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The COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to create significant resourcing issues for Commonwealth agencies. To enable agencies to continue to deliver critical services for the Australian public during this pandemic period, Australian government Agency Heads need to be able to make necessary decisions to alleviate potential workforce pressures.

This guidance provides Australian government Agency Heads advice on the approval arrangements for extensions of non-SES, non-ongoing employee engagements to a maximum total period of four years during the pandemic response period.


1.     As part of the ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic, this Circular enacts subregulation 3.5(5) of the Public Service Regulations 1999 (the Regulations) which enables the Australian Public Service (APS) Commissioner to provide authorisation for Agency Heads to extend non-SES, non-ongoing engagements to a maximum period of four years. Previously, approval was required to extend beyond three years.

2.     This authorisation will allow Agency Heads to address evolving resourcing and workforce pressures within their agencies as they arise during the outbreak response period.

3.     This authorisation has effect from the date of this Circular until 31 December 2020.

Key issues

4.     During the specified period, Agency Heads no longer need the authorisation of the APS Commissioner under subregulation 3.5(5) of the Regulations.

5.     Subregulation 3.5(5) allows for extension of the period of employment for a non-SES, non-ongoing employee beyond three years, for periods up to an additional 12 months.

6.     This authorisation applies in circumstances where an Agency Head considers it necessary, for agency operations, to extend a term of employment beyond three years, at the time the term would otherwise end.

7.     The total period of employment cannot exceed four years.

8.     This authorisation does not allow the engagement of non-SES, non-ongoing employees for an initial period of four years. This applies to extensions of existing arrangements only.

9.     The decision must be made by the appropriate delegate. Reasons for the decision should also be recorded.


11.   Subregulation 3.5(4) of the (the Regulations) allows an Agency Head to engage a non-ongoing, non-SES employee for a period of up to three years.

12.   Subregulation 3.5(5) of the Regulations allows for an extension of the period of employment for up to twelve months, to a total period of four years, where:

  • the Agency Head considers that the engagement is necessary for the agency’s operations; and
  • the APS Commissioner authorises the Agency Head to do so. The APS Commissioner may make such authorisation if satisfied that special circumstances exist.

13.   The APS Commissioner is satisfied that the current COVID-19 pandemic is a special circumstance.

14.   Prior to issuing of this Circular, agencies were required to seek authorisation for such an extension from the APS Commissioner on a case-by-case basis.

15.   For the avoidance of doubt, at the expiry of the specified period, see paragraph 3, agencies will again be required to seek authorisation for such an extension from the APS Commissioner on a case-by-case basis.

More information

16.   Any queries relating to this matter can be directed to the Australian Public Service Commission’s Staffing Policy team at staffingpolicy [at] apsc.gov.au.

Peter Woolcott AO

Australian Public Service Commissioner

17 April 2020

Last reviewed: 
19 May 2020