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Delivering for Australians

‘We are reforming in practice as we act to respond to COVID-19. We are more connected, responsive and adaptable than ever.’

Philip Gaetjens, Secretary, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and Peter Woolcott AO, APS Commissioner[88]

As 2020 began, the future reform agenda for the APS was clear. The 2018-19 Independent Review of the APS had been delivered, and the Government set in motion its reform agenda for the APS: Delivering for Australians. Anchored around 6 pillars, its purpose is to sustain and extend a world-class public service. It looked to an adaptive and delivery-focused APS connected to the people of Australia, acting with integrity around clear priorities, and delivering seamless services.

The APS had made early progress:

  • a significant restructure of the APS was in place from 1 February 2020, reducing the number of APS departments from 18 to 14, designed to streamline government functions, improve decision-making and deliver better services
  • development of digital and data professions have progressed, building on the experience of the HR profession launched in October 2019
  • strategies to improve diversity in the APS have been developed; the Commonwealth Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Workforce Strategy and a new APS Disability Employment Strategy
  • strategic workforce planning continues and streams of work to develop APS capability, improve performance management and integrity measures, centralising aspects of recruitment are underway; and a review of the APS classification structure will commence soon.

Formal implementation planning of APS reform paused in April 2020 in order to manage the COVID-19 response.

The Secretaries Board soon recognised that the events of 2019-20 had the potential to contribute to the acceleration of reform in the APS through practical change. Many forward year plans were executed in weeks to ensure business continuity, and an effective crisis response.

Secretaries Board sought to refocus the reform agenda on those aspects that have immediate and high-impact in supporting Australia’s response to and recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, while building long-term APS capability. These are anchored around 3 key priorities:[89]

  • Continuing to support Australia’s response to and recovery from the pandemic: by working together as a one enterprise, continuing to share data, mobilise people to where they’re most needed, and collaborating early on policy or implementation challenges with industry and the community. The Secretaries Board will continue supporting the development and delivery of cross-cutting Government priorities and the COO Committee will continue addressing the APS’s operational requirements and facilitating the mobilisation.
  • Accelerating APS digital transformation: through an enterprise-wide approach to investing in and developing ICT and digital systems, a targeted review and risk profile of its digital and ICT needs, as well its workforce capabilities and a new Secretaries Digital Committee will ensure effective APS digital governance and drive delivery of these reforms.
  • Investing in the skills the APS needs now and in the future: through the APS Workforce Strategy, continued investment in APS employees will ensure the new experience and skills gained are retained, and that the needs of the future are prioritised, and a dedicated surge reserve will enable APS volunteers to be deployed to a range of critical functions.

Independent Review of the APS

The Government commissioned an independent review of the APS on 4 May 2018, the largest of its kind in 40 years. The Review was led by an independent panel of 6 individuals with public and private experience, led by Mr David Thodey AO.

The objective of the APS Review was to identify an ambitious program of transformational reforms, ensuring the APS is fit-for-purpose for the coming decades. The APS Review covered the capability, culture and operating model of the APS, with a focus on innovation, collaboration, citizen engagement, and delivering better outcomes.

The panel engaged widely within and outside the APS, with more than 400 meetings, workshops and events, and more than 5,000 contributions from over 11,000 participants. This involved public opportunities to make a submission and comment online, dialogues and formal meetings, workshops, information sessions and site visits.

The Government released the final report of the APS Review on 13 December 2019,[90] alongside its response.[91] The report made 40 recommendations, providing a comprehensive platform for change, with 35 of the recommendations accepted partially or in full.

Key findings include the need for a capable, citizen-focused and trusted APS that collaborates, partners with others and delivers decisively. The report also highlighted the need for new ways of working and the importance of harnessing data and technology in a changing and increasingly connected world.

Delivering for Australians

In December 2019, the Government announced its APS reform agenda ‘Delivering for Australians’. The Government also committed $15.1 million over 2 years to commence delivery of the agreed recommendations.

The APS reform agenda sets out 6 guideposts for a modern, high-performing public service. The reforms seek to ensure clear roles and priorities, deliver better services to Australians, support effective implementation, foster engagement and openness to different viewpoints, and ensure the APS adapts to change, and acts with the utmost integrity.

The APS Reform Office, within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, was established in February 2020 to undertake implementation planning and support APS-wide delivery.

[88] Commonwealth of Australia. (2019). Independent Review of the Australian Public Service

[89] Commonwealth of Australia. (2019). Delivering for Australians: A world-class Australian Public Service. The Government’s APS reform agenda

[90] Philip Gaetjens and Peter Woolcott AO. (2020). Open Letter to the Australian Public Service. 9 April.

[91] Philip Gaetjens and Peter Woolcott AO. (2020). Open Letter to the Australian Public Service. 4 September.