New laws limit ministerial directions to agency heads

New legislation strengthening provisions that require a ministerial hands-off approach when it comes to staffing decisions by bureaucrats has cleared the Senate.

Katy Gallagher: restoring trust in government

Public service minister Katy Gallagher says the Public Service Amendment Bill, which was passed by the Upper House last week, will help rebuild the ‘gutted’ public service and restore faith in government.

“The need for ambitious APS reform is clear, and we need reforms that will endure, that’s why we’re locking in these important changes in legislation,” she said.

“We want to restore the public’s trust and faith in government and this vital institution.”

Among other changes, the Bill makes it clear that ministers can’t direct agency heads on individual staffing decisions.

It also makes regular capability reviews mandatory, adds stewardship as a new APS value and contains measures to improve transparency and capability.

The bill also:

  • Requires the Secretaries Board to prepare a single, unifying purpose statement for the APS to be upheld and promoted by agency heads
  • Requires the Secretaries Board to request and publish regular long-term insights reports
  • Requires agencies to publish their aggregate APS employee census results, along with an action plan responding to those results

    Assistant public service minister Patrick Gorman told parliament during a second reading of the bill last year that the legislation recognised the integral role of the public service in meeting the changing needs of government and the community in the coming decades.

    “The APS needs to be honest, truly independent and empowered to provide frank and fearless advice, and to defend legality and due process,” he said.

    This Bill is a key element of the government’s APS reform agenda and comes in response to recommendations of the Thodey Review, which concluded that the APS lacked a unified purpose, was too internally focused, and had lost capability in important areas.

    The next phase of APS reform will include requirements for the PM&C Secretary and APS Commissioner to conduct merit-based appointment processes for Secretary roles.

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