5 May 2023

Secretary for public service reform is the APS's next commissioner

| Chris Johnson
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Dr Gordon de Brouwer

Dr Gordon de Brouwer has been named as the next Australian Public Service Commissioner. Photo: ANU.

The man tasked with reforming the Australian Public Service has just been named as its new commissioner.

Gordon de Brouwer PSM will be the next Australian Public Service Commissioner, with the imminent retirement of incumbent commissioner Peter Woolcott AO.

Mr Woolcott leaves the role on Wednesday (10 May), with Dr de Brouwer starting in his new job the very next day.

Dr de Brouwer is currently Secretary for Public Sector Reform, a new role that was created specifically with him in mind after Labor was elected to government last year.

In a statement issued this afternoon (5 May), Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Public Service Minister Katy Gallagher announced the government’s intention to recommend to Governor-General David Hurley that he appoint Dr de Brouwer to a five-year appointment commencing 11 May.

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“This follows a merit-based selection process chaired by Ms Katherine Jones PSM, Secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department,” the statement said.

“Dr de Brouwer is currently Secretary for Public Sector Reform and has over 35 years of leadership experience in public policy.

“This appointment comes at a critical juncture for the Australian Public Service as the government implements an ambitious APS Reform agenda, led by the Minister for the Public Service.

“As APS Commissioner, Dr de Brouwer will continue his work to build a stronger Australian public sector that delivers better outcomes for the community, acts as a model employer and contributes to a fairer and more inclusive Australia.”

Dr de Brouwer has previously served as secretary of the former Department of the Environment and Energy, and in senior roles at the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Treasury, the Australian National University and the Reserve Bank of Australia.

He has also conducted numerous reviews for the government, including as a member of the Thodey Review panel on reform of the APS in 2018.

Dr de Brouwer was awarded the Public Service Medal in 2011 for outstanding public service in the development of international economic policy, in particular his work to progress Australia’s agenda at the G20.

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In his valedictory speech this week, Mr Woolcott praised the work being currently undertaken by Dr de Brouwer, singling out his appointment as Secretary for Public Sector Reform and the appointment of PM&C Secretary Glyn Davis as “striking symbolism ” of the government’s ambitious reform agenda.

“… we essentially now have Thodey on steroids,” he said.

“The review’s focus on the need for a more joined up, people facing, data enabled, capable and trusted public service able to deliver effectively in a radically new operating context – is absolutely right.”

The Prime Minister and Senator Gallagher thanked Mr Woolcott for his long career in the public sector.

“We thank Mr Woolcott for his significant contribution to the APS – and the Australian people – over his four decades of public service,” they said.

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I do hope lessons are learnt from Woolcott’s time. The stream of nonsense APSC circulars which babble on and add no value were a particular low point. They all ended with the same message “ultimately your agency head will decide if this thought bubble can/will be implemented in your department”. Circular 2022/07 is a prime example. I also remind everyone of Woolcott’s failure to be clear at the outset of the pandemic APS surge workforce in 2020. Failing to clearly communicate that redeployment was voluntary was deceptive. The Australian Public Service Commissioner “will then notify relevant agency heads as to which employees or groups of employees in the agency are to undertake work elsewhere”. Nope. Calling for volunteers was what Woolcott should have said, but didn’t. Just two examples of woeful communication. Our hopes now rest with de Brouwer. He can surely do better.

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