Stronger role for APS Commissioner: review panel

An independent review of Australia’s public service has released an interim report  containing a raft of proposals including boosting the role of the APS Commissioner as “head of people”.

The responsibilities of the commissioner should be clarified in legislation, the independent panel proposes, “including a reinforced role in appointment and performance management … and responsibility for professions and for leading a strengthened pro-integrity regime”.

David Thodey

Review Chair David Thodey said there was an opportunity for the commissioner to play a wider role in terms of talent development and moral in the APS.

“It’s a very important role … and we think it’s important that we highlight that critical role as the head of people for the public service”, he said.

The Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) should be “revamped”, resourced and empowered, while the role of the Secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet as “head of service”, should also be set out in legislation.

Priorities for change

The review, designed to make Australia’s 150,000-strong public service future-fit, was ordered by the government in May 2018.

Titled Priorities for Change, the update released in Canberra on Tuesday calls for measures to strengthen governance and partnerships, increase flexibility and invest in fostering talent.

Among the recommendations are regular capability reviews of all departments and agencies, the creation of common digital platforms, the professionalism of all APS roles, wider staff recruitment, centres of excellence on procurement, greater access to ministers and stronger partnerships with Indigenous groups.

It also calls for a “legislative requirement” to develop a “unifying purpose and vision” built on existing APS values.

“We think the public service should sit back and say what unites us … and that could easily be put in the legislation,” Mr Thodey said.

The report says “there are strong concerns that the APS underlying capacity has been weakened over time” and there is a risk it will struggle to provide advice and support to future governments.

Mr Thodey said he didn’t consider the APS, which covers 100 agencies and administers a budget of over $450 billion, was “broken” in its current form, but he said it needed to change and adapt to future challenges.

“There’s no question there is an imperative for it to change,” he told journalists in Canberra after the launch.

“It’s not broken today but if it doesn’t change and adapt moving forward it will be a problem.”

Not fit for purpose by 2030

 Future challenges facing the APS include rapidly changing technology, loss of public trust in institutions and a demand for personalised solutions.

“The public sector will face increased expectations for delivery of seamless, personalised services,” the report says.

Other concerns highlighted in the report are around inefficient deployment of skills, and a leaking of talent to the private sector.

It also says underinvestment in digital and data infrastructure could leave the APS saddled with an “expensive legacy system that doesn’t support good service”.

Panel member Belinda Hutchinson said the review had identified “a number of significant internal and external impediments to the APS being able to deliver to the very best of its ability”.

“There is clearly no silver bullet; no single thing which will overcome these impediments…however there are changes this review can recommend which will make life easier for everyone,” she writes on the IRAPS website. “It will not be fit for purpose in 2030 unless changes are made.”

Mr Thodey said the independent panel, which has so far received more than 700 submissions, was inviting further feedback by May 2 to help shape the panel’s final report which is due to be handed to the Prime Minister in the middle of the year.

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