11 January 2023

The government will make sure public servants are kept busy this year

| Chris Johnson
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LEGO Parliament

The theatre’s in the Parliament, but policy success or failure comes down to the grunt work in the APS. Photo: Supplied.

If you thought 2022 was busy for the public service, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Anthony Albanese made a big start at pushing through his agenda upon being elected in May last year, but there is so much more he wants done in 2023.

That means a lot of work for the Australian Public Service, both in shaping the already-passed legislation into meaningful function and preparing for everything else coming down the pipeline.

One must-do for the APS will be getting on with Indigenous recognition and the Voice to Parliament referendum.

The Prime Minister desperately wants to succeed and he’ll be making sure the bureaucracy does everything it can to give it the best chance of getting up.

Winning a referendum that seeks to change the constitution is a big ask. That big ask will be demanded of the public service.

Get the question right, find a date, build awareness, prepare the poll and make it easy for Australians to vote.

Much of this work sounds political, but there will be an awful lot of supportive non-partisan research, advice and logistical preparation required of the APS.

Sometime in the second half of this year, Australians will know how they voted on the issue.

For it to pass, the referendum needs a ‘double majority’: a national majority of voters in the states and territories, and a majority of voters in a majority of the states.

For the record, the votes of people living in the ACT, the Northern Territory (and any of Australia’s external territories) count towards the national majority only.

A win on this vote is the imprimatur of the people the PM desperately wants, so there will be more than a few round-the-clock shifts inside the service as the event draws closer, particularly in the Prime Minister’s own department.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission will begin operations halfway through the year also.

The Attorney-General’s Department is consumed with making sure it does.

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The second half of last year saw the new Labor government put a lot of effort into international relations. Expect to see much more of that this year.

Relations with South-East Asia, China, the Pacific islands and beyond need more than a few ministerial visits.

The government made a good start at mending a few broken fences, but DFAT will be running on overdrive this year to ensure Australia rebuilds and maintains its influence in the region.

As always, trade relations will reign supreme, but there is much work to be done and undone on that front (read China).

The Defence Strategic Review will hopefully be completed early this year but not before a huge amount of work at the departmental level and the expectation of massive changes once it is delivered.

An extraordinary parliamentary sitting just before Christmas pushed through the energy relief package, leaving this year to ensure the grunt work is done to deliver something tangible – hello, APS.

Energy subsidy plans, safeguard mechanisms, the mandatory code of conduct for the gas industry, rewiring the nation, the electrification package … The list goes on for the work the boffins in Energy are tasked with.

And that’s in addition to the Climate Change component of the same department.

The government will have a lot more to say about climate change this year, and the APS will have a lot more work to do turning those ambitions into reality.

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Industrial relations remain unfinished business, despite Labor’s bill having passed.

Watch this space. IR policy will keep a lot of people very busy this year.

In helping the government to get its IR legislation across the line, independent ACT senator David Pocock secured a significant review mechanism for the level of Jobseeker payments.

Much will be expected of Services Australia this year across a number of fronts.

Cost of living will be the main game as far as the voting public is concerned.

With rising interest rates looking to be the norm for a while, pressure will be on the government to help ease the pressure.

And will the stage-three tax cuts actually come into effect next year?

We’ll find out this year, with a fair chance they will be delayed.

Treasury and Finance staff, as well as number crunchers across all agencies, will be preparing – and bracing – for the delivery of an interesting budget in May. But unlike last year, only one. We hope.

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