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Committee whole of government project: Terms of reference

The Australian Government addresses major issues that fundamentally shape the future of Australian society over the immediate and longer term. These issues are becoming increasingly complex and their solutions often require strategic responses that cross the traditional boundaries of ministers’ portfolios.

The Australian Public Service (APS), structured on the basis of portfolio responsibilities, currently has challenges and opportunities in its flexibility and responsiveness to meet this changing environment. Moving beyond the accepted structures, a whole of government view now requires new thinking and ways of working. The Management Advisory Committee (MAC) has initiated this project to provide pragmatic views on flexibility and responsiveness in policy development and integration, program design and implementation, and service delivery.

The whole of government experience across the APS to date may be described as chequered, with instances of complete and partial success. Learnings from effective processes, including governance, consultation and deployment, can be identified as aspects for replication in future developments. Less effective experiences, characterised by duplication of effort across agencies, gaps in coverage and slow responsiveness, offer opportunities to design better ways of planning and operating into the future.

The challenge is to:

  • improve cross-agency coordination and collaboration while maintaining vertical accountability
  • deliver programs and services in a seamless manner
  • improve government’s engagement with individuals and communities
  • respond quickly and effectively to emerging issues and future crises.


The objective of this whole of government project is to improve coordination for the Australian Government through a more integrated approach to work which spans more than one agency, resulting in improved policy development, and program and service delivery to Australians. The project aims to add value to whole of government directions, and influence more effective future approaches that better deal with the complexities of stakeholder issues.

Consistent with the MAC whole of government agenda, the project will:

  • articulate the different purposes and dimensions of whole of government approaches
  • identify what is needed to facilitate and support effective whole of government approaches
  • develop a good practice guide to assist APS agencies to adopt whole of government and integrated approaches, where appropriate.

The project will recognise and draw on the range of initiatives that are currently under way in Australia and overseas, and build on key management reforms in contemporary public administration to provide practical advice for improved delivery of the government’s priorities, as identified by the Prime Minister in his lecture to the Committee for Economic Development Australia:

  • national security and defence
  • work and family life
  • demographics
  • science and innovation
  • education
  • sustainable environment
  • energy
  • rural and regional affairs
  • transport
  • health.

The project will consider these priorities in relation to integrated policies, programs and service delivery.

It will focus on:

  • making connections while maintaining gains from devolution and business driven management
  • engaging stakeholders while maintaining accountability to the government and parliament
  • building shared infrastructure and a public service culture that can support improved connectivity and more responsive services.

Areas for investigation

The project will address the following six areas in the context of case study analysis and provision of recommendations.

  1. The budget and accountability framework for identified priorities:
    • identifying how the budget and accountability framework aids or hinders coordinated whole of government activities
    • identifying enhancements to the framework that will support more effective horizontal management within and across agencies while meeting vertical accountability obligations to government and parliament.
  1. Structural options and processes, including interdepartmental committees, project teams and taskforces:
    • reviewing the culture and processes associated with cross-agency activities to improve coordination
    • exploring alternative models of governance that may present better ways of making cross-agency teams more effective.
  1. Client and community-based approaches (including Indigenous, rural and regional):
    • identifying more effective engagement processes to ensure that individuals, organisations and communities are heard and heeded in the development of solutions to improve Australian society
    • crafting effective strategies to address the specific needs of particular parts of the Australian community, particularly Indigenous communities, and rural and regional communities.
  2. Crisis management:
    • developing best practice approaches, based on learnings from recent and current crisis management situations, to improve speed, flexibility, cooperation and responsiveness for unpredicted and/or unpredictable events where success is absolutely critical.
  3. Information infrastructure:
    • in line with government priorities and the work of the MAC Information Management Strategy Committee, providing options to further enhance infrastructure-supporting activities, to partner with industry solution providers to extend access to technology-based solutions, and to prepare the way for emerging technology options that will impact on the Australian community in the immediate future.
  4. Culture and training in the Australian government public sector:
    • identifying cultural changes that can be introduced on an APS-wide basis and agency-specific basis to foster behaviours that support whole of government thinking and work, including the rewards system, promotion of APS values and styles, leadership development issues, workforce profiling and planning, and succession planning.

The final report

The final report will be a succinct analysis that concentrates on providing evidence through the use of selected case studies that provide enduring recommendations.

This will be achieved by:

  • having a sound academic base, founded on a review of national and international experience
  • identifying the drivers and barriers at the Australian government level
  • providing an evaluation of the relative strengths and weakness of various mechanisms based on lessons learnt from contemporary case studies
  • setting out core principles that underlie successful whole of government approaches from the perspectives of clients and stakeholders, ministers and Cabinet, and the APS
  • having a practical focus, where recommendations will reflect a bias for action
  • informing directions for implementing the government’s priority policy agenda
  • providing a targeted literature review
  • providing a succinct international comparison of whole of government experience.

The report will contain the following deliverables:

  • a concise history of whole of government activity in the Australian public sector
  • pertinent case studies and analysis of lessons learned from these experiences
  • a summary of key learnings
  • practical recommendations covering the six identified areas of investigation
  • a set of best practice guidelines for various whole of government mechanisms, where appropriate
  • suggestions regarding new approaches to further advance whole of government business.