25 August 2023

Department bosses meet to discuss integrity in the APS

| Chris Johnson
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Glyn Davis

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

The integrity of the Australian Public Service continues to dominate deliberations at the highest levels of the government workforce, with the Secretaries Board meeting to discuss a way forward following the damning Royal Commission into the Robodebt Scheme.

The board comprises the heads of all Federal Government departments, along with APS Commissioner Gordon de Brouwer. It is chaired by the secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Glyn Davis.

While it meets monthly to determine priorities and strategies for the sector, this month’s meeting had a strong focus on improving the APS’s standing following a string of scandals that have damaged the service’s reputation.

Dr de Brouwer presented an update on the centralised process established to inquire into alleged breaches of the Code of Conduct by APS employees, former APS employees and agency heads arising from the Royal Commission.

A communique issued following the Secretaries Board meeting noted that Professor Davis also updated the government’s response to the royal commission’s findings and recommendations.

Sixteen current and former APS employees were referred to the APS Commissioner for code of conduct scrutiny over the illegal Robodebt scheme.

READ ALSO APS reform will only work if it’s incremental, Commissioner tells parliamentary inquiry

In the sealed section of its report, the royal commission only referred current APS employees for possible sanction, but the APSC has also referred past serving public servants and even former agency heads to its centralised code of conduct mechanism.

An APSC statement released earlier this month notes that former employees were included to ensure equitable treatment.

Former employees were referred by their most recent agency heads, while former agency heads included in the list were referred by Public Service Minister Katy Gallagher following advice from Professor Davis.

“An assessment will now be undertaken to establish in each case whether there are sufficient grounds to commence an investigation into suspected breach(es) of the APS Code of Conduct,” the statement says.

The government is formulating its response to the royal commission and taking legal advice on the sealed section of its report on whether the names of those identified for possible prosecution can be revealed.

Retired former APS commissioner Stephen Sedgwick was appointed as an independent reviewer to inquire into possible breaches of the APS Code of Conduct in the Robodebt matter. Department of Health deputy secretary Penny Shakespeare is a supplementary reviewer to inquire into the conduct of former agency heads.

Former Human Services secretary Kathryn Campbell, a significant driver of Robodebt, has already resigned from her $900,000-a-year job as the government’s special AUKUS adviser.

Should any current APS employees be found to have breached the APS Code of Conduct, an independent sanctions adviser will be appointed, as required, to make recommendations to the relevant agency heads.

The Secretaries Board also received an update on the model for the government’s proposed in-house consultancy firm – to be known as Australian Government Consulting (AGC) – and the level of interest from applicants hoping to join the new team.

In its effort to reduce the massive spend on external consultants to the APS, the Federal Government is establishing an internal service.

READ ALSO Old policies and new agencies have impacted public service pay and bonuses

Focus on the development of AGC has become more intense with the revelations of giant consultancy firms breaching confidentiality agreements for their own gain and also wantonly ripping off taxpayers.

Professor Davis detailed to the board how hiring for the in-house consultancy began last month for the 38 roles to be filled in AGC.

Applications have been received for APS6 positions, as well as for Executive Levels 1 and 2, and Senior Executive appointments.

AGC is expected to be up and running by the end of the year.

Integrity in SES recruitment was also discussed at the meeting, with the board endorsing a proposal for the APSC to expand its role in SES recruitment “to support the development of an SES cohort that can provide APS-wide strategic leadership in a cohesive APS”.

“An expanded role of the APSC will help to build confidence in the integrity of the process,” the communique states.

The Secretaries Board also agreed to the SES Performance and Leadership Framework and greater openness and transparency in the publication of agency-level APS Employee Census reports.

Original Article published by Chris Johnson on Riotact.

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