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3. Introduction

Focus of the review

In March 2010 the Australian Government released Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the Reform of Australian Government Administration (the Blueprint). Recommendation 6.2 proposed a review of the size, capability and work level standards for each level of the Senior Executive Service (SES) before any new net growth in the SES occurs, unless exceptional circumstances are agreed to by government.

Recommendation 6.2: Assess the size and role of the SES

Complete a review of the size, capability and work level standards for each level of the Senior Executive Service (SES), before any new net growth in the SES occurs.

Lead Agency: Australian Public Service Commission (APSC)

Actions to make this happen

The APSC would review the size and growth in the SES. The process would be completed by late 2010. There would be no new net growth in the SES until the review was complete and provided to Government for consideration, unless exceptional circumstances were agreed with Government.

The review would examine:

  • the rate, geographic location and causes of workforce growth
  • the likelihood of classification creep
  • causes and consequences of pay dispersion among SES and
  • the role of the SES in current classification structures.

As part of the review of APS roles and work level standards (Recommendation 6.1), the APSC would consult with Secretaries and relevant stakeholders to develop and articulate clear capability requirements and work level standards for each level of the SES.

The context for the Review is the substantially faster rate of increase in SES compared to total APS employment in the absence of effective APS-wide classification standards and strong central oversight. In particular, during the last 10 years the number of SES grew by 68 per cent whereas total APS numbers overall rose by 38 per cent.

The purpose of the Review is to establish whether this level of growth is justified and, if not, to recommend corrective action.

Review approach

The APSC was allocated budget funding in 2010-2011 to undertake the SES Review. In July 2010 the APSC appointed former departmental secretary Mr Roger Beale AO, of PricewaterhouseCoopers Australia, as an eminent person to guide, advise and oversight the Review, and engaged Mercer Australia to assist.

The APSC convened a Reference Group comprising 12 Senior SES from a range of APS agencies, chaired by Mr Beale, to act as a sounding board for key aspects of the task. The Reference Group Terms of Reference and a list of members are at Attachment A.

The SES Review was conducted in four parts:

Part 1 – Literature and data analysis identifying the drivers of growth

The first part involved the preparation of an evidence-base in the form of:

  • a literature review and an examination of the factors contributing to SES growth in the APS, including the extent to which it reflects growth in the number of government programs and changes to the nature of work performed by the SES
  • comparative analysis of State/Territory jurisdictions, including how they have managed growth of SES equivalents and arrangements for ensuring consistency in work level standards for SES classifications and
  • an examination of trends in the most comparable private sector organisations and selected overseas public sectors.

In addition, the APSC conducted a survey of 20 APS agencies that have experienced high levels of SES employment growth. Seven of these agencies were interviewed about the growth in their SES and their classification management practices. Another group of eight agencies that have had relatively stable SES employment were also interviewed, to examine any differences that may have contributed to the variable experiences with SES employment levels among agencies.

Part 2 – Development of draft work level standards

Part 2 was undertaken concurrently with Part 1. Draft

work level standards were developed by Mercer for each SES level, having regard to good practice both within the public and private sectors in Australia and internationally. The drafts were developed in close consultation with Mr Beale and the Reference Group. The draft work level standards were submitted to the Secretaries Board at its 6 October 2010 meeting, prior to undertaking Part 3.

Part 3 – Audit of SES roles against new draft work level standards

Part 3 involved an audit of a representative sample of SES roles in selected agencies against the agreed draft work level standards. The purpose of the audit, reflecting the overall aims of the review, was twofold:

  • to test whether the requirements of SES roles are consistent across the APS and continue to reflect expectations of appropriate work level standards for the SES and
  • to test the suitability and ease of application of the draft work level standards across the diversity of SES roles.

The audit examined 238 SES roles selected at random from 30 APS agencies.

The primary criterion for selecting agencies for audit was to identify organisations that have been required to make SES classification decisions over periods of significant SES growth, using data from the APSC’s APS Employment Database (APSED). A number of agencies that had little or no SES growth over the past 10 years were also included to provide comparative data against classification practices in high growth agencies.

The audits were conducted in October and November 2010 by combined teams of Mercer staff and either Reference Group agency nominees or a member of the APSC.

Part 4 – Eminent Person’s draft report to Government

This report to Government brings together the evidence and data gathered in Parts 1, 2 and 3 of the Review. A draft of the Report was provided to the Secretaries Board meeting of 1 December 2010.


Mr Beale led the review, which was undertaken by the APSC and assisted by Mercer Australia. A large number of agencies participated in the review, through the Reference Group, the survey and interviews conducted by the APSC and the audit of SES roles. A list of participating agencies is at Attachment B.

The Review would like to thank all of these agencies for their constructive contributions to the process.

Last reviewed: 
29 March 2018