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Lloyd’s lighter touch: public service commission cuts internal red tape

Australian Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd has gotten out of the rubber stamping of Senior Executive Service appointments, and is looking for other ways to reduce the compliance burden this office imposes on the rest of the service in employment matters.

Lloyd has simplified the guidance contained in the Commissioner’s Directions 2013 to “remove detail that is no longer needed” as well as make the change regarding SES selections, according to his latest newsletter.

Chapters three and five, which respectively concerned workplace diversity and safety responsibilities, have been removed. According to a circular explaining the amended directions, it seems that APSC believes there was no need for the directions to reinforce and expand on the responsibilities of agencies to their employees, which remain under legislation:

“Chapter 3 expanded on existing requirements for workplace diversity, including the requirement for agency heads to uphold the APS Employment Principles and the requirement to establish workplace diversity programs, pursuant to sections 12 and 18 of the PS Act, respectively. The requirements of the PS Act remain. …

Chapter 5 of the Commissioner’s Directions, which set out requirements related to safe workplaces, has been repealed. Agency Heads and employees continue to be subject to the relevant work health and safety legislation, including the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.”

The July 1 amendments are just the “first tranche” of an internal red tape reduction plan aimed at “increasing the flexibility agencies have to manage their workforces effectively”.

Also under the revised guidance, agencies no longer have to advertise SES vacancies in external places beyond the APS Gazette, like careers websites or national newspapers.

Another red tape reduction change allows agency heads to restrict most vacancies to current APS employees “for the reasons of cost or operational efficiency” without Lloyd’s approval. Roles at APS 1, SES and training-classification levels must still be advertised to the public, but for APS 2-6 there is discretion. According to the circular, bosses who decide to exclude the masses from applying for particular roles must:

“… have due regard to their obligations to uphold the merit principle, which requires that all eligible members of the community are given a reasonable opportunity to apply for APS jobs.”

The APSC will still be part of SES recruitment and will continue to certify that SES selections comply with the Public Service Act and the commissioner’s directions, but Lloyd doesn’t need to personally “endorse” that certification anymore.

Private sector secondments

At the same time, Lloyd has begun a private sector secondment program to send “a small group” of high-ranking staff out to Business Council of Australia member companies “as part of an overarching strategy to promote more effective engagement with the business sector”. His newsletter reports:

“This cross-APS initiative will complement programs already in train in individual agencies such as The Treasury and the Department of Industry and Science.

The secondments are an opportunity for senior public servants to gain insights into the pressures shaping Australian business. The aim of the program is to ensure that senior executives have a deeper understanding of business operations and challenges. This should strengthen the expertise of officials and the capacity to deliver programs and services more effectively.

If the placements prove to be successful, agencies will be invited to nominate talented SES for the next round of secondments. Nominations are expected to open in October. Secondments will commence in the first quarter of 2016.”

The APSC's new structure came into effect on July 1.
The APSC’s new structure came into effect on July 1.

Shared services plan coming

Lloyd’s newsletter also revealed a whole-of-government implementation plan is expected by December to guide the APS-wide push towards shared and common services:

“Our objective is to have a small number of providers delivering services to all agencies, centrally coordinated, to ensure that the benefits of scale are realised in a contestable market.”

Under the program, begun by the Secretaries Board last November and managed out of Department of Finance, agencies all have to decide if they want to be a provider or a receiver of shared services.

The APSC’s new organisational structure took effect on July 1 as well, and today its staff voted to accept a new workplace agreement offered under the strict bargaining rules they have been administering for other APS bodies since the Coalition came to power.

The APSC ‘yes’ vote follows Treasury and a handful of federal statutory bodies outside the APS that have also managed to reach new workplace agreements with staff recently, despite a marked escalation in a union campaign urging ‘no’ votes in the hope of forcing the government to abandon its wage austerity.

The minister responsible for the APS, Eric Abetz, said “genuine productivity gains and more efficient work practices” had allowed the commission to give its staff a 4.5% payrise over three years.

Author Bio

Stephen Easton

Stephen Easton is a journalist at The Mandarin based in Canberra. He's previously reported for Canberra CityNews and worked on industry titles for The Intermedia Group.