Chapter 1 - Commissioner's overview

Last updated: 02 Dec 2013

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It was acknowledged in last year's State of the Service report that the Australian Public Service (APS) had entered a period of tight resourcing which was likely to persist for many years. The 2013 budget and subsequent announcements confirmed this picture, with a number of initiatives taken to reduce government spending, including through increased efficiency dividends. The change of government has brought new points of emphasis in government activities and the prospect of more significant changes in light of the deliberations of the Commission of Audit. Among other things, the new government's policy agenda focuses on boosting productivity and reducing red (and green) tape. As a result, while the environment continues to be one in which the twin pressures of maintaining service levels with fewer resources and responding to increasingly complex policy problems will continue, the focus on innovative approaches to enhancing productivity is likely to be renewed. This reinforces the imperative for the APS to be ‘a strategic, forward looking organisation, with an intrinsic culture of evaluation and innovation’.1

This overview highlights the particular challenges and opportunities facing the APS today, and the increasingly critical role of high-quality leadership in meeting them. Leading the APS through significant rescaling and effectively implementing machinery-of-government changes while maintaining the capacity to deliver the government's agenda and long-term capability, is the most visible and urgent of these. This will require real improvement in the capacity of the APS to manage change and boost productivity. In the latter case, we need to focus on efficiencies and in the way we interact with citizens, as well as program and organisational effectiveness. The capability reviews and agency self-assessments across a range of organisational functions suggest four key capabilities the APS can improve: workforce planning; performance management; change management; and work assignment and delegation. Intriguingly, with the exception of work assignment and delegation which was not assessed in 2011, these were also identified two years ago as capabilities that agencies wanted to improve. Investment in human capital is critical to success with all of these key capabilities. In large part we have in place the foundations to meet these challenges and exploit the opportunities offered by a new agenda.


1 Advisory Group on Reform of Australian Government Administration, Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the Reform of Australian Government Administration, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2010), p. xi.