Collegiality and the collaboration paradox for bureaucratic reform

Five years in the making, reform of the ACT public service legislation confronts a common paradox: cross-government collaboration is vital, but the Westminster tradition naturally creates bureaucratic silos.

The biggest changes to the ACT public service in years will create a stronger integrity framework, improve cross-agency collaboration, simplify recruitment and enable secondments with other governments, companies and not-for-profits.

Those, at least, are some of the aims of the bill to amend the ACT Public Sector Management Act 1994 that passed this month, carrying out a public service modernisation agenda devised by former federal mandarin Allan Hawke five years ago. Especially visible changes will be a senior executive service increasing executive mobility, and the return of an independent ACTPS standards commissioner.

“I think you have to make sure in this whole collaboration process that you’re clear about where accountability still lies.”

Most recently, the bill’s critics claimed it was an attempt to gag all those employed under it and force them to dob in errant colleagues for even the most minor misdemeanours. Two sections were then altered, after a legislative assembly committee and the ACT Human Rights Commission both expressed concerns that the bill would impinge on freedom of speech and unacceptably widen the scope of poor behaviour that must be reported.

As it stands, the territory’s public servants can still publicly criticise the government in their private capacity, according to public service commissioner Bronwen Overton-Clarke. The act prohibits behaviour that contravenes the ACTPS values or undermines its “integrity and good reputation” whether at work, on social media or elsewhere.

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