Accountability is one of the foundation values of the Australian Public Service (APS), helping to define its role as a significant institution in the Australian democratic system. The continuum of accountability relationships in this constitutional and legal sense is generally summarised as: governments are accountable to the Australian people at elections; Ministers are responsible for the overall administration of their portfolios and accountable to parliament for the exercise of Ministerial authority; and public servants are accountable to Ministers for the exercise of delegated authority and through them to parliament.1 Government and the public service must also conform to the law, and may be held to account through the legal system.
This view of ‘core accountability’ does not, however, take into account APS agencies that provide checks and balances on the actions of government (such as the Australian National Audit Office). Nor does it account for the wider concepts of accountability that encompass the responsibilities of governments and public servants beyond, for example, the commitments given to the electorate at the last election or contained in a duty statement.
The Australian community rightly sees a high level of accountability by public servants as essential to efficient, even-handed and ethical administration and as underpinning the freedoms and rights they enjoy as citizens. For the APS, the scope and application of the Accountability Value—The APS is open and accountable to the Australian community under the law and within the framework of Ministerial responsibility—is set out in Directions issued by the Australian Public Service Commissioner (the Commissioner). This includes a requirement to answer for individual performance through performance management systems.
Taken together with other APS Values, which APS employees and agency heads are bound to uphold, the Directions include requirements in broad terms for members of the APS to:
- engage properly with all of their stakeholders and take the initiative in ensuring they remain responsive and client-focused
- play their part in developing a culture of achievement within their agencies
- identify and manage areas of risk
- plan time and priorities to deliver intended results
- act in a way that is right, not just legally correct
- be open to scrutiny for their actions, including being able to explain the actions they have taken to the people affected by them
- not withhold important facts or bad news from government
- be able to demonstrate that actions and decisions have been made with appropriate consideration and that resources have been used efficiently, effectively, economically and ethically
- be accountable for their actions within their agencies and through any statutory systems, such as through a review by the Commonwealth Ombudsman
- be responsible for their individual performance, including developing their personal capability, and responding properly to constructive feedback about their performance.
The role of the public servant should be dynamic, reflecting this vocational focus. Employees should be concerned to ensure not just that they do their job, but that they have the skills and personal determination to do that job well, and to meet the demands of their roles as they change.
This chapter reports on the way individual and organisational accountability and performance arrangements are being improved within the APS. The focus is on organisational performance, span of management and individual performance management as expressions of accountability in the APS.
1 For example, Management Advisory Board & Management Improvement Advisory Committee 1993, Accountability in the Commonwealth Public Sector, Management, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, no. 11, June.