Chapter 1: Working in the APS
You [the APS] should all be enormously proud of what we’ve accomplished this year. We faced twin national crises in real time, a health crisis and an economic one, to save lives and to save livelihoods. There was no rulebook ... 1
The Hon Scott Morrison MP, Prime Minister of Australia
More than 20 months since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the crisis continues to significantly impact the Australian community and the APS.
Responding to profound health, economic and societal challenges, the normal rhythm of public service delivery accelerated. Traditional organisational boundaries and ways of working changed. The results are better, more flexible and more adaptive methods of delivering for the community.
The APS has been critical to the design and delivery of the Australian Government response to COVID-19, in the face of disrupted working environments, large-scale mobilisation across the service, and high community expectations. The APS intensified engagement with state and territory governments, businesses and community groups, academia and research organisations, with the purpose of supporting Australians.
Whether to secure ventilators and Personal Protective Equipment supplies, rapidly roll out economic support packages for millions of Australian employees and businesses, transition Government services from face-to-face to online, or support new governing architectures such as the National Cabinet—the APS has been integral.
With the arrival of COVID-19, weaknesses in APS structures that affected whole-of- government action in the past were addressed, with more agile mechanisms established to better harness expertise and data across Government and drive organisation-wide solutions in real time.
For example, the Chief Operating Officers (COO) Committee, which was formed last year, continues to facilitate the mobilisation of staff to areas of critical need and holds responsibility for ensuring that the decisions made by the Secretaries Board on the management of the enterprise are implemented across the APS.
Improved, responsive governance in 2020–21 included establishing a new Secretaries Digital Committee and a strengthened mandate for the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA), to promote joined-up investment so the APS can efficiently deliver on the Government’s priorities in service delivery and digital government.
To date, Australia’s national security architecture has successfully navigated the multi- dimensional challenges facing the nation in pursuit of Australia’s national interest. But Australia now faces the most challenging and complex strategic environment since the 1930s and early 1940s.
The Secretaries’ Strategic Security Committee (3SC) aims to elevate and broaden strategic security discussions by recognising the cross-portfolio, whole-of-government nature of contemporary national security challenges.
The effectiveness of the whole-of-government arrangements, under the stewardship of the Secretaries Board to position the APS workforce to respond to COVID-19 were acknowledged by the Auditor-General in December 2020.
The operation of the APS as an integrated organisation continues to evolve. The Secretaries Board is driving a series of practical reforms set out in the Australian Government response to the 2019 Independent Review of the Australian Public Service (the Thodey Review) to maximise the potential of the service to deliver for Australians and the Government.2 These actions support Australia’s response to and recovery from the pandemic, accelerate digital transformation through an enterprise-wide approach, and strengthen capability through the APS workforce strategy.
This State of the Service Report sets out how the APS is delivering on these priorities, working as one enterprise to reinforce institutional foundations and build a highly capable, future-ready workforce. It shows collaborative action to deepen expertise in a range of areas such as regulation, digital and data.
With a membership that includes all Commonwealth Secretaries and relevant Directors-General, its deliberations seek to raise national security awareness across the Commonwealth, while also increasing economic and social awareness within traditional security agencies.
1The Hon Scott Morrison MP, Prime Minister of Australia. (2020). Speech to the APS200 Virtual Forum. 25 November.
2Commonwealth of Australia. (2019). Our Public Service, Our Future. Independent Review of the Australian Public Service. 13 December.