APS Review sets out four priorities for change


The Australian Public Service Review has published four new “priorities” for change ahead of its main findings later this year. Common pay and moving to a professional stream model are some of their ideas.

The report, released Tuesday morning, includes a broad range of interesting suggestions for reform under four priority headings.

Those priorities are: a stronger “culture, governance and leadership model”, more operational flexibility, continued investment in talent and capability, and stronger internal and external partnerships.

Proposed changes include common pay and conditions across the APS, professionalisation of roles through a move to a “professions model” with senior staff appointed to head up each professional stream, and a “stable spine” of common digital platforms and policy frameworks across the service.

How secretaries are chosen would change slightly, with a codified process to inform the prime minister’s choice of department heads, including published criteria, as well as clear criteria for evaluating performance.

The panel suggest annual external recruitment at EL and SES levels, modelled on the approach to graduates, to reduce barriers to entry from outside the APS, as well as making it easier for staff — and potential leaders in particular — to try out working in other sectors.

The APS should develop “an inspiring purpose and vision that unifies the public service”, backed up by a secretaries board with a mandate to push cross-portfolio outcomes. Departments and large agencies would be subject to regular, independent capability reviews, which would be publicly released.

The APS’s own sense of “primacy” can sometimes stand in the way of relationships with the public and ministers, the report notes. Improving mutual understanding of the roles and needs of the APS, ministers and ministerial offices, and opening up more ministerial staff positions to public servants, could improve public administration.

They also recommend formal recognition of “the distinct and important role” of ministerial advisors, including clarity of role — both in relation to ministers and public servants — and accountability.

There would also be a “revamped” APSC, empowered to fully deliver on its responsibilities, including through sustainable resourcing and strengthened in-house capability. The responsibilities of the APS Commissioner would be clarified in legislation, as ‘head of people’, including a reinforced role in appointment and performance management of Senior Executive Service officers, and responsibility for professions and for leading a strengthened pro-integrity regime. Measures would be put in place to ensure confidence in the appointment process for the commissioner, such as requiring parliamentary consultation.

“Our approach, our optimism, and our findings are reflected in one aspiration: a trusted APS, united in serving all Australians,” write the review panel.

“This aspiration forms the organising principle for the priorities for change set out in this report.”

Each of the report’s four priority areas — which build on the five big ideas review chair David Thodey set out in November — includes further initiatives.

To help strengthen the culture, governance and leadership model of the APS, the review panel recommend:

  • Common purpose and vision that unites and inspires the APS
  • Secretaries board driving outcomes across government and APS performance
  • A defined ‘head of service’ and ‘head of people’
  • Clarity and confidence in the appointment and expectations of secretaries
  • Genuine transparency and accountability for delivering outcomes for Australians

To build a flexible APS operating model:

  • Dynamic ways of working and structures to empower individuals and teams — making collaboration the norm
  • Strategic allocation of funds and resources to outcomes and essential investment
  • Networked enabling systems and common processes across the service

When it comes to investing in capability and talent development:

  • Professionalised functions across the service to deepen expertise
  • Empowered managers accountable for developing people and teams
  • Strategic recruitment, development and mobility to build the workforce of the future
  • 21st century delivery, regulation and policy capabilities
  • Policy advice that integrates social, economic, security and international perspectives

And for developing stronger internal and external relationships:

  • Seamless services and local solutions designed and delivered with states, territories and other partners
  • An open APS, accountable for sharing information and engaging widely
  • Strategic, service-wide approaches to procurement to deliver better value and outcomes for Australians
  • Ministers supported through easier access to APS expertise and insights and formal recognition of distinct role of ministerial advisors.

The challenge of implementation

The reviewers are very concerned about how any shifts will be implemented and made sustainable.

“Globally, there are more examples of failed public sector transformations than successes,” says the report.

“And there is inevitably some cynicism about the possibility of change, or about having heard it all before. Simplistic solutions will not suffice. Nor should we just turn to the private sector for the answers.”

Much of what they suggest “can be readily implemented within existing legislative and policy frameworks”, they argue.

The report points to six key requirements for successful reform:

  • Senior leadership cohort who own transformation
  • Clear prioritisation of reforms, focusing on the most important things first
  • A transformation leader with the influence to drive and coordinate delivery
  • Deep engagement across the service in developing and implementing change with service-wide investment in capability building
  • Funding, resources and support to drive transformation
  • Meaningful metrics for short and long term success of transformation

Seeking feedback

The review panel is seeking further input from public servants to ensure their ideas are on the mark.

The panel is already considering upwards of 700 submissions, 270 suggestions on the review’s digital platform, 2900 survey responses, and the insights from 37 roundtables and workshops involving more than 550 members of the public and the APS. They’ve also completed 200 one-on-one meetings with parliamentarians, community and business leaders and others who work closely with the APS, as well as meetings with current and former public sector leaders.

But they want to keep testing their ideas.

“This report presents our current view — both what we think and what we’re still exploring,” they write.

“We were not asked to publish our interim findings, but we believe it is only through testing our thinking, openly and iteratively, that we will come to the best answers.”

So they are asking you the following questions:

  • How can we strengthen each proposal?
  • What are we missing?
  • How do we ensure lasting change?

Comments can be made on the APS Review website until May 2.

Apart from Thodey, a former Telstra chief executive, the panel includes former Environment secretary Gordon de Brouwer, former University of Melbourne vice-chancellor Glyn Davis, Coca-Cola Amatil managing director Alison Watkins, ANZ’s digital banking boss Maile Carnegie and University of Sydney chancellor Belinda Hutchinson, who also chairs the board of defence contractor Thales Australia.


READ MORE: Catch up on our full coverage of the APS Review

About the author
Premium

The essential resource for effective public sector leaders

Can you afford to miss the next briefing from Mandarin Premium? Sign up today.

Get Premium Today