Minister won’t ‘dictate from on high’ for staff to return to offices

By Jackson Graham

December 16, 2021

Ben Morton in parliament
Minister for the public service Ben Morton. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Federal public service minister Ben Morton says he won’t “dictate from on high” a minimum number of days he expects APS staff to be in offices, instead wanting their place of work to be based on productivity. 

He also acknowledges flexible working arrangements could open doors to future consideration about longstanding thoughts within the Coalition about decentralising parts of the public service.

The Australian Public Service Commission has left it up to individual agencies to decide how much flexibility staff should be given to work from home, in a move that Morton supports. 

“I am not going to command or dictate from on high a minimum number of days you must be in the office. Every occupation in the APS is slightly different; it would be absurd for me to do that,” Morton told The Mandarin. 

“My expectation is that where there are productivity gains to be had, I see no reason why an employer would not encourage flexible working arrangements and agree to it.” 

But the default setting of working from home because of the pandemic should be a thing of the past, Morton says. 

“I want working from home to be a thing of the future; as it was before COVID. But I want it to occur where there is a conversation between the employee and the employer about how to best make that work for them,” he said. 

“Some occupations will require work from the office all the time [and for] some occupations in the APS, it would be much more flexible.” 

Australian public service commissioner Peter Woolcott told The Mandarin last month that flexibility would continue to be “part of the way we work in the future” but there was a strong sense “we need to return to normal”. 

The most recent APS census shows that 75% of respondents believe their requests for flexible work arrangements will receive reasonable consideration, while 13% say their employer will not reasonably contemplate their request. 

Morton acknowledges efficiencies are also driven by face-to-face interaction with work colleagues.

“I do fundamentally believe that humans are social beings,” he said. 

Asked whether a future of remote working could open up opportunities for decentralisation of government departments from major cities, Morton said this was something the government would consider. 

“My colleague Bridget McKenzie is strong on the issue of decentralisation and I think that there are new opportunities post-COVID how we can do this more,” he said. 

“I do think that we have seen a greater use of telecommunications and other remote working technologies that could facilitate not just individuals working in a more decentralised way, but entire teams being able to work together but not necessarily being centralised in a capital city location.”


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