When Australian Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd leaves his Parkes office for the last time tomorrow and returns full-time to Melbourne, there will be more than a few public servants who will be disappointed at his departure — including among them, union members.
For all the hullabaloo made over Lloyd’s outsider appointment by then prime minister Tony Abbott in 2014 — after a more than 40-year industrial relations career that led to him oft-described as having ‘IR in his blood’ — the man brought to the federal public service more than just an industrial fight and a penchant for busting red tape.
At his valedictory last night, hosted by the Institute of Public Administration Australia, Lloyd admitted he deliberately avoided overshadowing his senior APSC staff with responsibility for IR. But there were a few other areas where those who worked with him on selection boards and interdepartmental committees noticed a particular passion Lloyd exhibited that became infectious.
The first, and most visible to the broader APS community, was his enthusiasm for disability inclusion. Most visible because communicating the disability employment strategy was part his commissioner remit, but he wasn’t obligated to be as personally involved as some told The Mandarin he was.
Prior to his APSC appointment, Lloyd served on the board of three organisations related to Cerebral Palsy — inspired by the personal experience of raising his daughter Ruth, who never spoke or walked in her 16 years of life:
“From the despair and the worry of finding out the prognosis after about one year, the elation at small wins, the despair at many reversals, 40 admissions to hospital, and five near death experiences, then finally watching her pass away.
“This taught you a lot about life, I found that you acquired a deep understanding of the mysteries, the meaning and the sanctity of life and also of course you had an enormous amount of support from friends and helpers, who were very kind and made a great contribution to help Ruth and us through difficult periods.”
After that transformative experience, Lloyd says that like a lot of public servants, he decided to offer some work back to the community: “Of course, when you do those sorts of jobs it’s a privilege because you meet so many outstanding Australians. People who are the clients themselves and their carers dealing with enormous challenges everyday often with fantastic spirit, the staff who dedicate their careers to helping people with intellectual or other impairments and of course the volunteers, these organisations can’t work without extraordinary Australians who step up and volunteer to help in so many ways.”
Last night, he commended public servants who volunteer in the non-government area in their personal time. Particularly senior executives who can, through their personal understanding, assist NGOs “manoeuvre though the red tape and regulation.”
According to one of his colleagues, Lloyd brought particular understanding to his whole-of-APS disability work, recognising the additional stress that those with impairments can experience.
A cohort of Canberra-based public servants with disabilities came to listen to him one last time at his valedictory.
A personal highlight of his APSC role, Lloyd said, was sponsoring an SES Indigenous group with Professor Tom Calma. A focus of this group was using their collective skills and resilience to build Indigenous representation in the APS, and in particular in senior leadership.
These senior executives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage had an enormous talent, Lloyd said. But he wanted to see more of them in mainstream areas of public policy and delivery, not just Indigenous-specific areas.
Retention of Indigenous employees in the public service has been abysmal for some time, and not just in Canberra but across public services in Australia. When Department of Social Services secretary Kathryn Campbell, pictured above, asked Lloyd about ideas for improving Indigenous retention, he reflected on why Canberra in particular isn’t always a welcoming place for young graduates:
“They do find it very challenging,” Lloyd said. “It’s a long way from home, and particularly cold this time of year. We do need to ensure when they come here for work, that they’ve got friends, that they’re making connections in Canberra community and not feeling too isolated and alone.”
Strategies can include taking a week or two away from work, or going home to readjust in more familiar territory.
Lloyd said he had only had a passing interaction with Indigenous matters before this role, but was inspired by the people on the SES Indigenous group and the EL 1s and 2s who came to share their experiences, saying they had a commitment to working in a constructive way, without any of the tensions he had expected, and it was a privilege to work with them.
Magnanimous, especially to those missing out
The outbound commissioner’s personal generosity to anyone he works with was a common theme from all who spoke to The Mandarin on Lloyd’s tenure.
Those who haven’t had an opportunity to work directly with Lloyd might not have seen that side of him, noted Frances Adamson, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade secretary and IPAA ACT president, while thanking Lloyd for his service on behalf of the APS Secretaries Board.
Adamson, who worked closely with Lloyd both on the Secretaries Board and on IPAA events, recalled an anecdote that sums up another of Lloyd’s personal touches:
After being unsuccessful for promotion by a panel, of which Lloyd was a member, a woman received a phone call from him — one he didn’t need to make, but chose to make, Adamson notes — to encourage her on her leadership journey and not lose faith in herself after the setback.
Lloyd said it was unlikely he would take another full-time role after this one.