There have been three distinct phases to the development of the Merit Protection Commissioner role during my tenure. These are: centralising the review function and improving business processes, including reducing red tape; establishing the function in Sydney following the relocation in 2010; and now developing as a centre of expertise. It is this latter work that will provide the challenges for my office in 2015–16.
On 1 July 2015 a revised structure of the Commission will come into operation reflecting changes to the Commission's business priorities. Although the statutory functions of the Merit Protection Commissioner will not change, there will be changes to the way my office works.
Under a revised memorandum of understanding with the Australian Public Service Commissioner, Commission staff undertaking Merit Protection Commissioner functions will form an independent work unit under my direct management. This will be the first time since I took office that staff have worked directly to me without reporting to a Commission manager. I will also have a dedicated budget to manage. The implementation and embedding of the new structure will require my focus in the first quarter of 2015–16.
While the changes will reinforce the independent role of the Merit Protection Commissioner, it will require focus to ensure links with relevant policy areas within the Commission are maintained. It is important that the insights from review inform policy development on the APS employment framework.
If the rate of applications for review does not increase, I will have an opportunity to focus on capability development and to develop my fee-for-service functions. My focus for 2015–16 is to develop as a centre of APS merit review expertise, including through the fee-for-service functions, and to continue to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of my office. This includes the implementation of a targeted communication strategy.
The changes to the PS Act and the Regulations in July 2013 enable the Merit Protection Commissioner to inquire into alleged breaches of the Code of Conduct on a fee-for-service basis. The greater focus on fee-for-service work will be in addition to the delivery of efficient and timely review services.
Over the next year I will be working towards establishing a panel of skilled persons to investigate Code breaches. I expect such a service to prove beneficial to the APS, assisting smaller agencies with insufficient casework experience to develop expertise. In addition, it will also assist agencies with complex and contested cases that would benefit from an independent and credible investigation. The opportunities for agencies to work with the Merit Protection Commissioner will enable the transfer of skills and expertise and promote better decision-making.
Reinforcing impartial, evidence-based decisions is also important in recruitment activities. There are significant benefits to agencies in using ISACs for staff selection in the current recruitment environment. During 2015–16, I will be marketing ISACs to agencies as a cost-effective way of selecting staff. The initial costs of establishing an ISAC are outweighed by savings in time and productivity through eliminating the need for promotion review and greater confidence in the fairness and integrity of the outcome.
I will continue to conduct trend analysis from the review casework supported by further improvements to reporting functionality. This analysis enables agencies to identify workplaces that are not functioning optimally, tensions between their people management framework and workplace practice, and cultural issues. Through this assurance role, the review function provides a strategic value-add to agency people management practice.
Finalising and implementing a communications strategy is essential to informing the APS community about the productive resolution of workplace disputes and improved employment decision-making. The restructure of the Commission's website to better support key client groups will assist my work—in particular, by providing a repository of advice for managers and human resource practitioners. I will be exploring more interactive and innovative ways of accessing online services and presenting information targeted at the different audiences.
I must be responsive also to the needs of the government. To this end, I will be ensuring that my functions are as efficient and cost-effective as possible and add value to the APS.
Governance, management and accountability
Contribution to outcomes 2014−15
The Commission is included in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet's Portfolio Budget Statements. The Australian Public Service Commissioner, as head of the Commission, is responsible for the Commission's financial and human resources and for assessing the level of the Commission's achievement against its outcome.
The performance indicators and targets relevant to the Merit Protection Commissioner's functions are provided under programme 1.1 in Part 2 of the Australian Public Service Commissioner's annual report.
Role and function
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 2014–15, Ms Karin Fisher acted as Merit Protection Commissioner between 8 August 2014 and 17 October 2014 and Ms Amanda MacDonald from 19 June 2015.
The Merit Protection Commissioner's functions are set out in sections 50 and 50A of the PS Act and Parts 2, 4, 5 and 7 of the Regulations.
The office of the Merit Protection Commissioner is located within the Commission. The staff who support the Merit Protection Commissioner are employed in the Commission and are made available by the Australian Public Service Commissioner in accordance with section 49 of the PS Act.
The Commission's Ethics Group in Canberra provided coordination and policy support for the Merit Protection Commissioner while the Merit Protection Commissioner's review and fee-for-service activities were performed in the Commission's Sydney office by employees in the Ethics and Employment Policy and Participation groups. The principal adviser was based in the Ethics Group in Canberra and was the full-time delegate of the Merit Protection Commissioner for review decision‑making. During 2014–15, the Merit Protection Commissioner was supported by a full-time delegate and two part-time delegates.
Interaction of Merit Protection Commissioner and Public Service Commissioner roles
The respective responsibilities of the Merit Protection Commissioner and the Australian Public Service Commissioner are established in the PS Act. The two roles are complementary, particularly in relation to maintaining confidence in public administration.
The Australian Public Service Commissioner is responsible for upholding high standards of integrity and conduct in the APS. The Merit Protection Commissioner assists by ensuring consistent standards of decision-making and people management practices across the APS and also provides an important assurance role for the APS. This assurance is provided by reviewing individual actions or decisions for consistency with the APS Values and other administrative law requirements, and through reviews of determinations of breaches of the Code of Conduct and/or sanctions.
This report and further information about the Merit Protection Commissioner's role and services are available on the Commission's website at www.apsc.gov.au/merit.
The Australian Public Service Commissioner, as the head of the Commission, is responsible for its corporate governance. In 2014–15 the Merit Protection Commissioner was a member of the Commission's Executive—a senior management group chaired by the Australian Public Service Commissioner.
The Merit Protection Commissioner had a wider governance role within the Commission, including being the independent chair of the Audit and Risk Management Committee and overseeing the work of the Ethics and Corporate groups. As chair of the Commission's Audit and Risk Management, the Merit Protection Commissioner assisted the Australian National Audit Office to revise its better practice guide on the operation of audit committees of public sector agencies operating under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013. Ms Godwin's significant contribution to the guide released in March 2015 was acknowledged by the Auditor-General.
The Merit Protection Commissioner and the Australian Public Service Commissioner have a memorandum of understanding for the provision of staff to assist the Merit Protection Commissioner. The memorandum of understanding was renegotiated in June 2015.
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. Information about the Merit Protection Commissioner is included in the Commission's plan, which is available at www.apsc.gov.au/about-the-apsc/Freedom-of-information/ips