulting function could work in partnership with portfolios to deliver Government priorities.”

The board agreed to embrace Recommendation 6 of the 2019 Thodey Review of the public service and develop an APS purpose statement.

The board agreed to engage staff in developing a statement, with draft terms of reference being put together to invite and encourage employees to have their say.

READ ALSO Morrison appointed one of his MP mates to administer Home Affairs, without telling the minister

Secretary for Public Sector Reform Gordon de Brouwer updated the board on the design of a long-term insights briefing model.

The Government has initiated a process of developing long-term insights to bring together experts from within the public service, the community, academia, industry and the not-for-profit sector on specific longer-term policy challenges to help identify solutions.

Consultations with the various sectors will use data and experiences from Australians interacting with the APS to better develop policies to address long-term issues beyond a three-year electoral cycle.

Announcing the Government’s intention last year, Public Service Minister Katy Gallagher said the consultations would not be ordinary, run-of-the-mill meetings.

“These long-term insight briefings will utilise the deep expertise across the service,” she said.

“Secretaries Board is the right place to commission and oversee this work.”

The March meeting of the board discussed a range of potential themes for a pilot briefing to be delivered later this year.

APS Commissioner Peter Woolcott updated the board on issues being canvassed in the Royal Commission into the Robodebt Scheme.

With the royal commission due to report to the Government by 30 June this year, improving integrity in the APS has become a recurring topic of discussion after so much damning evidence to the inquiry exposed serious breakdowns in this area.

READ ALSO Robodebt a shameful policy and now we know why

Mr Woolcott also led a discussion into an APS-wide approach to flexible working, noting that it will be a key element of the service-wide workplace relations bargaining process beginning this month.

The Secretaries Board meets monthly, usually on the first Wednesday.

It is chaired by the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet Glyn Davis, with its membership comprising all department secretaries, the APS Commissioner, and the Secretary for Public Sector Reform.

Under the Public Service Act 1999, the Secretaries Board takes responsibility for:

  • The stewardship of the APS and developing and implementing strategies to improve the APS
  • Identifying strategic priorities for the APS and considering issues that affect the APS
  • Setting an annual work program
  • Directing subcommittees to develop strategies to address APS-wide issues and make recommendations to the Secretaries Board
  • Drawing together advice from senior leaders in government, business and the community
  • Collaboratively modelling leadership behaviours.

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