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Ch 7 An evolving reform environment

Abolition of the Board in July 1987 and the subsequent devolution and delegation of a wide range of its powers and functions created a significantly changed environment and framework for the operation of the 1922 Act. Former key functions of the Board had become the responsibility of the departments of Industrial Relations and Finance, and notice had been given of intention to devolve to departments all operational aspects of personnel administration and management improvement functions.

The newly established Public Service Commission, while retaining a significant ongoing role in the overall management of the SES and independent statutory responsibilities for the policy aspects of recruitment, promotion, officers’ mobility and discipline, was a much less powerful and lower status organisation than its Board predecessor. As such, there was not infrequent speculation amongst APS agencies on the prospects for the Commission’s long-term survival (arguably, reflecting some self-interest aspirations in some cases).

The Commission has been able to survive and, under the leadership of successive Public Service Commissioners, has moved to define and establish a different central personnel agency role. More particularly, in the context of this history, it has played an important role in bringing about fundamental review of the 1922 Act and in developing the legislation which was to become the 1999 Public Service Act.

Significant Public Service Act amendments 1987–99

Following the formal abolition of the Board, and creation of the office of Public Service Commissioner in September 1987, legislation directed solely towards amendment of the 1922 Act was enacted on only two occasions before its ultimate repeal and the passage of the 1999 Act, as well as one further enactment dealing with the 1995 amalgamation of the Public Service Commission and the Merit Protection and Review Agency. However, as in earlier periods, a range of other amendments was effected by statute law revision legislation, along with the Prime Minister and Cabinet portfolio and industrial relations legislation, and relatively minor consequential changes flowing from substantive amendments to other non-APS enactments.

The specifically targeted amendments of the 1922 Act occurred in 1991, 1995 and 1997:

  • The Public Service Amendment Act 1991 amended the officers’ mobility provisions in Part IV of the 1922 Act to prevent actual or potential duplication of severance benefits to Commonwealth employees, with rights of return to the APS, who were made redundant from government business enterprises and other Commonwealth authorities. The amendments sought to prevent ‘double dipping’, providing effectively that an employee in these circumstances should be allowed the benefit of a single option—receipt of a redundancy benefit from the non-APS employer or return to the APS (with retention of APS redundancy entitlements), but not both.
  • The Public Service Legislation Amendment Act 1995 amended both the Public Service Act and the Merit Protection Act to implement a decision announced in the 1995–96 Budget to amalgamate the Public Service Commission and the Merit Protection and Review Agency—the amalgamated body to be known as the Public Service and Merit Protection Commission (PSMPC). As with the predecessor Commission, the title of the new organisation was not itself legislated. The amending legislation allowed for continued independent operation of the Agency in relation to the performance of its appellate and review functions, with the statutory office of Director of the Agency redesignated as Merit Protection Commissioner and continuing to exercise the independent powers of the office. The Public Service Commissioner was accorded Secretary powers in relation to all staff of the new Commission, but with the intention that the Merit Protection Commissioner would be authorised to exercise personnel and financial management powers in relation to the staff required for the purposes of the Merit Protection Act. The amalgamation of the two agencies took effect on 15 December 1995.
  • The Public Service Amendment Act 1997, which received Assent in April 1997 (just two months before introduction of the Bill which was the precursor of the 1999 Public Service Act), amended the disciplinary provision of the 1922 Act to overcome a flaw, which had prevented previously the institution of disciplinary action against an ‘unattached’ officer, who committed misconduct during a period of employment, on leave of absence, outside the APS departmental structure (including as a head of an Australian diplomatic mission). Under the terms of the amendments, disciplinary action could be taken against the officer on resumption of duty in the APS, as if he or she were still in the unattached employment situation.

Leaving aside relatively minor changes effected to the 1922 Act through ‘tidying-up’ amendments and consequential changes flowing from the passage of other non-APS legislation, significant substantive amendments to the Act were made by other legislation in the following areas:

Restructuting of the SES

The Second Reading Speech on the Bill that was to become the Prime Minister and Cabinet Legislation Amendment Act 1991, included reference to the fact that a number of substantive amendments to the Public Service Act then being proposed were being made ‘ahead of action being taken to bring forward in due course a Bill for a modernised Act aimed at simplifying and integrating procedures and practices’ (PD House 17 October 1991, p. 2004). As indicated later in this paper, that reference needs to be seen as a low- key reminder of action foreshadowed soon after the abolition of the Board in 1987, but not achieving any substantive parliamentary form until introduction of the Public Service Bill in June 1997.

As to the specifics of the above Act, they included major amendments reflecting the Government’s agreement, under the then Structural Efficiency Principle, to restructure the SES into three bands and to introduce the SES (Specialist) category. The three-band structure, the aims of which had included enhancing the optimum use and flexible management of SES resources, had come into effect in January 1990, with its various legislative implications being picked up in the Public Service Act amendments, ultimately receiving Assent on 18 December 1991. The amendments further delineated the respective powers of the Public Service Commissioner and departmental Secretaries in relation to the management of the SES.

The SES provision were amended further in the following year when the Industrial Relations Legislation Amendment Act (No. 2) 1992 included Public Service Act amendments to further increase flexibility in the management of SES transfer and redeployment/retirement provisions.

Non-SES personnel management

The 1991 Act also effected a range of other changes, including amendments to disciplinary and officers’ mobility provisions. It modified the merit principle provisions of s. 33 of the then Act to permit discrimination in transfers and promotions, as well as in relation to appointment to the APS, in accordance with certain prescribed programs to encourage the appointment to the service of women or persons in a designated group.

The intended effect of the amendment was to ensure that certain programs, designed to encourage appointment of people who were members of designated groups, were available only to those persons, with particular reference to various programs for training Aboriginal people.

Some relatively minor amendments to the Public Service Act promotion, disciplinary and officers mobility provisions were later effected by the Prime Minister and Cabinet (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1994.

Tenure of departmental Secretaries

The 1994 Miscellaneous Provisions Act was the vehicle also for effecting a major change to employment arrangements for departmental Secretaries. The Act (along with the Superannuation Act 1976) was amended to give effect to the Government’s decision to allow Secretaries, and some equivalent-level statutory office-holders, to relinquish their continuing tenure in the APS and the value which attached to that tenure, in return for a reasonable loading on their salaries being set by the Remuneration Tribunal (the Government having then recommended to the Tribunal that the loading should be set at 20 per cent). At completion of a term appointment, the Secretary would be retired from the Service. In the event of early termination, the Secretary would be entitled to compensation on the same terms as applying to a statutory office holder by Remuneration Tribunal determination—namely one third of a month’s pay for each month of service foregone.

Parliamentary departments

Amendments to the Public Service Act by the Prime Minister and Cabinet (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1995 were directed substantially to a range of changes designed to facilitate personnel management in the Parliamentary Departments. Of more general APS application, however, was the tightening of arrangements and time-scales for the presentation to Parliament of departmental annual reports, thereby implementing an agreement between the Prime Minister and the then Joint Committee of Public Accounts.

Other significant legislation 1987–99

Industrial relations

Two major enactments in this period, relating to the Australian industrial relations framework, warrant particular mention, as both had direct relevance to employment in the APS:

The Industrial Relations Act 1988 received Assent on 8 November 1988. It gave effect to the Government’s decisions on recommendations of the May 1985 Report of the Committee of Review into Australian Industrial Relations Law and Systems, establishing the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) in place of the former Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. It established a new federal framework for the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes, with application to both public and private sector employment, replacing the system operating previously under the terms of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904, which was duly repealed.

For Commonwealth public sector employees, the Act represented a further step in the direction of bringing their industrial and staffing arrangements more into line with employees in the private sector. The separate jurisdiction of the former Public Service Arbitrator had been transferred to the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in 1984. Under the new Act, Commonwealth employees became subject even more directly to the wider-ranging powers of the new AIRC, with the Industrial Division of the Federal Court being assigned explicit jurisdiction in matters arising from the operation of the Act, and for imposition of penalties for breaches of the Act. An Industrial Registry was established to service the AIRC, and to provide advice and assistance to registered employer and employee organisations. Provision was made for the appointment of Inspectors, charged with securing observance of the Act, and regulations and awards of the Commission, and with power to institute prosecutions for breaches of awards.

For the APS specifically, the trends reflected in the terms of this Act were to be further emphasised in the passage of amending workplace relations legislation, and by the then Howard Government’s openly stated intention that its public service reform agenda, including the now 1999 Public Service Act, were being implemented within the new workplace relations framework that had been set out in its 1996 enactment.

The Workplace Relations and Other Legislation Amendment Act 1996 substantially amended the 1988 Industrial Relations Act and, inter alia, retitled it as the Workplace Relations Act 1996. It was brought forward by the then recently elected Howard Government, as providing a (further) new framework for the industrial relations system. In his Second Reading Speech on the then Bill, Minister Reith stated that the principal object of the legislation was to establish a framework for cooperative workplace relations with a focus on ‘giving primary responsibility for industrial relations and agreement- making to employers and employees at the enterprise and workplace levels, with the corresponding role for the award system being to provide a safety net of minimum wages and conditions’ (PD House 23 May 1996, p. 1297).

The amendments to the 1988 Act were wide-ranging but, from an APS perspective, the key elements included:

  • the option for employers/employees to enter into formalised individual agreements by way of Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) or
  • the option of formalised collective agreements by way of Certified Agreements (CAs), made with unions or made directly between employers and employees
  • both the above forms of agreement were subject to compliance with a set of statutory minimum conditions, including no loss of previous remuneration entitlements under relevant awards, guaranteed equal pay for work of equal value, and various minimum leave entitlements
  • absence of discrimination to be a precondition to certification of agreements
  • freedom of association, including choice of whether or not to be in a union or employer organisation
  • a new unfair dismissal scheme ‘fair to both employee and employer’, with the AIRC empowered to determine whether a termination of employment was ‘harsh, unjust or unreasonable’ and to make court-enforceable orders in relation thereto.

Essentially reflecting a return to the 1988 situation, court enforcement powers reverted to the Federal Court of Australia, from the Industrial Relations Court of Australia, which had been established as a separate industrial court by the Industrial Relations Reform Act 1993, but with individual Federal Court judges exercising the jurisdiction.

The changes further set the stage, therefore, for achieving the Government’s objective of having the APS operate under the same industrial relations and employment arrangements as applied to the rest of the Australian workforce.

Financial accountability

Devolution to agencies of powers in the industrial workplace relations area was soon followed by financial management legislation with similar intent. Passage of the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 and the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997 reduced regulation and simplified requirements, while sharpening accountability provisions.

The role of the Auditor-General was also enhanced at the same time. Earlier Government concerns that the traditional transaction-based auditing function was insufficient to provide proper accountability led to passage of the Auditor-General Act 1997. It built on 1979 legislation which then provided for the introduction of efficiency audits. The new legislation defined more precisely the wider-ranging powers of the Auditor-General, and strengthened the functional independence of the office.

Human rights

Enactment of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 introduced provisions of general application across Commonwealth public sector employment. As with earlier human rights legislation in the 1980s, employment decisions within the APS must have regard to the requirements of that Act.

Occupational health

All Commonwealth departments and authorities became subject to the occupational health, safety, rehabilitation and compensation obligations of the Occupational Health and Safety (Commonwealth Employment) Act 1991.

ACT Public Service

The structure of the Canberra-based APS ultimately became subject to a significant change, with s. 54 of the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Act 1988 making provision for the establishment of a separate ACT public service ‘for the conduct of the public administration of the Government of the Territory’, the constitution and operations of that service to be provided by a separate enactment.

A rudimentary framework for the ACT public service was established by the Territory’s Public Service Act 1989, and associated Public Service Ordinance 1989, the latter made under the Commonwealth Seat of Government Administration Act 1910. For the next five years, however, while operating under the control of the ACT Government, the new service effectively remained a branch of the APS, called the ACT Administration, the head of which had the powers of a Secretary under the 1922 Public Service Act. Legislative effect was given to these latter arrangements under s. 21 and Schedule 1 of the (Commonwealth) ACT Self-Government (Consequential Provisions) Act 1988, the staff concerned being designated ‘transitional staff’ of the Territory, who essentially retained their APS employment rights and conditions.

In 1992, then Prime Minister Keating initiated moves for the establishment of a fully separate ACT public service. Consultations between the Commonwealth and ACT Government, and the Australian Council of Trade Unions led eventually to passage of the (Territory) Public Sector Management Act 1994 and to establishment of the ACT Government Service, with effect from 1 July 1994. Complementary Commonwealth legislation, the Australian Capital Territory Government Service (Consequential Provisions) Act 1994, provided for the staff concerned ceasing to be members of the APS, and becoming subject to employment under the ACT legislation. Provision was made also for ‘reciprocal mobility’ arrangements between the APS and the ACT public service.

While including some novel features, the ACT legislation was generally in the style of a conventional Public Service Act, with many of its provisions directly mirroring detailed provisions of the 1922 Public Service Act. In terms of the approach adopted later in developing the federal 1999 Public Service Act, it is of interest to note, however, that the ACT enactment included also specification of a range of values and general principles applicable to the operations of government agencies, including

  • broad values and principles to be implemented and observed by agencies
  • general principles of public administration
  • general principles of management in employment matters
  • general obligations of public employees.

Establishment of the ACT Government Service resulted in some 7200 staff ‘transferring’ from the APS.

Other changes and developments 1987–99

From its inception, the Public Service Commission accorded significant priority to reform of the APS legislative framework, not least because it fell short of reflecting the new realities of the Commission’s role as successor to the Public Service Board. The working out of the legislative reform process over the ensuing 12 years, however, is the focus of later parts of this history. The current section seeks rather to highlight other significant changes and developments in the same period, with continuing relevance, in some instances, through to 2001—the effective end point for the 2002 detailed narrative history. Some more recent developments are discussed in the concluding observations on emerging issues.

Given the relatively short time that the Commission has existed, it is probably still premature to seek to provide an adequate evaluation of, and perspective on, the initiatives and developments which have taken place. The topics addressed in the following paragraphs need to be viewed in that light.

The new environment

The newly established Public Service Commissioner had been assigned responsibility for the policy aspects of APS recruitment, promotion, mobility, discipline and retirement. Involvement in day-to-day casework activities virtually ceased outside the SES staffing area, aside from some residual and lower-level ongoing activities in the non-SES redeployment/retirement and EEO fields, as the Commission’s office progressively disengaged itself from functions exercised previously by the Board.

The immediate challenge for the Commission, therefore, was to establish a new meaningful role for itself. In large part, it began to realise that role by directing its limited resources to a range of significant areas of contemporary personnel management in the APS.

Newly appointed Commissioner John Enfield remained in that office until 24 September 1990. His efforts were to be directed significantly in the interim period to creating a new culture in APS administration, with increased emphasis on devolved responsibilities and associated accountabilities.

The thrust of these new activities was pursued by the succeeding Commissioner, Denis Ives, appointed to the office on 25 September 1990. The new incumbent was to play a major role in the evolution of APS reforms during the early 1990s, including establishing links with overseas public services and organisations concerned with developing best management practices.

Denis Ives attached importance to the development of a ‘new professionalism’ in public service management, and was significantly involved with development of the Human Resource Management Framework, discussed below, and with a wide range of staff development and training programs for the APS.

In October 1994, Denis Ives brought forward the Commission’s submission to the McLeod Public Service Act Review Group. The submission canvassed a range of options for modernising human resource management in the APS, to achieve a more effective public service, not constrained by unnecessary legislative rigidities. Formulating the Commission’s response to the Review Group’s proposals was then to remain a priority for the Commissioner for the remaining months of his term of office.

The successor Commissioner, Dr Peter Shergold, was appointed on 25 September 1995, and was to play a leading role in advocating public sector reform. As his predecessor had done, he stressed the need for less prescription of detailed conditions of employment and for achieving a better balance between devolution to agencies and accountability for outcomes. He likewise pressed for clear articulation of public service values and standards of conduct for public servants, and for achievement of workplace diversity. These themes were soon to be reflected in the APS reform agenda of the new government, and to generate an intense period of Commission activity under Peter Shergold’s direction, leading up to introduction of the Public Service Bill 1997.

APS 2000

In concluding this history at the beginning of the 21st century, it seems to be particularly appropriate to be revisiting one of the first major projects of the Public Service Commission—APS 2000.

The Commissioner’s 1988–89 annual report records commencement of research for a paper so titled, involving an interdepartmental working party examining the then prospective demands on the future APS workforce. Intended to provide a basis for informed discussion by a wide audience from within and outside the public sector, and for subsequent decision making, the paper addressed a wide range of topics, such as:

  • the future of the labour market
  • likely skills requirements
  • impact of the ageing of both the general population and the APS workforce
  • the future participation of women in public sector employment
  • the impact of technology
  • the changing nature of work.

Without attempting to apply the wisdom of hindsight, it is of interest to now revisit the APS 2000 paper. It noted a declining rate of growth for the labour force and reduced numbers being employed in public administration over the decade, but with increasing female representation at SES and the senior non-SES levels. It then postulated alternative extreme scenarios which retain a contemporary relevance:

  • a public service comprised of core activities, playing primarily a priority-setting and resource allocation role or
  • a service with significant involvement in a wide range of economic activities, possibly being run on a commercial basis.

The Commission’s 1999–2000 State of the Service Report (a publication discussed in more detail later) also revisits some elements of the APS 2000 predictions, against now known outcomes, and addresses actual and possible reasons for variation (PSMPC 2000, p. 61–3).

Senior Executive Service

The new Commission retained significant responsibilities for SES central management and, more particularly, selection of SES staff. In the latter context, the Commission progressively developed and refined ‘core’ skills and competencies for SES employment. Additionally, from July 1988, a ‘user pays’ scribe service was introduced, staffed by experienced Commission officers, to assist chairpersons of SES selection advisory committees to complete selection processes quickly and efficiently.

In October 1988, the Commission reintroduced the position of Senior Executive Adviser in the Commission’s office, a role first proposed in the Hawke government’s December 1983 White Paper, Reforming the Australian Public Service. The Commissioner was soon to report a ‘constant demand for this assistance’, which sought to provide advice to senior officers experiencing difficulties particularly, but not solely, in SES staff displacement situations (PSCr AR 1989, p. 21). Whilst not a formal grievance process with power to overturn decisions, the adviser role entailed investigating, mediating and consulting in an effort to resolve difficulties, and also played a role, where possible, in facilitating interdepartmental mobility for development purposes.

Pursuit of development strategies for SES staff had been a priority for the Public Service Board, and has continued to be so for the Commission. Aside from retention of programs already operating when the Commission was established, the Top Management Program was introduced in October 1987, directed towards meeting the development needs of very senior APS managers. In November 1990, the new Senior Executive Leadership Program was developed. Separately identified, continuing problems with poor rates of promotion of women into the SES and its feeder groups led to the conduct in 1988 of a pilot Senior Women in Management (SWIM) program. The success of the pilot led to continuation of the basic scheme, with periodic modifications, through to the time of writing.

Over the years, the Commission has continued to provide a varied menu of development opportunities for existing and aspiring SES officers, comprising programs of the nature described above, tailored courses and seminars. The Commissioner has reported on the range of opportunities provided, along with associated seminar activities for SES staff (PSCr AR 2001, p. 213–15). That listing reflects an outcome of major review, redesign and extension of the leadership development programs offered to senior executives, as part of the implementation of the Senior Executive Leadership Capability Framework.

The Leadership Framework was launched in May 1999, as a comprehensive statement of leadership requirements which could provide an integrated approach to selection, development, performance assessment and succession planning for the APS. The components of the Framework also have been documented by the Commissioner (PSCr AR 1999, p. 14–15). From September 1999, the five criteria in the Framework have formed the basis of revised criteria for SES staff selections.

A further element of the Leadership Framework has been the development of an APS Career Development Assessment Centre, designed to provide to high-potential staff in the SES feeder group feedback about their strengths, weaknesses and development needs. Again, the essential elements of the Centre have been detailed by the Commissioner (PSCr AR 2000, p. 36–7).

Equal employment opportunity and workplace diversity

With the abolition of the Public Service Board, and the government’s agreement to the Efficiency Scrutiny Unit’s recommendation for devolution to departments of responsibility for implementation of EEO programs, uncertainty existed for some time as to whether the new Commission would have any significant ongoing role in relation to EEO in the APS. However, in September 1987, the government announced that an EEO monitoring and policy unit, with nine staff, would be established within the Commission, along with a Principal Adviser with SES status.

In his first annual report the Commissioner foreshadowed that, in future reports, the Commission would take a proactive stance in listing departments that failed to prepare and implement a satisfactory EEO program. Within the limits of its resources, the Commission would also direct attention to ensuring that departments were aware of, and responsive to, the government’s affirmation of its strong continuing commitment to EEO (PSCr AR 1988, p. 24).

The annual report for the following year reported expanded Commission activity in the EEO field, affirming earlier commitments to provide EEO reporting guidelines to departments, and to assist them with the development of performance indicators. Government support for these activities was to be further underlined when, in December 1989, Minister Morris, then Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Public Service Matters, launched a new strategy developed by the Commission, called Further steps forward: EEO into the 1990s—the strategy taking into account wider government goals in areas of social justice, multiculturalism, women in the Australian community, Aboriginals and the disabled.

Some three and a half years later, the successor Minister Assisting (Brereton) provided further government endorsement through launching, in May 1993, Equal employment opportunity: a strategic plan for the Australian Public Service for the 1990s. The 1993 plan’s central strategic vision was for EEO principles and measures, founded on the merit principle, to be further integrated into all people management activities in the APS. It was designed to provide general guidance and promote better coordination of EEO throughout the APS (PSCr AR 1993, p. 49). It included three objectives with associated performance indicators to increase in the APS, by the year 2000, the proportions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people with disabilities and people of non–English-speaking backgrounds. Further indicators related to increasing the representation of women at senior (SES and Senior Officer) levels of the Service.

The EEO function expanded progressively, with provision of regional EEO advisers in Victoria, NSW and Queensland. An Equal Times newsletter had become well established by 1993–94, with a circulation of 14 000. Two national conferences were hosted. Existing sexual harassment guidelines were complemented by the release, in May 1994, of guidelines on eliminating workplace harassment.

Implementation of the 1993 plan was proposed to be the subject of a thorough evaluation in 1996. However, while the Commission continued to pursue significant EEO activities in accordance with the plan, and within the framework of the EEO provisions in s. 22B of the 1922 Public Service Act, its agenda broadened. Thus, during 1994–95, in association with the Office of Multicultural Affairs and a small number of agencies, resources were directed to a project on Productive diversity in the APS, addressing the recruitment, recognition and use of people with linguistically and culturally diverse skills. The element of diversity progressively acquired a sharper focus and the Commission’s 1997–2000 corporate plan strategy provided for developing and promoting standards and performance in the APS, including the fostering of employment equity and diversity (PSCr AR 1996, p. 30).

Following the March 1996 change of government, the above changes came to be reflected also in the moves to develop a new, streamlined, principles-based Public Service Act. The set of APS Values in the 1997 Public Service Bill included (clause 10(1)(b)) specification that the APS should be a workplace free from discrimination, recognising and making best use of the diversity of the Australian community it served. The concept of discrimination related to that used in paragraph 3(j) of the 1996 Workplace Relations Act:

… respecting and valuing the diversity of the workforce by helping to prevent and eliminate discrimination on the basis of race, colour, sex, sexual preference, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, family responsibilities, pregnancy, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin …

Failure to achieve Senate passage of the 1997 Bill led to the government’s decision to implement many of the proposed reforms by administrative means, and the APS Values were incorporated in the Public Service Regulations in February 1998. Prior to the amending regulations coming into effect on 15 March 1998, new Public Service Commissioner’s Guidelines, Managing workplace diversity, had been issued on 10 February 1998, with inclusion of the requirement for each APS agency to establish a workplace diversity program for that agency.

The new guidelines replaced existing EEO guidelines dating from 1990, but continued to derive legal support from the guidelines authority in section 22B(10) of the 1922 Act. Further, the section 22B(11) requirement for the Commissioner to report annually on the EEO provisions of that Act were used to provide for annual reporting on both EEO and workplace diversity. The single integrated report was to be included in the then newly instituted Commissioner’s State of the Service Report. In the event, a separate Workplace Diversity Report was produced each year from 1997–98, as part of three companion volumes in an annual State of the Service series, the other two parts being the principal State of the Service Report and the Australian Public Service Statistical Bulletin. The Workplace Diversity Report has more recently been incorporated in the State of the Service Report for 2002–03, and is expected to be so published in future years.

Section 18 of the ultimately enacted Public Service Act 1999 now requires an agency head to establish a workplace diversity program, and section 44 requires the Commissioner to provide ‘a report on the state of the APS’. Additionally, Public Service Commissioner’s Direction 2.4, issued in accordance with section 11(1) of the 1999 Act, requires agency heads to put in place measures directed to ensuring compliance with anti-discrimination laws and principles applying to APS employment.

Official conduct

Official conduct guidelines had been developed before the abolition of the Board, but the Commission was soon to note a low level of awareness in the APS of the standard of conduct expected of officers in their official duties. With the intent of improving awareness, it produced the Standard of conduct pamphlet for wide circulation within the Service, drawing to attention key elements of the already existing Guidelines on official conduct of Commonwealth public servants.

The guidelines had been developed initially by the Board in the 1977–79 period at the request of the government, following its consideration of recommendations of the Coombs Commission. The Board had commended such an approach to the Commission, noting that there was ‘no comprehensive written code of ethics in the sense of a written set of conventions to which all public servants might be expected to adhere’ (PSB 1975, p. 43). An attempt some years earlier by the ACT Branch of the Royal Institute of Public Administration to produce a draft code had not been brought to finality.

Following government approval, the Board’s guidelines were published for general circulation in October 1979, and subsequently incorporated in the Board’s Personnel Management Manual in 1982. The guidelines were reviewed further in 1985–86, with a new edition published at the time of the Board’s abolition in July 1987. A further edition of the guidelines was published in 1995, following review by the then Management Advisory Board.

By this time, the Public Service Act Review Group had recommended (McLeod Report 1994, para. 5.9) that a new Act should incorporate a statutory Code of Conduct—an approach also endorsed in the framework developed following election of the Coalition Government in March 1996. Section 13 of the 1999 Public Service Act now includes the APS Code of Conduct, and s. 14 of the Act requires agency heads to establish and promulgate to their staff procedures for determining whether breaches of the code have occurred—such procedures having to comply with requirements specified in the Public Service Commissioner’s Directions.

Over more than a decade, therefore, the Commission has directed significant attention and resources to matters bearing on the official conduct of APS staff. In the light of enactment of the statutory code, action has been taken by the Commission to develop a new approach to the guidelines, concentrated on the provisions of that code and their direct relationship to the APS Values. The new publication, APS Values and Code of Conduct in Practice: A guide to official conduct for APS employees and Agency Heads (the Guide), was launched in August 2003.

The 2003 Guide represents a substantial revision of the 1995 Guidelines, directed to providing practical guidelines on the principles set out in the APS Values and Code of Conduct in the 1999 Act.

Staff development

The recommendations of the Efficiency Scrutiny Unit in 1987 did not address directly the future of the Board’s central staff development functions. In the event, following consideration of a 1988 management consultant’s report, the Management Advisory Board concluded that the Commission should continue to provide development programs for the SES and its feeder groups, and provide advice and high-quality assistance to departments in the development of their own programs and in enhancing the skills of staff development practitioners.

In 1988 also, the Management Advisory Board requested that the Commission report to it annually on policy and strategies for human resource development in departments. In the light of the Commission’s 1989 report that APS staff development had been allowed to diminish in importance in most areas of the Service, MAB endorsed remedial strategies proposed by the Commission, focused on strategic intervention and support of practitioners and departmental managers of staff development.

Reference has been made above to some key elements of the Commission’s developmental programs for SES staff. Elsewhere, the Commission has continued to have significant involvement with non-SES training and development, particularly in the areas outlined below.


The Commissioner recorded the establishment in November 1989 of the Joint APS Training Council (JAPSTC) (PSCr AR 1990, p. 49). The Council’s establishment was a direct consequence of award restructuring under the Industrial Relations Commission’s Structural Efficiency Principle. The development of related, new classification structures had significant staff training implications. The role of the Council was to advise on existing and future skill requirements, skills recognition, and training to support award restructuring.

The Council consisted of 12 members, representing the APS, unions and the tertiary education sector, and was chaired by the Public Service Commissioner. Funds were allocated to the Commission to maintain a Council secretariat and for the conduct of associated Council projects until June 1993. By June 1991 eight such Council-endorsed projects were being undertaken, associated variously with the development of competencies and new training structures (PSCr AR 1991, p. 47).

Activities associated with JAPSTC featured prominently in the Commissioner’s annual reports over the following five years. The government’s National Training Board accepted JAPSTC as an interim competency standards body for core competency standards in the APS sector of the public administration industry. In May 1993, the Board endorsed the APS core competencies, by which time JAPSTC (and the Commission) was directing attention and significant resources to developing a framework for implementing competency-based training—itself largely completed and put in place during 1994–95, and encompassing training at APS entry levels through to middle management, using both external educational institutions as well as in-Service resources.

The early JAPSTC initiative saw the development of accredited training programs for about 85 per cent of APS staff. With the establishment in 1994–95 of the National Public Administration Training Advisory Board, the conversion of APS-endorsed standards to national standards passed to that body.

Middle management development

The middle management focus saw the establishment of the Middle Management Development Program, which received a budget allocation of $10m per annum for three years from July 1990, for subsidisation of middle management development activities and the development of the Public Sector Management Course (PSMC) for middle managers in both the Commonwealth and state public sectors. Development of the course was undertaken by way of a joint venture set up between the Commonwealth, state and ACT governments, each of the parties represented on a Commonwealth-chaired Board of Management. A PSMC project team was located in the Public Service Commission, which provided both the team leader and other Commonwealth representation, alongside representatives of the ACT and three states.

The project team developed a design brief for the PSMC during 1990–91, and development of a curriculum was undertaken by the University of Wollongong, with course materials being then trialled in the ACT and four states during 1991–92. The course was put in place during the following year, with more than 600 Commonwealth and state participants in that first year, undertaking 170 hours of course contact time and a 40-hour work-based project. Participants completing the course and successfully meeting assessment standards, set by the Centre for Australian Public Sector Management at Griffith University, became eligible for the Graduate Certificate in Public Sector Management, with the first graduates receiving their certificates in May 1993. That certification is now provided from the Flinders University of South Australia.

The PSMC has received favourable evaluation since its inception, but has also undergone curriculum changes. From its inception in 1992 until June 2001, a total of 6560 participants had undertaken the course. An Internet site is now provided and, during that reporting year, interactive delivery of the new curriculum was piloted with participants in remote Australian locations and in Antarctica. Delivery of the course to other countries has also been piloted, with a successful venture in Fiji in 1999–2000. Other overseas interest in the course has been expressed by Samoa and South Africa (PSCr AR 2001, p. 80).


Since its establishment in 1997, the Commission has been a member of Public Service Education and Training Australia (PSETA)—a body comprising all Commonwealth, state and territory Public Service Commissioners, along with representatives of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU), as representing both APS and state public service employees. The body was formed to address implementation of the Howard Government’s vocational education and training framework in the APS.

Intended to have a strategic focus, PSETA has concentrated on core public service training matters, with its principal product to date having been the Public Services Training Package. Endorsed by the Australian National Training Authority in November 1999 and launched in October 2000, this package is directed towards providing individuals with clear skill and career pathways, through attainment of recognised qualifications from nationally recognised training providers.

Beyond its involvement in the development of the package, the Commission has continued to provide implementation support through maintenance of the Vocational Education and Training Network, involving in 2000–01 contacts in 84 APS agencies. The Commission has also coordinated the Commonwealth Training Materials Project to design, develop and deliver training materials against the competency standards defined in the package, for use both in direct face-to-face training situations and distance learning through online delivery.

Regional activities

At the time of its establishment in 1987, the Commission operated without any regional office presence. Its non-SES staff development activities were to be directed to policy formulation, the fostering of cooperation in the regions for the exchange of information and the conduct of joint staff development activities, and providing a small staff development consultancy service.

By 2000–01, the Commission was providing a range of learning and development opportunities for both SES and non-SES staff in the regions, as detailed in the Commissioner’s 2000–01 annual report. Through its then People and Organisation Development Team, it provided advice on strategic approaches to leadership and the management and development of people, both developing and delivering particular programs for cross-agency attendance, maintaining a panel of consultants for use as preferred service providers, and offering tailored consultancy and development solutions to agencies.

From December 1995, the Commission came to have a more direct involvement in regional activities, as a result of amalgamation with the Merit Protection and Review Agency, having earlier been able to work from the Agency’s state offices, if occasion demanded.

From an uncertain start, therefore, the Commission has now established again a significant, central agency presence in staff development activities, as had its Public Service Board predecessor, albeit by markedly different means in the use of its financial and people resources.

Human resource management framework

Application of the Structural Efficiency Principle in the APS served to provide a further means by which the Commission was able to move to establish and assert its credibility as a significant, continuing player in the APS management framework:

… SEP … represents an opportunity to completely re-evaluate existing human resource management policies and practices and to revamp those in need of change, into the flexible and responsive tools that will enable APS managers to effectively manage the change process.

… the challenge is for the Commission, in cooperation with other stakeholders, to develop a comprehensive model for human resource management for use by agencies into the next century (PSCr AR 1990, p. 17).

Development of the model was flagged, therefore, as a major project for the Commission, with intention to translate the resultant framework into ‘a Bill for a new Act for personnel administration’ (PSCr AR 1990, p. 24).

The ultimate legislative outcome was to be the 1999 Public Service Act, the more detailed development of which is discussed in the next chapter. The further evolution of the framework (to become known as the HRM Framework) is addressed in the following paragraphs.

The HRM Framework was developed during 1991–92, with the objective of articulating an integrated approach to people management in the APS, and providing also a model for the Commission’s role in developing, setting and communicating overall policies, strategies and values in a devolved management environment (PSCr AR 1992, p. 50–3).

The framework was published in booklet form in July 1992 and widely circulated. A series of seminars based on the Framework was held during 1992–93 in all capital cities and five major provincial cities, to provide opportunity for APS line managers to discuss policy issues with senior Commission staff. Follow-up ‘best practice’ training modules were also developed by the Commission.

External developments had impacted also on the Commission’s initiative for raising the profile of HRM in the APS. In January 1992, an inquiry into HRM in the Service was set in train by the Joint Committee of Public Accounts. The Commission responded to the Committee’s wide-ranging terms of reference with a comprehensive submission in March 1992. Aside from further advocacy for modernisation of the formal framework for HRM in the Service, the Commission highlighted the need for a transition to a ‘new professionalism’ in the APS, requiring managers to focus increasingly on leadership aspects of management, as well as the integration of traditional values with newer management principles. The submission addressed also the ongoing role of central agencies in the development, maintenance and dissemination of overall standards and values, in the context of the devolution and decentralisation of powers and responsibilities (PSC 1992, p. various).

Themes developed in the submission were to continue to be reflected in Commission policies and programs throughout the remainder of the decade. The Joint Committee tabled its report in December 1992, with a range of recommendations addressing, variously:

  • the formal HRM Framework
  • accountability
  • professional training and development
  • recruitment and staff career development
  • the SES
  • the role and structure of the Commission.

In the light of the Committee’s report, and the three key future directions for public sector reform set out in the July 1993 Management Advisory Board report Building a better Public Service (namely, making performance count, leadership and strengthening the culture of continuous improvement), some restructuring of the Commission was effected to reflect more closely its then role and priority tasks. In particular, the Human Resource Management Framework Branch was established, with the task of revising, communicating and marketing the Commission’s HRM Framework publication and developing proposals for related communication activities. Strategies for this included production of booklets targeting key areas of the framework, promotion of elements of the framework by electronic means and conduct of a further series of national seminars, focusing on performance management. The seminars served as a vehicle for launching the second edition of the framework publication in March–May 1995.

By this time, other developments had begun to manifest encouraging signs of realisation of a new legislative base for the HRM Framework. Drafting of a new Public Service Act had commenced as a consequence of the proposals in the 1994 McLeod Report and was subsequently to proceed, under new directions, following the March 1996 change of Government. In the meantime, the Commission continued to promote the HRM Framework across the Service and through presentations to participants on the Public Sector Management Course. It foreshadowed also commencement in 1996–97 of a review of the role and structure of the framework, taking account of changes then occurring to APS people management policies and practices as a result of the implementation of workplace bargaining across the Service. Revision of the framework was intended to take account also of relevant best practice initiatives identified in the Achieving cost effective personnel services and Innovative ways of organising people projects of the Management Advisory Board and its Management Improvement Advisory Committee (PSCr AR 1995, p. 5 and PSCr AR 1996, p. 31–2).

As the legislative initiatives were pursued through to the ultimate passage of the 1999 Public Service Act, so references to the HRM Framework came to be replaced by references to particular Commission Service-wide initiatives and programs, reflecting strategic approaches to improvement of people management in the APS. Thus, in response to agency calls for a simplified approach to guidelines, a new streamlined approach to providing advice was launched in the form of The essentials series of pamphlets, dealing variously with matters ranging from APS values and standards of conduct to the management of poor performance and recruitment, selection and appointment matters.

Various strategic approaches to people management and innovative work practices have continued to be noted in the Commissioner’s annual reports, along with reporting of the Commission’s continuing active involvement with the conduct and fostering of development programs for APS staff, and the provision of ‘best practice’ advice to agencies across the range of the Commission’s functional responsibilities.

The HRM Framework initiative of the Commission more than a decade ago, therefore, has borne fruit for the APS at large and, in doing so, has enhanced and strengthened the position of the Commission itself as a significant policy management agency in the Service.

State of the Service Report

Section 44 of the 1999 Public Service Act requires the Commissioner’s annual report to include ‘a report on the state of the APS during the year’, with the first report under the Act provision to be presented in October 2000. It had been preceded, however, by two earlier such reports, for which provision had been inserted in the then Public Service Regulations in February 1998, as a consequence of Senate action which had prevented passage of the 1997 Public Service Bill (discussed in more detail in Chapter 8).

The (then) Commissioner, Helen Williams, indicated that her first State of the Service Report would assess the impact of reforms in areas such as managing performance and client service, and would monitor the implementation of the APS Values and Code of Conduct (PSCr AR 1998, p. 5). That initial, relatively brief report covered only the remaining three months of that reporting year.

The first full-year report (1998–99) was published in November 1999, and again reported on implementation of the Values and Code of Conduct. The then substantially larger report addressed also a range of other issues, including the changing size and composition of the APS, accountability, merit in employment, improving performance and improving customer service.

Coverage was similarly wide-ranging in the 1999–2000 report, presented to the Prime Minister in October 2000, but with a particular focus also on implementation of the 1999 Act, and four other major themes—the nature and changing face of the APS; accountability; customer service; and capability development, with specific focus on workforce planning and development of high-quality leadership. The report concluded by addressing challenges for the future, with the APS still required to operate within a broad legislative framework but, at the same time, increasingly within the broader framework of the wider community’s labour market conditions and challenges.

Agency understanding and application of the APS Values and Code of Conduct again came under examination in the 2000–01 report, as did the issues of responsiveness and accountability, with particular reference in this instance to financial management, client service, and privacy and security arrangements in agencies. The report directed particular attention also to measures put in place by agencies to enable them to discharge their accountability responsibilities, under both the Public Service and Financial Management Acts, where public sector programs or activities have become subject to outsourcing arrangements. Updated demographics on the APS, its wages and conditions framework, aspects of devolved management under the 1999 Act, and effective performance management in the Service make up the balance of the report’s varied coverage.

As already mentioned, the State of the Service Report now also encompasses the Workplace Diversity Report, and the separately published Australian Public Service Statistical Bulletin. The reports now provide a wealth of information and evaluative commentary on the operation of the Service. Together with the principal annual report of the Commissioner, they would now have to be viewed as comparable in value and scope as were the detailed and informative reports developed and published by the Public Service Board during the time of the Wheeler chairmanship, and continuing through to the time of the Board’s abolition.

An incomplete accounting

The preceding commentary on changes and developments which have occurred since establishment of the Commission is, as indicated earlier, selective in terms of choice of subject matter. Although having had an ongoing association with the Commission over the period, the writer would claim to have been no more than a relatively detached observer for most of that time, with a particular focus on development of the legislation to replace the 1922 Public Service Act.

A more detailed appraisal of the Commission’s activities and achievements since 1987 would need to recognise a range of other significant developments and undertakings.

These would include:

  • development and trialling of staff appraisal systems
  • the Commission’s role in developing and instituting early retirement schemes for SES and non-SES staff, and its related central involvement in the management of excess staff situations in the APS—in particular, through its Central Redeployment Unit, established in June 1993, and the successor APS Labour Market Adjustment Branch, established in July 1994 (subsequently, the APS Labour Market Adjustment Program, now discontinued)
  • significant, continuing involvement in international activities, including hosting individual and group visits for public service officials from Asia, Africa, Europe and North America; reciprocal visits by Commission staff; and participation in meetings of international public administration and management agencies
  • production of an extensive range of publications
  • development of comprehensive statistics on APS employment and the establishment of the APS Employment Database
  • management of APS staffing entries in the Commonwealth Gazette, since October 1999.

Changes in the Commission’s own structure and internal management arrangements would also warrant mention, including

  • progressive development through the 1990s of corporate and business plans
  • introduction in March 1996 of a flatter organisational structure, based on self- managing teams
  • enhancement of the financial accounting and information technology capabilities of the Commission, including upgrading desktop computer capabilities and providing Internet access for all Commission staff
  • full integration into the Commission’s organisational structure in December 1999 of the former Merit Protection and Review Agency
Last reviewed: 
29 March 2018