20 May 2024

APS gets further independence from ministerial interference

| Chris Johnson
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Glyn Davis

As Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Glyn Davis chairs the APS Secretaries Board. Photo: University of Melbourne.

Federal government ministers will no longer be able to direct public service bosses who to employ now that an APS reform bill has passed the Senate.

Labor’s Public Service Amendment Bill passed the Senate last week, not long before Opposition Leader Peter Dutton rose in the House of Representatives to decry the increase in public service staffing numbers.

With the passing of the bill, stewardship has been added as a new Australian Public Service value. Ministers will have to butt out of staffing decisions, a regular capability review will be required in each agency and they will have to publish employee census results, and regular long-term insight reports will be commissioned to deal with strategic policy challenges.

Public Service Minister Katy Gallagher applauded the legislation’s passing, saying it was long overdue.

“The need for ambitious APS reform is clear, and we need reforms that will endure. That’s why we’re locking in these important changes in legislation,” she said.

“We want to restore the public’s trust and faith in government and this vital institution.”

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Senator Gallagher blamed the previous Coalition government for having “gutted the public service, eroded capability, and ran a shadow workforce of consultants and contractors” to the detriment of the service.

“The Liberal/National government’s damaging policies chipped away at the capabilities and the independence of the APS,” Senator Gallagher said.

“They systematically dismantled the public service for the best part of a decade. Now Labor is rebuilding the APS because we fundamentally believe in a strong public service that provides frank and fearless advice to government.”

In his budget reply speech Thursday evening, Mr Dutton criticised the government’s focus on public service jobs and said Labor had its spending priorities wrong.

The budget shows the APS has grown by about 17,000 jobs, with 12,000 allocated for the coming year. The government is converting almost 9000 external APS workers into secure, public service employees.

Mr Dutton calculated that the budget would add 36,000 extra public servants over the forward estimates.

He labelled that Canberra-centric spending.

“The government has announced an additional 36,000 public servants in this budget, costing Australian taxpayers $24 billion over four years,” the Opposition Leaders said.

“The Coalition sees areas like Defence as much more of a priority than office staff in Canberra given the precarious times in which we live and threats in our region.

“We will reprioritise Canberra-centric funding and make an additional investment in Defence to rapidly enhance the capability of our men and women in uniform.

“We’re working with leaders in defence industry to identify projects and investments that can be made in Australia to keep us safe in an uncertain world.”

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Assistant Minister for the Public Service Patrick Gorman MP said Australia demands a great deal from the public service, which should be supported.

“I am proud to be part of a government that is reinvesting in our public servants,” Mr Gorman said.

“These reforms are part of supporting the Australian Public Service to be truly world-leading, now and into the future.”

This bill is a key element of the Albanese Government’s APS reform agenda. The next phase will include requirements for the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and the APS Commissioner to conduct merit-based appointment processes for department secretary roles to “build rigour into the advice” provided to the Prime Minister on candidates.

The APS Secretaries Board met a week before the budget was delivered to discuss “government priorities, emerging risks and strategic issues”.

The board received an update on geostrategic issues from DFAT Secretary Jan Adams and Defence Secretary Greg Moriarty.

Department of Finance Secretary Jenny Wilkinson and Treasury’s Deputy Secretary Victoria Anderson provided an economic update.

Following an update from National Anti-Corruption Commissioner Paul Brereton, the board agreed to support a survey on perceptions and experiences of corruption in the Commonwealth public sector.

The Secretaries Board comprises all APS department secretaries and is chaired by PM&C Secretary Glyn Davis. It meets monthly.

Original Article published by Chris Johnson on Riotact.

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