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APS people and organisational performance

Achievements

During 2013–14, the Commission's achievements included:

  • publishing guidance for APS agencies on managing cyber-bullying of employees
  • publishing a good practice guide, APS Code of Conduct: Tips and traps in selecting external investigators
  • developing subordinate legislation and guidance material related to the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 (PID Act)
  • amending the Code of Conduct in the PS Act to ensure consistency and better alignment with the general duties of officials in the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (PGPA Act)
  • implementing a pilot of the RecruitAbility scheme (a guaranteed interview scheme for job applicants with disability), which was adopted by the Commission and 14 other APS agencies
  • working with 38 agencies to recruit 111 new Indigenous employees through the APS Indigenous Pathways to Employment Program
  • implementing the APS entry and exit survey to collect data that will allow the APS and agencies to better understand the drivers of attraction and retention, with a particular focus on diversity groups
  • completing eight agency capability reviews and publishing 10 reports
  • introducing and managing the staffing arrangements for recruitment in the APS
  • piloting a diagnostic instrument in a number of agencies to support the implementation of a high-performance framework across the APS
  • administering the 2014 APS employee census to more than 150,000 employees, with a 68% response rate.

Legislative changes

On 1 July 2013, the amended PS Act, amendments to the Public Service Regulations 1999 and the new Australian Public Service Commissioner's Directions came into effect.

To support amendments made to the PS Act and subordinate legislation, the Commission started a review in 2013–14 of the two ethics publications that agencies consult most often. The review also takes into account the effects of other recent legislative changes, such as the introduction of the PID Act and the PGPA Act, and amendments to the Privacy Act 1988.

The publication APS Values and Code of Conduct in practice: A guide for official conduct for APS employees and agency heads provides guidance to APS employees on the practical application of the APS Values framework—the Values and Code of Conduct—in both common and unusual circumstances. It also guides agencies on establishing policies and procedures that promote the APS Values and ensure compliance with the Code of Conduct. The publication will be updated to reflect the extensive revision of the APS Values that came into effect on 1 July 2013, and will incorporate feedback received from agencies (including agencies represented on the Ethics Advisory Group) and individual employees about how the guidance can be improved.

The revisions to Handling misconduct: A human resources practitioner's guide to the reporting and handling of suspected and determined breaches of the APS Code of Conduct incorporate changes to the legislative framework, as well as address a number of operational issues that have arisen since it was first published. The revisions are being made in consultation with APS agencies and the Australian Government Solicitor.

The Code of Conduct in section 13 of the PS Act was further amended with effect from 1 July 2014 as a consequence of the PGPA Act. The PGPA Act, which was passed by the parliament in 2013 but did not come into effect until 1 July 2014, contains duties of officials that are very similar to elements of the Code of Conduct and have the same effect in practice. In order to align the two sets of duties and promote understanding among employees of the standards of conduct expected of them, both the Code of Conduct in the PS Act and the PGPA Act (before it came into effect) were amended. A circular explaining the changes was released in June 2014 to assist agencies with implementation.

The Commission worked closely with the Department of Finance to advise the government on the development of these amendments and contributed to the supporting guidance issued by the department.

Ethics and integrity

The Commission provides guidance to APS agencies and employees to support good decision-making that accords with the APS Values, Employment Principles and Code of Conduct.

Ethics Advisory Service

The Ethics Advisory Service continued to provide expert advice and resources to APS employees and agencies through its telephone and email service and the Commission's website. The number and nature of inquiries to the service in 2013–14 is reported in the Commissioner's 2013–14 State of the Service Report.

The Commission also provided information sessions to agencies on topics such as managing conflicts of interest, managing workplace relationships, using social media in a private capacity, reporting misconduct, working overseas, managing information and managing Commonwealth resources.

Ethics Contact Officer Network

In May 2014, the Ethics Contact Officer Network celebrated its fifth year of operation. Ethics Contact Officers support their agencies by providing a point of contact for discussion and resources on ethical matters affecting employees in their duties, and share information, experience and good practice advice on values-based decision-making. More than 100 agencies are represented in the network, which is supported by an online forum on govdex, the Australian Government's secure, web-based collaborative space.

Meetings of the network are chaired by the Merit Protection Commissioner. Three meetings took place in 2013–14, including the first meeting of the network to be convened outside Canberra. The meetings focused on the following themes: the introduction of the PID Act; the complexities of after-hours conduct and the risks for agencies and the APS; and handling misconduct.

Integrity Agencies Group

The Integrity Agencies Group is a network of senior APS leaders working in the fields of integrity and ethical decision-making.[1]The group is chaired by the Australian Public Service Commissioner. The Merit Protection Commissioner is also a member and provides secretariat support for the group.

The focus of the group is:

  • to enhance information sharing, understanding and collaboration across the integrity framework to reinforce an integrated and tailored whole-of-APS approach
  • to recognise and value the experience and specialist knowledge of all members and their contribution to a robust, integrity-based APS.

The group met once in 2013–14.

Guidance for agencies on managing cyber-bullying of employees

Cyber-bullying—the online harassment of employees by clients or members of the public—has emerged as a risk to APS employees, associated with the increasing use of social media and other online networking tools.

While the incidence of cyber-bullying of APS employees is small, its impact can be significant for the individuals involved. It is important for this issue to be managed well across the APS so that employees who are subject to cyber-bullying receive the support they need and the problem is dealt with—and prevented—insofar as is practically possible.

In October 2013, the Commission, with assistance from the working group on cyber-bullying of APS employees by clients, released guidance to assist APS agencies in developing protocols or procedures for dealing with unacceptable online conduct by clients or members of the public aimed at APS employees.

Guidance for agencies on selecting an external investigator for APS Code of Conduct investigations

During the year, the Commission published a good practice guide titled APS Code of Conduct: Tips and traps in selecting external investigators. The guide was developed to assist APS agencies when selecting an external investigator to investigate a suspected breach of the APS Code of Conduct. It provides practical information on matters such as identifying an investigator with the right skills and capabilities to conduct an investigation. The guide was discussed with agencies at several Commission events, including meetings of the Small Agencies Forum and the Ethics Contact Officer Network.

Public Interest Disclosure Act

The PID Act came into effect on 15 January 2014. The new legislation creates a public interest disclosure scheme that promotes integrity and accountability in the Australian public sector. The Commission worked with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman (which is responsible for promoting awareness and understanding of the PID Act) to develop subordinate legislation and guidance material for APS employees about the PID Act and its interaction with the misconduct provisions of the PS Act.

A meeting of the Ethics Contact Officer Network was convened on 18 November 2013 in Canberra to promote understanding of the PID Act among APS agencies. Speakers from the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman and the Australian Government Solicitor provided a comprehensive overview of the PID Act and its implications for APS agencies.

Whistleblower reports and other allegations

The whistleblower scheme in section 16 of the PS Act was repealed on 15 January 2014 when the PID Act came into effect. Under the scheme, APS employees could report alleged breaches of the Code of Conduct to their agency head or a person authorised by the agency head. If an employee was not satisfied with the agency's response to their report, or in other circumstances (for example, where it was not appropriate for the agency head to deal with the matter), they could make a whistleblower report to the Australian Public Service Commissioner or the Merit Protection Commissioner. Transitional provisions allow for cases lodged with either of the Commissioners before 15 January 2014 to be completed.

Both Commissioners were supported in this function by staff in the Commission's Ethics Group.

In 2013–14, the Australian Public Service Commissioner received three reports. Two reports were carried over from 2012–13. Table 3 shows the number of cases received and finalised.

The reports from public servants concerned allegations of bullying, procedural defects in staffing actions, conflicts of interest in the engagement of a contractor, misuse of public money and nepotism in a staff selection process.

Four cases were finalised during 2013–14 and one remained on hand at the end of the year. Table 3 also shows the action taken by the Commissioner in response to the reports. Three of these reports were investigated, resulting in a finding, in each case, that there was insufficient evidence to warrant recommending a misconduct investigation. In the other case, the employee was advised to refer the matter to the relevant agency head.

The Commissioner also considered 14 reports of allegations against agency heads made by APS employees or members of the public, including three carried over from 2012–13. Eleven cases were finalised in 2013–14, including the three on hand at the start of the year. None of these finalised cases resulted in an investigation for suspected misconduct. Three reports were on hand at the end of the year.

The Merit Protection Commissioner's annual report provides information on her whistleblower caseload.

Table 3: Whistleblower reports received by the Australian Public Service Commissioner, 2012–13 and 2013–14
2012–13 2013–14
Number of reports
On hand at start of reporting period 8 2
Received 8 3
Finalised 14 4
On hand at end of reporting period 2 1
Source of reports
Current APS employees 3 4
Former APS employees 2 1
Action by Commissioner
Referred to agency head for consideration 2 1
Investigated under whistleblowing powers 7 3
Invalid or referred elsewhere 5 0

Parliamentary committee inquiries—submissions and hearings

The Commission gave evidence to several parliamentary inquiries during the year.

Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit—inquiry into the PGPA Act rules development

On 13 February 2014, the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit resolved to inquire into the process for the development of the rules (including their impact and purpose) by the Department of Finance under the PGPA Act in the context of the broader Public Management Reform Agenda.

The Commissioner lodged a submission with the committee in March 2014, and appeared before it in person on 7 April 2014. The Commissioner welcomed the new legislation as a principles-based governance framework for the management of Commonwealth resources while expressing a reservation that the general duties of officials in the PGPA Act and the Code of Conduct in the PS Act had the potential to create confusion in the minds of APS employees about the expected behaviour and professional standards.

The committee reported in May 2014, recommending that the Commission and the Department of Finance work together to draft the necessary amendments to the PGPA Act and the PS Act to remove overlaps and reduce potential confusion from the dual coverage, and that amendment proposals be put to the parliament.

Amendments to both Acts for this purpose were passed by the parliament in late June 2014 and came into effect on 1 July 2014.

Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee—inquiry into the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Amendment Bill

On 29 May 2014, the Senate referred the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Amendment Bill 2014 to the Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee for inquiry and report.

The Commissioner made a submission to the inquiry on 4 June 2014, advising of the collaborative work undertaken by the Commission and the Department of Finance on proposed amendments to the PGPA Act and the PS Act.

Merit protection and other services

The Merit Protection Commissioner's functions are set out in section 50 of the PS Act. The Merit Protection Commissioner and the Public Service Commissioner have a memorandum of understanding for the provision of staff necessary to assist the former in performing her statutory functions. As a result, the costs of the office of the Merit Protection Commissioner are included in the Public Service Commissioner's financial statements.

Support for the Merit Protection Commissioner's review and fee-for-service functions is provided by staff in the Ethics Group and the Employment Policy and Participation Group in the Commission's Sydney office. The Merit Protection Commissioner's delegates for her review functions are largely based in the Ethics Group in Canberra, which also provides coordination and policy support.

A report on the performance of these functions is contained in the Merit Protection Commissioner's annual report, which follows the appendices to this report.

Strategic leadership

The Commission provides support to a number of high-level APS strategic leadership groups, including the Secretaries Board and the APS200. The Commission also supports Australia's participation in cross-jurisdictional and international forums.

Secretaries Board

The Secretaries Board continued to meet in 2013–14 and considered a range of whole-of-APS topics, including seemingly intractable issues in the APS, Diversity Council initiatives, unscheduled absences, and APS leadership and development.

APS200

The APS200 comprises heads and deputy heads of departments and agencies that employ staff under the PS Act. The members of this senior leadership group aim to build a shared understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing the APS, and a shared commitment to adopting long-term, strategic and collaborative approaches for responding to those challenges.

In 2013–14, the Commission facilitated four APS200 events in partnership with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet:

  • a presentation and discussion on behavioural economics and nudge theory, led by Dr Rory Gallagher, Behavioural Insights Unit, UK Government, and the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet (August 2013)
  • a workshop discussion on enhancing productivity (November 2013)
  • a presentation on deregulation and regulatory performance by Professor Malcolm Sparrow, Harvard Kennedy School (February 2014)
  • a workshop on Indigenous affairs, with presentations from Ms Josephine Cashman, Indigenous Advisory Council; Senator the Hon Nigel Scullion, Minister for Indigenous Affairs; and Ms Liza Carroll, Associate Secretary, Indigenous Affairs, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (May 2014).

Secretaries' performance framework

The Commission continued to work with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to refresh the performance management framework for secretaries. Revisions to the framework in 2013–14 included a new provision for assessing progress against the government's deregulation agenda.

Public Service Commissioners' Conference

The Public Service Commissioners' Conference is held twice a year. The conference is a cross-jurisdictional forum for Commonwealth, state and territory public service commissioners and New Zealand's State Services Commissioner. The conference provides opportunities for commissioners to discuss contemporary challenges in public administration. It also serves as a forum for exchanging information and sharing experience. The Commission provides secretariat and research support to the conference.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

The Commission continued to support the work of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), particularly Australia's participation in the OECD Public Governance Committee. In 2013–14, Ms Stephanie Foster, Deputy Public Service Commissioner, became Australia's new delegate to the committee. OECD meetings are now typically held by videoconference and participation is strategically prioritised.

The Commission provided information to support the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet's representatives at the OECD Global Forum on Public Governance—Women's Leadership in Public Life: Fostering Diversity for Inclusive Growth (2–4 April 2014). The Commission also advised the OECD of Australia's priorities in the development of the Public Governance Committee's program of work and budget for 2015–16.

The Commission regularly provides Australian responses to a range of OECD requests for information or validation of Australian data. In 2013–14, this included:

  • working collaboratively with other agencies to coordinate Australia's comments on the OECD draft of the 2013 edition of Government at a glance
  • completing the OECD survey on managing budgetary constraints.

The Commission provided input to ad hoc requests from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), including advice on priorities to be considered for the OECD's Medium Term Orientations Survey in 2013. The Commission also assisted DFAT with its research into Australia's involvement with the OECD by arranging access to Commission records for a consultant engaged by DFAT.

Public sector reform—sharing lessons learned

The Commissioner took part in the Canada–Australia Public Policy Retreat on 23–24 January 2014 in Sydney and explored with his Canadian counterpart, Ms Yaprak Baltacıoğlu, Secretary of the Treasury Board, matters related to public service renewal.

In March 2014, the Commissioner accepted an invitation from the Western Australian Public Accounts Committee to discuss public sector management systems, especially in relation to the management arrangements for secretaries.

Pacific Public Service Commissioners' Conference

During 2013–14, the Merit Protection Commissioner, Ms Annwyn Godwin, represented the Commissioner at the Pacific Public Service Commissioners' Conference as an observer. This was a transitional year, in which the operation of the conference was passed from the Commission to the Pacific Institute and Centre for Public Administration located in Fiji. Ms Godwin also met with officials when they visited Canberra in May 2014.

The theme for the conference, held in Samoa in September 2013, was ‘Public service role in social, economic, cultural and institutional change within the Pacific'.

Ms Godwin continued to support the forum between conferences through participation in two working groups: the Terms of Reference group, which has a particular emphasis on the future focus of the conference and governance arrangements, and a second group, which was established to develop a report on the state of public services in Pacific nations.

Workforce planning framework

During 2013–14, the Commission continued to work in partnership with agencies to develop and implement better practice workforce planning in the APS.

The APS-wide workforce planning framework provides the foundation for APS workforce planning practice. The framework sets out a consistent method for workforce planning and reporting across the APS. It has three core components:

  • a practical workforce planning guide, with supporting tools and templates
  • a job family model (based on occupational groups) that the APS can use to map and understand its workforce
  • a strategic workforce analysis and reporting guide.

Drawing on these components, the Commission offers training to agencies that provides a practical introduction to using the workforce planning tools and techniques. The training programs help build organisational capability in the practice of workforce planning and are being delivered in response to agency demand. During 2013–14, four two-day workforce planning courses were conducted for 61 participants.

The Commission continued to manage the APS Workforce Planning Working Group, which has representatives from 17 agencies. The objectives of the group are to identify common issues and share workforce planning best practice. During the year, 33 agencies were engaged online through the group.

The process of evaluating and refreshing the elements of the workforce planning framework commenced during 2013–14, with an initial focus on the job family model. The evaluation of the job family model will be completed in the next financial year.

APS recruitment and selection services

In 2013–14, the Commission continued to provide recruitment and selection services to APS agencies. These services are provided on behalf of the Public Service Commissioner and the Merit Protection Commissioner; services completed on behalf of the Merit Protection Commissioner are detailed in her annual report, which follows the appendices to this report. APS recruitment and selection services are a national function managed through the Commission's New South Wales regional office. The services include activities related to the recruitment and selection of staff and the provision of advice that promotes contemporary best practice and ensures that legislative requirements are met.

Agency demand for fee-for-service recruitment support decreased markedly in 2013–14, due to the reduction in recruitment activity across the APS and the interim recruitment arrangements that came into effect on 5 November 2013.

A total of 249 employment-related requests were received from 32 agencies in 2013–14, compared with 398 requests from 38 agencies in 2012–13. Requests included the convening of independent selection committees, the provision of panel members for selection advisory committees and scribing assignments. During 2013–14, 242 jobs were completed. The completed jobs included requests lodged in 2012–13 and completed in 2013–14, and those lodged and completed in 2013–14. A further 25 requests were lodged but withdrawn by the agencies prior to completion. Most of the withdrawals were due to the interim APS recruitment arrangements.

Workplace equity and diversity

The Commission provides support to the APS Diversity Council and develops and implements policies and programs aimed at promoting workplace equity and diversity.

The APS has a longstanding commitment to build and maintain a workforce that reflects the diversity of the broader Australian community. A diverse workforce is better placed to understand the challenges and opportunities facing all Australians and to respond more effectively to the needs of the government and the Australian people. In addition, a workforce with differences in skills, experiences and perspectives encourages more creative thinking and innovative problem-solving.

APS Diversity Council

The APS Diversity Council, established in 2012, provides strategic leadership on diversity issues and takes a leadership role in motivating improvements in diversity outcomes. Dr Ian Watt AO, Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, serves as chair of the council, and Mr Stephen Sedgwick AO, Australian Public Service Commissioner, serves as deputy chair. Membership comprises some nine other secretaries and agency heads. Support for the council is provided by the Commission.

During 2013–14, the council met three times. Members endorsed a range of strategies to maintain the momentum achieved in 2012–13 and to assist agencies to improve employment outcomes for diversity groups in the challenging context of a sustained period of curbed recruitment activity and significant APS downsizing.

Diversity Council initiatives endorsed in 2013–14 included the establishment of formal networks of SES-level Indigenous and Disability Champions, a range of initiatives to improve ICT accessibility for APS employees with disability, and an APS Diversity Awards scheme.

Workplace diversity programs

The Commission continued its analysis of agency compliance and practices regarding workplace diversity programs and identifying and promoting best practice. Later in 2014 the Commission will publish a guide on diversity in the APS, which will provide information, insights and practical tools to assist agencies in developing a workplace diversity program and supporting a diverse workforce.

Chapter 7 of the Commissioner's Directions requires each agency head to ensure that measures are put in place to collect certain personal information from each employee of the agency and to provide that information to the Commissioner. Given the sensitive nature of this data, agency measures must allow employees a ‘choose not to give this information’ option (which can also be reported).

Improving the collection of diversity data will assist agencies and the Commission to:

  • better understand the nature of the APS workforce
  • provide more targeted training, advice and support
  • better identify and implement initiatives that assist in attracting, recruiting and retaining employees
  • ensure agencies are building and sustaining a diverse workforce
  • provide greater focus on improving workplace culture and social inclusion.

Employment of people with disability

The implementation of the as one—Australian Public Service Disability Employment Strategy continued to be the focal point for efforts to improve the attraction, recruitment and retention of people with disability in the APS. The strategy has 19 initiatives, including the RecruitAbility scheme and mental health guidance for managers. Progress under the strategy is reported on the Commission's website.

The Disability Champions Network was established under the auspices of the Diversity Council and held its first meeting in June 2014. The network aims to bring together senior-level advocates to focus on disability employment matters of strategic and APS-wide importance.

The Commission continued the pilot of the RecruitAbility scheme launched in June 2013, which was adopted by the Commission and 14 other APS agencies. The scheme progresses applicants with disability to further assessment stages in an APS recruitment process, if they apply under the scheme and meet the minimum requirements for the position.

The following agencies advertised positions under RecruitAbility

in 2013–14:

  • Attorney-General's Department
  • Australian Public Service Commission
  • Australian Taxation Office
  • Comcare
  • CrimTrac
  • Department of Defence
  • Department of Education
  • Department of Employment
  • Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
  • Department of Health
  • Department of Human Services
  • Department of Social Services
  • Department of Veterans' Affairs
  • Fair Work Ombudsman
  • National Disability Insurance Agency.

In addition to advertising a range of vacancies under the scheme, 11 of these agencies have applied the scheme to their 2015 graduate intake. The pilot has been affected by the implementation of the government's interim APS recruitment arrangements, resulting in a significant reduction in the number of vacancies advertised. An evaluation of the scheme is scheduled for the first half of 2015.

The Commission and Comcare jointly developed Working together: Promoting mental health and wellbeing at work, a guide for managers to promote mental health in the workplace and assist employees with mental illness. The guide was launched on 24 July 2013, and has since received more than 44,000 unique website page views. It is primarily designed to be used as an online resource by managers seeking clear and concise information in a factsheet format and is available on the Commission's website.

APS Indigenous Employment Strategy

The Commission continued its implementation of the APS Indigenous Employment Strategy 2012–16. The strategy includes the APS Indigenous Pathways to Employment Program (discussed in more detail below), which assists agencies to recruit Indigenous employees. The strategy is also focused on the retention of Indigenous employees, including through career development and support. The APS-wide exit and entry survey will provide ongoing APS-wide data on the factors that contribute to Indigenous employees leaving the APS in greater numbers and earlier in their careers, relative to their non-Indigenous colleagues.

Other initiatives under the strategy include the APS Indigenous Employment Human Resources Forum, which meets quarterly to explore issues relevant to Indigenous employment in the APS, and the Indigenous Liaison Officer network, which operates to provide culturally sensitive support and advice to agencies, Indigenous employees and Indigenous job seekers.

An Indigenous cultural capability framework is being developed to increase the cultural capability and understanding of leaders, managers and employees across the APS.

Indigenous employment

In 2013–14, the Commission worked in partnership with 38 agencies to provide employment for 111 Indigenous Australians through the APS Indigenous Pathways to Employment Program. The program provided entry-level opportunities for Indigenous trainees (51), cadets (31) and graduates (29), with individuals commencing employment from November 2013.

A graduation ceremony was held in December 2013 to acknowledge and celebrate the achievements of 95 Indigenous trainees, cadets and graduates who successfully completed their programs during the year. Senator the Hon Nigel Scullion, Minister for Indigenous Affairs, joined the Commissioner to present certificates to those graduating. As part of the event, trainees and cadets were invited to share stories about their personal pathway into the APS, which for some was a life-changing opportunity.

The Commission continued to support Indigenous employees through a range of networking opportunities and provision of advice about workplace issues and strategies.

During the year, the Commission held 10 Indigenous APS employee forums across Australia, building on the momentum of last year's initial series with an increase in attendee numbers (281 attendees, an increase of 47). The forums are designed to reinvigorate cross-agency networking among Indigenous employees. They also provide an opportunity to consult with Indigenous employees across Australia to guide the development of an APS cultural capability framework and potential strategies to support the retention and career development of Indigenous employees. A member of the Diversity Council's Indigenous Champions Network participated in each forum to seek feedback and demonstrate the commitment to Indigenous employment at the highest echelons of the APS.

The Indigenous Liaison Officer also undertook pastoral care visits with all members of the 2014 APS Indigenous Traineeship Program cohort, with the aim of assisting them to transition into a career in the APS and increasing retention rates.

The Commission continued to support agencies to refine their Indigenous employment strategies and coordinate opportunities for agencies to collaborate and share ideas about what works to improve Indigenous employment. Activities include quarterly Indigenous employment forums and regular meetings between Indigenous Liaison Officers and human resource managers responsible for Indigenous employment.

Capability reviews

Since the inception of the capability review program in 2011, 20 reviews have been completed. Of those, eight reviews were completed and 10 reports were published during 2013–14. In response to findings in their reviews, agencies are implementing a range of measures to lift capability, encourage innovation and realise efficiencies, as detailed in their post-review action plans. So far, 15 plans have been agreed by the Commissioner and relevant agency heads, six of these in 2013–14.

Collectively, the completed reviews highlight systemic strengths and areas for improvement across the APS. Agencies' strengths include their responsiveness to changes in policy and direction, among other qualities. Areas requiring improvement included dealing with the ongoing challenges agencies face with risk, change and performance management.

The Commission is working with agencies to put in place capability solutions and is supporting the transfer of these solutions between agencies to facilitate capability improvement across the APS. A whole-of-APS Capability Improvement Network has been established, bringing together representatives from agencies reviewed, those that are in the process of being reviewed and others that are scheduled for review in the near future. Solutions to capability gaps that exist or are being implemented in one agency are being shared with other agencies on the principle of ‘build once, use many times’.

Sharing the experience of the program has become an important workstream for the Commission. During the year, assistance was provided to five smaller APS agencies to support internal self-assessments using the Commission's review model. The program also supported the Indonesian Ministry of Education and Culture in undertaking a pilot capability review.

In 2014–15, the program will continue to pursue its schedule of agency ‘health checks’. Health checks are conducted one to two years after the initial capability review to assess the extent to which an agency has made progress towards, or has addressed, the priority areas identified in its capability review.

Performance framework project

Following on from the release of the report Strengthening the performance framework: Towards a high performing Australian Public Service in May 2013, the Commission partnered with the University of New South Wales (Canberra) and the University of Canberra to develop a diagnostic instrument to support the implementation of a high-performance framework. The framework will enable APS agencies to achieve high performance by maximising their performance management systems. Based on research that found that the achievement of high performance is affected more by the implementation of a performance system, rather than by the system design itself, the diagnostic process has been developed to enhance APS agency outcomes.

To facilitate the achievement of high performance, the diagnostic process has been designed to:

  • gauge the extent to which an agency's practices and people capabilities align with those that have been demonstrated to positively affect performance (high-performance principles)
  • assist APS agencies to assess their baseline condition and identify areas of strength and weakness and the actions required to achieve more consistent and better practice
  • use quantitative and qualitative information to identify key areas requiring improvement and provide suggestions for actions.

The diagnostic framework used to guide the process incorporates both primary and secondary questions to encourage a line of inquiry and reflection on whether an agency's current processes are supporting the development of high performance. The use of the diagnostic process should, over time, enable an agency to make an assessment of year-on-year improvement.

The diagnostic instrument was piloted across several APS agencies and a final package will be released during 2014–15.

Policy advice and employment services

The Commission provides a range of policy advice and employment services to APS agencies to help them meet their legislative responsibilities, including on matters covered by the PS Act, and to promote positive, better practice approaches to addressing issues in the workplace.

Senior Executive Service employment

In 2013–14, 89 SES selection exercises were submitted for the Commissioner's consideration, all of which were endorsed (199 were submitted and endorsed in 2012–13). There were 181 retirements with an incentive under section 37 of the PS Act, compared with 52 in the previous year. The section 37 cases were spread across 30 agencies (28 in 2012–13). The reduction in SES selection exercises conducted and the increase in the number of section 37 retirements reflects the government's commitment to reducing the size of the public service, including the SES.

The Commission continues to administer an SES redeployment register to assist displaced SES employees in finding alternative placements in the APS. Agencies are required to consult the redeployment register before taking other action to fill vacant positions.

Before an SES employee's employment can be terminated under section 29 of the PS Act, the agency must request the Commissioner to issue a certificate under section 38 of the PS Act, certifying that the Commissioner is satisfied that the requirements of the Commissioner's Directions have been met and the termination is in the public interest. The Commissioner received two requests during 2013–14 and issued a section 38 certificate on both occasions.

The Commission also administers the cap on the number of SES positions in the APS. The number of positions continues to trend downwards, falling from 2,993 to 2,898 over the course of the year. There has been a similar reduction in the number of requests from agencies to increase their cap limits due to exceptional circumstances.

The cap is due to continue until December 2016, subject to an evaluation of its operation by the Commission in 2014. This review is now underway.

Merit-based selection of APS agency heads and statutory office holders

The publication Merit and transparency: Merit-based selection of APS agency heads and APS statutory office holders sets out the government's policy and procedural guidelines for transparent and merit-based processes to be applied in the selection of most APS agency heads and other statutory office holders working in, or in conjunction with, APS agencies.

In relation to roles covered by the merit and transparency policy, there were nine selection processes finalised in 2013–14, in which the Commissioner either participated as a member of the selection committee or was represented on the committee and subsequently endorsed the selection report, as required by the policy.

Senior Executive Service advisory service

The Commission's SES Adviser is a senior member of the Commission who provides SES employees across the APS with access to confidential advice on a range of sensitive employment matters. In 2013–14, the SES Adviser responded to 71 such queries, almost double the number of queries received in 2012–13 (37).

APS redeployment policy and register

The APS-wide redeployment register was established in May 2011 to assist employees who have been advised that they are, or are likely to be, excess to the requirements of their agency.

At 30 June 2014, there were 380 employees willing to be redeployed within the APS on the register. During 2013–14, 275 employees were redeployed within the APS.

APSjobs and the electronic Public Service Gazette

APSjobs is an online employment portal for the APS that offers a simple, user-friendly search system for job seekers and other users. It notifies the public of vacancies (employment opportunities), recruitment outcomes and other APS employment decisions.

Throughout 2013–14, enhancements were made to the APSjobs employment portal to improve the system for both job seekers and agency users.

Fifty editions of the Public Service Gazette were published on the APSjobs portal in 2013–14.

In 2013–14, the number of notices lodged on APSjobs decreased by 44.09% compared to the number lodged in 2012–13 (see Table 4). The decrease was primarily due to the introduction of the interim recruitment arrangements for the APS.

Table 4: Number of gazette notices lodged, 2010–11 to 2013–14
Number of notices lodged Percentage change on previous year
2010–11 46,163 20.82
2011–12 42,254 –8.47
2012–13 30,829 –27.40
2013–14 17,230 –44.09

Machinery of government changes

The new Administrative Arrangements Order made by the Governor-General on 18 September 2013 involved wide-ranging changes to the structure and functions of a number of APS departments and agencies. The most significant changes included the following:

  • Three departments—the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR), the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism (DRET) and the Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport (DRALGAS)—were abolished and a further nine departments were renamed.
  • One of the abolished departments (DEEWR) was split into two newly established departments—the Department of Education and the Department of Employment.
  • Functions of the former DRET were largely moved to the renamed Department of Industry, while functions of the former DRALGAS were split between the renamed Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, the Attorney-General's Department and the renamed Department of Health.
  • Indigenous policy, program and service delivery functions previously performed in a number of departments were consolidated into the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
  • The Australian Agency for International Development was integrated into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
  • Settlement services for migrants and humanitarian entrants moved from the former Department of Immigration and Citizenship to the renamed Department of Social Services, which also assumed responsibility for ageing and aged care and all programs for people with disability, as well as all income support arrangements for working-age people.
  • Climate change policies and programs moved from the Department of Industry to the renamed Department of the Environment, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade assumed responsibility for Australia's participation in climate change negotiations.
  • Responsibility for customs and border control policy moved from the Attorney-General's portfolio to the renamed Immigration and Border Protection portfolio.

The amendments to the Administrative Arrangements Order resulted in 36 separate machinery of government changes, which affected more than 13,000 employees. The Commission's work in supporting agencies through these changes is discussed on page XX.

In addition to these changes, four new APS agencies were established during 2014: the National Disability Insurance Agency, the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency, the National Portrait Gallery, and the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency. The Family Court and Federal Circuit Court were also merged into a single agency.

Interim recruitment arrangements

On 31 October 2013, the Australian Government announced interim recruitment arrangements for the APS, as part of its commitment to reduce the size of the public service. The Commission was tasked with developing and implementing the new arrangements to control recruitment, maximise the use of existing APS employees, minimise redundancies and avoid new hires wherever possible.

The interim recruitment arrangements were given effect from 5 November 2013 through amendments to the Australian Public Service Commissioner's Directions 2013, which require agencies to gain the Commissioner's approval before notifying any vacancies in the Public Service Gazette and restrict eligibility to apply for vacancies to existing APS employees only, except where special circumstances exist.

In implementing the new arrangements, the Commission provided policy and process guidance to support agencies in meeting their responsibilities. This guidance, while making the redeployment of displaced APS employees the first priority when filling vacancies, recognises the importance of maintaining viable front-line services and preserving the skills required to meet the government's priorities.

To ensure the longer term capability of the APS, the 2014 intake for graduate and entry-level recruitment, including targeted Indigenous entry-level programs, continued with the Commissioner's approval.

Data analysis and benchmarking

The Commission, through its statistical analysis and research capability, advises the APS and its leadership on emerging workforce challenges and seeks opportunities to benchmark APS performance against comparable overseas jurisdictions.

APS Statistical Bulletin

The Commission publishes the APS Statistical Bulletin as part of the State of the Service Report series of publications. The bulletin provides a snapshot of APS-wide staffing at 30 June each year and of staff movements during the year. It contains information useful to agencies in benchmarking themselves against APS-wide trends; for example, it provides summary data for the past 15 years. The bulletin is distributed to all APS agency heads, state and territory public service commissioners, New Zealand's State Services Commissioner and leading public and tertiary education libraries. It is available in hard copy and from the Commission's website.

APS Employment Database

The Commission collects and analyses workforce statistics to assist in identifying significant workforce challenges for the APS and helps agencies to develop and benchmark their workforce planning strategies. The Commission maintains the APS Employment Database (APSED), which is the central information source on trends in APS employment.

APSED is an important tool for ensuring cross-service accountability, especially for the State of the Service Report, and is also used extensively for research. During 2013–14, APSED data was used for the Australian National Audit Office's audit report Indigenous employment in Australian Government entities, and was also used to provide information to the media and government on recent changes to the structure of the APS.

A selection of summary tables of data as at 31 December 2013 is available on the Commission's website. Detailed tables are published in the APS Statistical Bulletin.

APSED internet interface

The APSED internet interface (APSEDii) promotes better practice in workforce planning and benchmarking. It enables the public to produce custom tables from a limited-variable dataset that is used to provide APS profile data in the State of the Service Report. They can also produce cross-tabulations and download the results for further analysis. In 2013–14, more than 4,500 queries were run.

Nearly 100 agency users in some 34 agencies have registered to access more detailed information on APSEDii through a secure logon and password procedure. These users can examine unit record information for employees in their agency to improve workforce planning and enhance data quality.

Development work is underway to add new metrics to APSEDii and additional dashboard functionality. The new features are expected to be implemented by November 2014.

State of the Service Report

Under section 44(2) of the PS Act, the Commissioner is required to report annually on the state of the APS. The State of the Service Report 2012–13 was tabled in parliament in November 2013. The report provided analysis centred on three themes: leadership and culture, human capital management and organisational effectiveness.

The report is an authoritative source of data and information on the changing workforce trends of the APS. It is frequently cited by public policy academics nationally and internationally, and is an important reference for the APS more generally, including departmental executives, human resource managers and Commission staff.

The report noted machinery of government changes and built on work developing the employee engagement model. It contained a level of description, analysis and interpretation above that provided in previous reports. Areas of specific focus included leadership, the APS in the Asian century, flexible work, diversity and organisational capability. The report is available from the Commission's website.

Data sources

In compiling the State of the Service Report 2012–13, the Commission drew on a wide range of data sources. These included the Commission's own research and databases (particularly APSED), published and unpublished material from other agencies, Australian National Audit Office reports and, where available, comparable data from other Australian and international jurisdictions.

The Commission also conducted two surveys that contributed to the report:

  • The agency survey provided information on a wide range of management and capability issues in agencies with 20 or more APS employees. The Commission conducted the agency survey online and achieved a response rate of 100% from the 103 agencies in scope.
  • The employee census (sent to all APS employees) provided data on attitudes to, and understanding of, a variety of issues, including work–life balance, job satisfaction, working with external stakeholders, the APS Values and Code of Conduct, diversity, individual performance management, and harassment and bullying. The 2013 census was the Commission's second one, and it achieved a response rate of 66% or 102,219 respondents.

Aggregated and de-identified results from the APS employee census are provided to individual agencies for internal reporting purposes, along with a range of additional research products.

Evaluation

Evaluation activities have consistently demonstrated that readers find the State of the Service Report a valuable, useful and interesting resource. As such, and given the consistently positive general feedback about the State of the Service Report, a comprehensive evaluation of the report and other research and evaluation products will be undertaken in 2014–15. The evaluation will examine the usefulness of these products to agencies and any avenues for improvement. It will also identify how employee census and other survey results are used and identify possible changes to the census that could add value to the APS.

Planning for next report

The three themes for the 2013–14 State of the Service Report will be organisational efficiency, effectiveness and evaluation. State of the Service reports will continue to be an important evidence source for assessing how well the APS is performing in its changing environment.

Specific areas of investigation for the 2013–14 report include building leadership capability, evaluating human capital, enhancing innovation, and managing risk and change.

Continuing on from previous years, an employee census was conducted in 2014, with more than 150,000 APS employees invited to participate. The census was conducted over one month and achieved a response rate of 68% or 99,392 respondents. High participation rates enable the collection of more reliable data for smaller demographic groups (such as Indigenous employees, employees with disability and SES employees) and more reliable reporting at and within the agency level.

Human capital research activities

The Commission produced almost 150 workforce research products in 2013–14, including 123 research notes and 10 issues of the Human Capital Matters digest. The findings of human capital research conducted by the Commission and other agencies were presented at two research forums hosted by the Commission. Approximately 100 APS participants attended each forum.

The Commission conducted a range of human capital management survey design and evaluation activities in 2013–14 to support the APS. This work included:

  • an evaluation of the APS teleworking trial
  • the ongoing conduct of an entry and exit survey process that has been made available to all APS agencies
  • the design and delivery of an evaluation of the Australian Centre for Excellence in Public Sector Design (DesignGov)
  • a survey of agencies in support of the National Commission of Audit
  • the design and delivery of a survey in support of a number of Commission and APS-wide activities, including the APS Indigenous Pathways to Employment Program and the Ethics Contact Officer Network.

The Commission published updated editions of two guidance documents for agencies and managers on absence management: Turned up and tuned in and Promoting an attendance culture. The Commission has also established an APS Absence Management Working Group to identify and promote good practice in absence management across the APS.

The Commission established an Indigenous retention research program to integrate a number of ongoing research activities aimed at identifying possible reasons for the lower retention rates among Indigenous employees when compared with non-Indigenous employees.

The Commission provided research support (including survey design, delivery, data analysis and reporting) to a number of APS200 working groups, including the Shared Service Working Group, the Risk Management Working Group and the Change Management Working Group.


[1] The group's members are the Australian Public Service Commissioner, the Merit Protection Commissioner, the Integrity Commissioner, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Crime Commission, the Commonwealth Ombudsman, the Auditor-General, the Australian Information Commissioner, and the Deupty Secretary Governance, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.