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Focus for the coming year

My appointment as Merit Protection Commissioner ends in January 2018. My goal is to leave a fully effective and responsive Office that has the necessary staffing, technology and culture to ensure continued operational efficiency.

With this in mind, I have identified three broad objectives for the remainder of 2017:

  • identifying legislative or policy changes for consideration by the Government
  • contributing to public sector–wide understanding of integrity and risks
  • promoting internal gains within the Office.

Government reviews such as the Belcher and McPhee reports have identified the need to examine processes within the APS, including administrative review. The message we will pass to agencies in presentations, briefings and discussions is that it is cost-effective to address employment matters at line manager level, simply because it is at this level where most issues arise and this lessens the risk that disputes will escalate.

In my regular discussions, agencies have requested more information and a greater number of case summaries on my website. An internal working group is considering how best to present case summaries addressing the needs of the different audiences. Ongoing refreshing of the website content will continue my focus on multiple ways of conveying information to clients, such as podcasts or short videos. I will continue issuing my regular newsletter and use my Facebook page to inform agencies of issues of interest and practical ‘tips and traps’ about employment matters for managers and human resources practitioners.

‘The website works really well. Uncluttered and simple. One of the projects on my mind before I leave the [NSW government agency] is to look at revamping our terrible website, and yours looks a great start. Nice video!’

(Feedback from state government office holder)

We will continue to use our observations to work with the Commission to support the Government’s legislative reform process. One issue identified is a drafting oversight in Part 7.2A of the Regulations to clarify how an agency head should handle a recommendation following a review of a breach of the Code of Conduct by a former employee.

While I am pleased with the performance of my Office, we are not complacent. I had a larger than usual staff turnover this year as key staff retired. I will continue training and upskilling of all staff.

My delegates and I will continue to examine business processes to determine whether there are potential productivity savings through changing the way reviews are handled and, more effective interaction with applicants to manage expectations and use of information technology. We will be considering the feedback from applicants to help manage expectations of the review process. Work is under way to enable electronic lodgment of applications and papers for reviews, and the automatic generation of emails and correspondence templates. At the same time we will examine our work practices to move to fully electronic recordkeeping. Both initiatives need to be viewed in a whole-of-system way so that work requirements are not just shifted from one area to another.

The work of my Office is largely demand driven. In part, the level of reviews is dependent on how well agencies handle dispute resolution in their agencies. I anticipate that the review casework will continue at similar levels in 2017–18, including inquiries by my Office into breaches of the Code of Conduct. Promotion review and independent selection advisory committee (ISAC) activity are dependent on agency recruitment activity. While it is difficult to predict, I envisage continued demand for promotion review and ISAC services. As noted earlier, during times of change and uncertainty there is greater emphasis on trust and integrity.