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Governance, management and accountability

The office of the Merit Protection Commissioner, established under section 49 of the PS Act, is an independent office located within the Australian Public Service Commission. Ms Annwyn Godwin was reappointed as Merit Protection Commissioner by the Governor-General in January 2013 for a five-year term.

During 2012–13, Mr Patrick Palmer acted as Merit Protection Commissioner for two periods between 7 and 15 March 2013 and between 13 May and 30 June 2013. Ms Karin Fisher acted as Merit Protection Commissioner between 16 and 20 July 2012 and between 22 and 26 October 2012.

The Merit Protection Commissioner’s functions in 2012–13 were set out in section 50 of the PS Act and Parts 2, 4, 5 and 7 of the Regulations. They included:

  • reviews of employment actions and promotion decisions
  • inquiries into whistleblower reports made to the Merit Protection Commissioner by APS employees alleging breaches of the APS Code of Conduct
  • employment services for APS agencies, in particular ISACs
  • other reviews, in particular reviews of the entitlements on separation of former APS employees and reviews of the employment-related actions of statutory office holders
  • employment services to non-APS organisations on request, including agencies in other jurisdictions
  • other inquiry functions, including inquiries into alleged breaches of the APS Code of Conduct by the Public Service Commissioner and inquiries into APS actions at the request of the Public Service Minister.

The Merit Protection Commissioner charges a fee for establishing ISACs and for providing employment services.

The Merit Protection Commissioner’s functions were amended with effect from 1 July 2013 by the Public Service Amendment Act 2013. The amendments do not significantly affect the primary role of the Merit Protection Commissioner as an independent review body on employment matters and the revised functions will be set out in next year’s annual report.

Organisational structure

The office of the Merit Protection Commissioner is co-located within the Commission. The staff who support the Merit Protection Commissioner in the performance of her functions are employed by the Commissioner and are made available in accordance with section 49 of the PS Act.

The Ethics Group in Canberra provides coordination and policy support for the Merit Protection Commissioner, and the Merit Protection Commissioner’s review and fee-for-service activities are performed in the Commission’s Sydney office by employees in the Ethics and Client Engagement groups. The principal adviser is based in the Ethics Group in Canberra and is the full-time delegate of the Merit Protection Commissioner for review decision-making. During 2012–13 the Merit Protection Commissioner was supported by three other delegates, including the Group Manager, Ethics.

Interaction of Merit Protection Commissioner and Public Service Commissioner roles

The respective responsibilities of the Merit Protection Commissioner and the Commissioner are established by the PS Act. The two roles are complementary, particularly in relation to maintaining confidence in public administration.

The Commissioner is responsible for promoting the APS Values and Code of Conduct and evaluating the extent to which agencies incorporate and uphold the APS Values and comply with the Code. The Merit Protection Commissioner, by reviewing individual actions or decisions for consistency with the APS Values and other requirements, and through reviews of determinations of breaches of the Code and/or sanctions, helps to ensure consistent standards of decision-making and people management practices across the APS and also provides an important assurance role for the APS.

In practice the two Commissioners work closely on systemic matters relating to the APS and independently on their respective review functions.

This report and further information about the Merit Protection Commissioner’s role and services are available on the Commission’s website.

Corporate governance

The Commissioner, as the head of the Commission, is responsible for its corporate governance. The Merit Protection Commissioner is a member of the Commission’s Executive—a senior management group chaired by the Commissioner.

The Merit Protection Commissioner has taken on a wider governance role within the Commission. The Merit Protection Commissioner assists in the Commission’s governance arrangements by chairing the Audit and Risk Management Committee. The Merit Protection Commissioner also oversees the work of the Ethics and Corporate groups as appropriate, although there is no direct management role in respect of these groups.

The Merit Protection Commissioner and the Commissioner have a memorandum of understanding for the provision of staff to assist the Merit Protection Commissioner.

Information publication scheme

Agencies subject to the Freedom of Information Act 1982 are required to publish information to the public as part of the Information Publication Scheme. This requirement is in Part II of the Act and has replaced the former requirement to publish a section 8 statement in an annual report. Each agency must display on its website a plan showing what information it publishes in accordance with the scheme’s requirements. Information about the Merit Protection Commissioner is included in the Commission’s plan, which is available at www.apsc.gov.au/freedom-of-information/ips.