COVID-19: Gaetjens and Woolcott push APS reform in open letter

By Shannon Jenkins

Monday March 23, 2020


The Australian Public Service Commissioner and the head of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet have applauded public servants for their dedication to service delivery throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

In an open letter released on Friday, commissioner Peter Woolcott and secretary Phil Gaetjens reminded the APS of Scott Morrison’s response to the independent review of the APS led by David Thodey — released in December.

They described the controversial response as “a commitment to build the capability and workforce of the APS through an ambitious reform agenda”, arguing that events like the COVID-19 outbreak “demonstrate the importance of adaptability to how we meet future challenges”.

“Now more than ever, the need for an agile and responsive public service is clear,” they wrote.

“As we continue to drive the reform agenda, the work that is currently being undertaken across the APS is already embracing the ethos behind it — an APS that works together to provide for Australians now and into the future.”

The Thodey report made 40 recommendations, but only 15 of them were accepted by the government in full. Twenty recommendations were partly accepted, two were noted, and three were rejected.

READ MORE: Thodey report: capability reviews coming, ASL cap scrap rejected

Woolcott and Gaetjens thanked public servants for continuing to support the government and communities throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are proud to lead a workforce that is so capably responding to national and global challenges while continuing to deliver the quality services Australians rely on every day,” they wrote.

“We do not yet know the full extent of COVID-19, but we do know that the APS has a vital role in advising on the health and economic response and managing the delivery of the assistance to help with recovery.

“This is what we did and are continuing to do for the recent bushfires — and we thank you for your contribution to these efforts. The impact on the Australian community of both of these events is and will be significant, and we recognise that this impact extends to the APS workforce, both personally and professionally.”

They said all departments and agencies in the APS have been reinforcing basic hygiene measures and have introduced new measures, such as social distancing, to slow the spread of the virus.

“For some departments and agencies, this will be straightforward, while for others it may cause some disruption. Your help in putting these measures in place is appreciated,” they added.

Chief operating officers of all departments and some of the largest agencies have been meeting daily to manage whole-of-government issues relating to COVID-19, including contingency planning, they noted.

They urged APS employees to stay informed via the APSC’s website, to review their own department’s information regularly, to “check in on each other”, and to speak to their managers if they have any concerns.

“Don’t hesitate to make use of the support services available to you, including your agency’s Employee Assistance Program — it’s there to be used,” they said.

READ MORE: Gordon de Brouwer: Getting on with public sector reform


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