Committed to service
… I saw the way in which collaboration at a really extraordinary level became critical to our success. Everybody was focused on the main game. Nobody was pursuing their own agenda unless it was an agenda which was going to either keep Australians safe or safeguard our future prosperity.3
Stephanie Foster PSM, Deputy Secretary Governance, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
The events of the last two years have proven the benefits of collaboration across traditional boundaries—both within and outside the APS—to deliver the best outcomes for Government and Australians.
The APS has been working in new ways with leaders across private, community, and research sectors to deliver programs, policies and services to Australian citizens. For example, to ensure business continuity for the tourism industry and help conserve and protect high-value reef tourism sites, marine tourism operators worked with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to undertake reef site monitoring and maintenance at over 200 different sites. The Department of Defence is working with industry in new ways to support the Australian Defence Force (ADF), bridge information gaps and build long-term relationships, by establishing the Defence Industry Secondment Program.
The program enables public servants and military personnel to spend 6 weeks in industry workplaces. Further, close direct collaboration with hundreds of older Australians and their families resulted in an online platform to connect older Australians to Government-funded aged care services, improving the way people access services and information.
Crises and other complex policy problems demand cross-boundary collaboration, support for innovation and adaptive responses as options are explored.4 The drive towards better collaboration between agencies, which was already underway in the APS, has accelerated since COVID-19 with new opportunities for different parts of Government to work together and with more staff reporting they are working as a Government team.5 Some of the disincentives to collaboration have disappeared through the pandemic, with two-thirds of respondents to the 2021 APS Employee Census reporting few barriers to working as one APS.
Efforts to flexibly mobilise resources, share knowledge and align efforts across the APS have helped build common ownership of the COVID-response and strengthened a sense of purpose in many employees.6 In 2021, the majority of the APS workforce (82%) reported a strong belief in the purpose and objectives of the APS and 9 out of 10 staff (90%) could see how their role contributed to achieving results for the Australian public.7 For many employees, their commitment to serving the Australian public leads to their choice to remain working in the APS.
Across the APS, employees report that the work they perform provides them with a sense of accomplishment, and they are keen to go the ‘extra mile’.8 More than 8 in 10 respondents to the 2021 APS Employee Census reported being willing to work beyond what is required in their job to help their agency achieve its objectives.
Collaboration and commitment to source critical ventilators
Lying in a hospital bed in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Canberra’s Calvary Hospital a decade ago, all of Belinda Fraser‘s concentration was on taking the next breath. Belinda was the first pregnant woman to be admitted to the ICU in Canberra with the H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu. The doctors did not hold out hope of saving her unborn child. Belinda recalls being told by medical staff that if her oxygen levels didn’t improve she would be put on a ventilator. Belinda’s mother and husband sat with her throughout the night, encouraging her to breathe—to get oxygen into her lungs and to her baby.
Just over 10 years later, this unique personal experience came back to the forefront of Belinda’s mind with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia. An Australian public servant with 18 years’ experience, Belinda was seconded to a taskforce to source ventilators.
The taskforce, set up in the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, was responsible for sourcing ventilators for the Australian National Medical Stockpile managed by the Department of Health. Taskforce members had to learn quickly what type of ventilators Australia needed, and how many, undertake due diligence on the procurement, and give options to the Department of Health.
To this end, and to ensure Australia had an immediate onshore supply, Belinda worked closely with Australia’s ventilator manufacturers who had moved to a 24-hour cycle. Everything seemed to be falling into place, until a unique problem arose—Belinda was advised production would have to stop because of sanitiser shortages. When Belinda found out that production of ventilators was at risk, she immediately started thinking outside the box. Having an in-depth knowledge of finance and procurement guidelines and knowing that public-facing institutions in Canberra had shut their doors due to COVID, she wondered if they might have unused medical grade sanitiser available to help fill the need. Using her networks, she discovered they did, and were more than happy to share with those who had an urgent need for the supplies. This quick thinking and collaborative effort helped production of ventilators continue until normal suppliers could reinstate orders.
Belinda is passionate about the APS. “I love having a lot of contact with external stakeholders in this business-focused portfolio. You get to learn a lot about the things you can actually do as a public servant that will make a practical difference to people, businesses and industries.”
Belinda received a 2021 Public Service Medal (PSM) ‘for outstanding public service to fostering collaborative arrangements for securing ventilators for the Australian Government National Medical Stockpile in response to the COVID-19 pandemic’. Belinda firmly believes it is a worthy recognition of the efforts of her whole team, and their performance in very exceptional circumstances.
3Stephanie Foster PSM, Deputy Secretary Governance and Head of APS Reform, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. (2020). Exploring the future of work with PwC Australia Podcast. 17 December.
4Ansell, C., Sørensen, E., and Torfing, J. (2020). The COVID-19 pandemic as a game changer for public administration and leadership? The need for robust governance responses to turbulent problems. Public Management Review (Issue 7, Volume 23). 21 September.
52019 and 2020 APS Employee Census.
62020 APS Employee Census.
72021 APS Employee Census.