Go to top of page


More than any other factor, the quality of the people in the APS will determine how well the APS meets the challenges of the future.

In today's contestable environment the APS is faced with multiple complex policy and delivery challenges. In addition, government and the community expect the APS to be accountable and transparent in the way in which it provides advice, makes decisions and spends taxpayer funds.

The APS must always be vigilant about the way in which it serves the Australian people and uses limited government resources. It must constantly test its approach to policy and service delivery, prioritise spending between business and administration, and critically examine its management practices
in order to continually improve and strive for maximum efficiency.

There is no single solution or silver bullet to deliver a workforce that meets business priorities in the most efficient and cost-effective way. Workforce management must evolve alongside business and requires ongoing attention and review. The APS is aware of its need to change in this area, and has talented and committed people working towards continuous improvement, acknowledging there is still progress to be made.

There has been significant public service reform since the Royal Commission Report into Government Administration in 1976. This report identified the importance of responsiveness and results based management to the elected government, and improved efficiency and effectiveness. These themes were reflected in legislative changes culminating in the Public
Service Reform Act 1984 that had the catchphrase 'let managers manage'.

The 1994 Public Service Act Review Group Report (McLeod Review) addressed the challenge of providing a modern and flexible management framework while maintaining the reforms of the previous decade. The Public Service Act 1999 was predicated on the findings of that review. In 2010, Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the Reform of Australian Government Administration
recognised the complex challenges facing Australia and placed people at the centre of public service reform. This led to changes made in the Public Service Amendment Act 2013. Most recently, the 2014 Report of the National Commission of Audit made a series of recommendations in relation
to efficiency and capability.

Public service reform in Australia 1984–2015

Looking to the future: A vision for the APS

The APS will be smaller, more agile and more expert. Its people will be recognised for providing exceptional service in meeting the changing needs and expectations of Government and the Australian community.

APS workforce management contestability review

The APS Workforce Management Contestability Review was established to examine how workforce management practices can be modernised. The review was asked to consider the appropriateness, efficiency and effectiveness of the following areas of the APS employment framework.

Recruitment and induction: Methods used to attract, recruit and appoint talented people with the skills and capabilities the APS needs. This includes the merit principle, temporary employment arrangements, probation and induction.

Employee mobility: The movement of people to meet business priorities and develop individual capability. This area includes mobility, secondments and deploying resources to meet emerging needs.

Employee separations: The barriers—real or perceived—to efficient and respectful employer-initiated separations. This area includes termination rules and practices, comparison with other sectors and potential for additional grounds for termination of employment.

During the course of this review it became evident that a number of additional elements of workforce management required attention including approaches for optimising talent in the APS, practices designed to lift the productivity and engagement of people, and the effectiveness of the APS HR function.

This review sought evidence to assess the effectiveness of current APS workforce practices and processes. However, there are gaps in the APS data available across a number of indicators, benchmarks and trends. APS quantitative data was supplemented by industry data and extensive consultation with a
wide range of stakeholders.

Through consultation, the review identified a number of excellent and innovative practices being implemented in agencies. While it was not possible within the timeframes to investigate all of these, the report does reference some examples and acknowledges that many agencies are actively tackling workforce
issues and making improvements. It is also noted that the way in which agencies approach workforce management is impacted by size, maturity and agency function.

APS reforms underway

This review occurs against a backdrop of a number of concurrent reforms.

  • The Smaller Government agenda has created a platform for consolidating government functions and transferring non-core functions or services to alternative providers.
  • Functions are being consolidated to maximise economies of scale for some high-volume transactional HR processes, for example payroll, through the Shared and Common Services Programme.
  • The Digital Transformation Office (DTO) is accelerating the transformation of APS digital services, augmenting the work already being done by some agencies to provide quick and easy online experiences for citizens dealing with government.
  • The Independent Review of Whole-of-Government Internal Regulation (Belcher Red Tape review) has drawn attention to excessive red tape and suggests imposing the minimum regulation required to achieve outcomes in proportion with the level of risk.
  • The Independent Audit: National Broadband Network Public Policy Processes highlighted the importance of subject matter experts capable of delivering strategic objectives.
  • Agencies are implementing the findings of their capability reviews. These reviews are a forward-looking assessment of an agency's ability to meet future objectives and challenges.
  • Deputy Secretaries have formed working groups to remove barriers to best practice workforce management and to experiment with new ideas.

Other public sector reform

Since the global financial crisis, most Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries have gone through a period of public sector workforce reform, including significant downsizing. These reforms are driving public services to be more efficient in their operations, to strive
for continuous improvement and innovate to do more with less.

  • The United Kingdom (UK) is committed to adapting to future requirements. In 2007, the UK Civil Service conducted a review of its performance management framework and in 2011 ventured into the digital world with the launch of gov.uk and the Government Digital Service. The challenges of supporting government
    led to the 2012
    Civil Service Reform Plan. In 2014, two reports, Civil Service Reform in the Real World and Leading Change in the Civil Service articulated the ongoing drive for evolution.
  • In 2011, Canada established the 'Shared Services Canada' department, and launched a new Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector. The Blueprint 2020 (2013) and Building the Public Service of the Future (2014) continued to articulate Canada's case for change.
  • New Zealand undertook a review of the State Services Commission in 2013 and finalised the State Sector Amendment Act 2013.
  • Since 2011, state governments in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria have reformed workforce management practices and principles.

Degree of public sector employment reform in OECD countries (2008-2013)1

1 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 'Special feature: Employment reforms in central government since 2008', Government at a Glance 2015, OECD Publishing, Paris, 2015, p. 111.

Last reviewed: 
29 March 2018