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This study is intended to provide an outline history of the Public Service Act 1999, and to place its development and ultimate passage in the context of the 1902 and 1922 Commonwealth Public Service Acts, and the more significant issues and events which influenced the ways in which those earlier Acts evolved and developed.

The history is structured as follows:

  • Chapters 1 to 8 deal with the legislative history of the 1902, 1922 and 1999 Public Service Acts and the circumstances surrounding their evolution.
  • Chapter 9 surveys the changing role of the central personnel authority through the 20th century, and some of the issues featuring in the agenda of the Australian Public Service Commission in 2003.
  • Chapter 10 reflects on significant characteristics of the three Public Service Acts, with their elements of both constancy and change.
  • Chapter 11 ventures some tentative observations on the ‘success’ of the 1999 Act, while acknowledging that it is yet too early to attempt meaningful evaluation.

It suggests also some possible future directions, having regard to some of the issues bearing on the contemporary Commonwealth public sector environment.

Some updating and other editorial amendments have since been made, to December 2003.

The commentary in Chapters 1 to 8 draws substantially on Public Service Commissioner/ Board reports, Second Reading Speeches and Explanatory Memoranda for the relevant legislation, and other specific references mentioned in the text. Discussion of the 1999 Public Service Act also draws on documentation produced by the Australian Public Service Commission.

Preparation of the history has inevitably involved selective use of the source material and value judgements of the writer. It is possible that the text contains errors of fact, and also interpretations with which others would disagree. It is suggested that readers direct any observations or corrections to the Australian Public Service Commission.


The writing of the major part of this history occurred intermittently over a period of some two and a half years, from January 2000 to June 2002.

I am greatly appreciative of the cooperation and ready assistance afforded to me throughout that period by the executive and staff of the Australian Public Service Commission. In particular, my thanks to former Public Service Commissioner, Helen Williams, and current Commissioner Andrew Podger, for their agreement to my undertaking the task, their continuing encouragement and guidance, and their preparedness to allow me to exercise my own judgement as to content and expression of opinion. Responsibility for the latter rests entirely with me, and is in no way intended to represent Commission policy or views.

My thanks also to former Deputy Public Service Commissioner, Peter Kennedy, for his continuing interest and support. Likewise, to Jeff Lamond and all staff of the Commission’s Policy and Employment Group, with whom I have enjoyed a very supportive and happy working relationship at all times.

Finally, my special thanks to Jill Adams for informed comment, suggestions and careful editing of the text, and to Debi Richardson, Kylie Baker, and Linda Barker for their invaluable assistance, and thoughtful advice on the assembly and presentation of the material.

Bob Minns


December 2003

Last reviewed: 
29 March 2018