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APS Graduate Development Program Orientation


Speaker:Peter Woolcott AO - Australian Public Service Commissioner

What: APS Commissioner’s Address to 2021 Graduate Development Program participants

Date: 18 February 2021

Good morning, it is a pleasure to be here today.

To begin, I would like to acknowledge the Ngunnawal people who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we meet today and pay my respects to Elders both past, present and emerging.  

So - Congratulations on joining the Australian Public Service. 

You have joined an extraordinary institution – unique in its role, its breadth, and its responsibilities. 

The APS touches upon almost every aspect of the lives of Australians. We are made up of 150,000 people across 14 portfolios, more than 100 agencies and authorities, and in more than 500 locations across Australia and the globe.

But we are one service – and hold that thought throughout your career. 

We are at our best when we work together, galvanised by a clarity of purpose and bringing together our different perspectives and disciplines to issues. 

Our role is to serve the Australian community and to support the government of the day. The fundamental purpose of our Government is to keep the Australian people safe and to keep Australia prosperous.

It is good government and a professional APS which makes all the bad things less likely to occur and the good things more likely to happen.

The last twelve months have underscored the importance of the APS and the importance of good governance. 

This time last year, the people of the APS were on the ground, supporting communities recover from a long and devastating bushfire season. 

We were beginning to grapple with a global pandemic – how to best advise Government through the extraordinary, how to make sure government continued to function through COVID restrictions. All while continuing to support the wellbeing of our own workforce, and our productivity.

Throughout the last 12 months the APS was called on to demonstrate enormous flexibility, resilience and compassion – bringing our skills to bear to navigate the personal and professional challenges of COVID-19.

The reality is that you are joining the APS at a time of major and accelerated change flowing from advances in technology, societal and geopolitical volatility and the changing expectations of people.

In 2019, the Government kicked off a major reform of the APS that was stimulated by the first review of Australia’s Commonwealth public service in 40 years.  

This was the Thodey Review - it is not a quick read but I commend it to you. Similarly the Government’s response to this review, “Delivering for Australians”.

It is ultimately all about putting people at the heart of what the APS does and ensuring that we work as one enterprise. 

The reform is well underway. We are changing many of our fundamental operations: investing in APS skills and reorienting our learning model, embedding mobility through a permanent Surge Reserve, and strengthening our digital and data capabilities. 

We will be releasing shortly an APS workforce strategy which will set out how we propose ensuring a world-class APS into the future. 

In 2020, COVID-19 accelerated a number of these changes to the way we work – for the better, and I expect irrevocably. 

The APS worked as one enterprise to solve challenges and deliver essential support.

And we experienced a digital uplift, mobilised staff to areas of need, and increased levels of collaboration. 

The impact of COVID-19 continues to test the nation, including the Government and the public service. And it will continue to test you as graduates on a personal level. 

The fact that this year’s program will be conducted virtually may well complicate the opportunities to develop cross-agency relationships, and the development of some of the skills that will prepare you for your career in the APS. 

That said, the APS Graduate Development Program is an important part of the future of the APS. Through this program you will make connections and develop networks that you will draw on your whole career.  

The importance of networking

This year, there are 160 graduates from 15 APS agencies participating in this Program. 

Take every opportunity given to you.

Make the most out of your year as an APS graduate. 

In particular, I encourage you to invest in professional relationships with colleagues in your home agency, with counterparts from across the APS, and – of course – with your fellow graduates.

Not only will you develop a support network the skills you develop through the graduate program will also place you in good stead to work collaboratively. 

The Graduate program will give you opportunities to work with colleagues from across the APS, explore what it means to engage stakeholders, and develop creative solutions to issues. 


One thing I’d like to emphasise today is integrity.

As public servants, we are bound by the same set of values and a single Code of Conduct– these underpin our work and our dealings with Government and the Australian people. 

Integrity is key to our ability to serve the Australian public. It is a key driver of public trust.

And trust matters – in many ways it forms the foundation of the relationship between the APS and the community.

Trust in Australian public services, for the first time in a decade, is rising. 

There are a number of factors driving this trend, but one that each of us has complete control over, every day, is our individual integrity.

Each of us faces integrity-related questions on a regular basis and you too may encounter them early on in your career. 

Answers to some of these questions are simple – do I accept that gift without declaring it? Others are more complex – how do I assess value for money in a large procurement exercise?

Complete the APSC’s e-learning module on integrity and values – you may be surprised how the demands on you as a public servant may test your understanding of integrity. I encourage you to seek the support of your supervisor, and your networks, to help guide you as you navigate questions like these during your graduate year.


Integrity is just one aspect of the learning program that awaits you over the coming months. 

As new APS graduates, this year will provide you with unique professional development opportunities, as you learn more about the expectations, context and culture of the APS and what it means to be a public servant.

Later in the year you will be the first graduates to attend learning programs under the new APS Academy. This was announced two weeks ago by the Assistant Minister to the Minister for the Public Service, the Honourable Ben Morton MP. 

The Academy will transform the way we approach formal learning and development across the APS. 

We will work in partnership with the wider APS to focus on building your skills in what we call public-service craft. 

These inside skills will make you more influential, more effective in policy design and implementation and more equipped to synthesise input from business and communities.

As the first graduates to use this Academy, we also want to hear from your experience so we can continually improve, and offer 
fit-for-purpose training that makes a practical difference to your work. 

Of equal significance will be the learning that you gain on the job, face-to-face and in partnership with your fellow graduates, colleagues, supervisors and managers. 

We know successful learning and development often depends on the community that is built as part of the learning process.

In your graduate year, you will become part of a learning community where you will be exposed to new ideas, insights, knowledge and experience. 

The Graduate Program facilitators and coaches, supervisors and colleagues all have a role to play, but above all it is critical that you are an active participant in your own development. 

I encourage you to listen to the perspectives of others, invite and apply feedback, ask questions and practise the skills and knowledge specific to the work you will be doing in your agency. 


In closing, I would like to return briefly to my earlier observations on the role of the public service.

You are now part of this great institution. 120 years young, we are more nimble, more collaborative, and more professional than ever before.  

You will be provided plenty of challenges and opportunities and through them you will also have a chance to make a real, positive, difference to people’s lives. 

The opportunities for you are immense and your journey will be unique.   

You are the future leaders. 

Any role or path you take will ultimately impact the lives of your fellow Australians. This is both a great privilege and a great responsibility, one that must be carried out with integrity, professionalism and humility.

I welcome you to the APS and wish you all the best for your graduate year and your career. 


Last reviewed: 
24 February 2021