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Abbott will replace PS commissioner that needs to stand alone

Stephen Sedgwick
Stephen Sedgwick

The federal government has confirmed it will replace Stephen Sedgwick as the Commonwealth’s public sector commissioner, rejecting calls to axe the agency and subsume responsibilities into other departments.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced on Friday Sedgwick will finish his term as head of the Australian Public Service Commission on December 13. It’s unclear if he was seeking a new term.

The government’s Commission of Audit recommended the office of the commissioner be relocated to the Department of Employment, with the departmental secretary to take on the responsibilities. But a spokesperson for Employment Minister Eric Abetz told The Mandarin today: “The Commission of Audit recommendation was a report to government rather than a report of government.

“The government will be appointing a new public service commissioner.” A replacement will be announced “in the near future”.

The search comes as the federal government battles with multiple departments over tough pay deals, with a below-inflation agreement with the Defence Department seen as the high watermark for other public servants. New secretaries at Prime Minister and Cabinet, Finance and soon Treasury are seen as a changing of the guard and drivers of a renewed reform agenda.

Andrew Podger, who served as public sector commissioner in 2002-04, says Sedgwick’s replacement must have “the standing with ministers and the Parliament, and the respect of his or her peers — secretaries and other agency heads — to be accepted as such a leader of the service”.

Podger, now a professor of public policy at the Australian National University, says the commissioner role must stand alone.

“We need a professional head of the APS who focuses on the stewardship of the service …”

“I accept that the secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet is the operational head of the APS, helping the PM and the government to marshall the resources of the APS to support the elected government’s policies and programs. But we need a professional head of the APS who focuses on the stewardship of the service, promotes the values of our non-partisan, impartial, merit-based professional civil service institution and has sufficient powers to monitor, investigate and report publicly on the service, and to actively guide the service and its leadership on employment and personnel matters most relevant to maintaining its capacity and integrity,” he told The Mandarin.

Sedgwick, a former secretary of the Finance, Employment and Education departments, has served as commissioner since 2009. Abbott says he’s overseen significant reform in that time.

“Mr Sedgwick has had a distinguished career as a senior public servant,” he said. “I thank Mr Sedgwick for his leadership of the commission and his contribution to the Australian public service and wish him all the best for the future.”

Sedgwick was a member of the board of the Asian Development Bank for five years and prior to leading the public sector was a professor and director of the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research at the University of Melbourne. An economics graduate, he first joined the public sector in 1972.

He was awarded the Centenary Medal in January 2001, and was made an Officer in the Order of Australia in 2012. He’s a fellow of the Institute of Public Administration Australia and the Institute of Public Policy at ANU.

Author Bio

Jason Whittaker

Jason Whittaker is managing editor of The Mandarin based in Melbourne. He has written for and edited political, business and culture publications for a decade. He spent two years as editor of sister Private Media publication Crikey.