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Executive summary

You've got to get across to people that we are living in an age of immense volatility and therefore you have to be nimble and innovative.
– The Prime Minister the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull
1 September 2014, at the launch of 'The Mandarin' website, aimed at public service leaders


In an environment of increasing complexity and growing community expectations, the Australian Public Service (APS) is expected to provide innovative policy and delivery solutions. In addition, the Smaller Government agenda is challenging the APS to serve government and the Australian people in the most efficient way possible, including through alternative delivery models.

More than ever before, the APS must attract the very best people and actively encourage them to perform at an exceptional level. Workforce practices must be flexible enough to allow agencies to continually challenge talented employees and respond quickly to changing business priorities.

In order to remain relevant and continue to offer the best policy advice and service, the APS is transforming the way it does business. This review has been conducted as part of the Department of Finance's Efficiency through Contestability Programme.

Evidence base

The review conducted extensive analysis of current and best practice and consulted widely with:

  • Secretaries, Agency Heads, Deputy Secretaries and other senior APS leaders
  • senior leaders from state jurisdictions and international public sectors
  • senior leaders and Human Resources (HR) managers from the private sector
  • APS HR managers and practitioners.

Priority areas for change

Four priority areas are identified where change can be made for immediate benefits. Each of these is explored in detail in the report.

  1. Optimising talent and driving high performance
  2. Attracting and recruiting
  3. Improving flexibility
  4. Re-designing HR

A list of proposed actions is at Appendix A.

Key actions to achieve change include

Review legislation

  • Temporary employment arrangements
  • Separation provisions
  • Description of merit — simplify
  • The APS classification system
  • The system for appealing management decisions

Improve process

  • Ensure Secretaries are visibly accountable for talent management
  • Remove complex processes surrounding recruitment
  • Elevate the role of HR and re-shape HR capability
  • Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) to partner with agencies in a more practical manner


Investigate and accelerate outsourcing of:

  • APSJobs website
  • Non-strategic HR activities — this may be an extension of the Shared and Common
    Services Programme


  • Centralise some transactional recruitment actions for specific cohorts — e.g. graduates
  • Centrally develop tools to facilitate mobility, secondments, induction and talent management
  • The Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Australian Public Service Commissioner to lead talent management of Senior Executive Service (SES) Band 3s and 2s

Culture shift

  • Recruitment is not just about the classification — it's about the role and what you bring to it
  • Talent is valuable and requires continuous active attention at the highest level
  • Roles change — no job is for life
  • Business needs determine employment arrangements — increase use of specified term contracts for SES
  • Encourage and support managers to address difficult issues such as management of underperformance
  • Continuous improvement becomes part of the fabric of the APS

Next steps

  • A number of significant improvements to process can be implemented now, 'If not now, when?'
  • It is also possible to give immediate attention to areas that may be contestable, or benefit from a centralised approach.
  • Legislative amendment may be required in some areas. It is acknowledged that developing proposals for such change will require further detailed investigation and analysis.
  • Obstructive rules and processes can be more readily identified and dealt with — a more demanding challenge will be in fostering genuine, sustainable cultural change.

Work is already underway in many areas including through newly formed Deputy Secretary working groups that are taking the lead to address perennial problems around attracting talent, workforce agility and optimising performance. This is consistent with the spirit of 'If not us, who?' These groups are looking for innovative solutions to enable long-term and effective change, including those that already exist in agencies and can be leveraged across the Service. Their actions will create a more dynamic APS that is better positioned to meet government and community expectations.

Last reviewed: 
12 June 2018