In February 2013, parliament passed the Public Service Amendment Act 2013. The Act received royal assent on 14 February and the amended PS Act came into effect on 1 July 2013. The amendments to the PS Act were supported by amendments to the Public Service Regulations 1999 (the Regulations) and new Australian Public Service Commissioner’s Directions. The amended Regulations and the Australian Public Service Commissioner’s Directions 2013 also came into effect on 1 July 2013.
The amendments implement recommendations of the report Ahead of the game: Blueprint for the reform of Australian Government administration (the Blueprint), and recognise that the delivery of high-quality services and policy advice requires capable, committed leadership and a public service that is efficient and effective in supporting government.
The amendments include:
- strengthening the governance and leadership of the APS through:
- articulating the roles and responsibilities of secretaries more clearly, particularly in relation to their stewardship of the APS
- revising the employment arrangements for secretaries to require appointment and termination decisions to be made by the Governor-General and to provide for a statutory annual review of the performance of secretaries
- establishing a Secretaries Board to replace the Management Advisory Committee, and identify strategic priorities for the APS and take responsibility for its stewardship
- clarifying the role of the SES, for example in relation to their whole-of-APS responsibilities
- strengthening and clarifying the functions of the Public Service Commissioner as a central authority for APS development and reform, taking a leading part in ensuring that the APS has organisational and workforce capability to meet future needs
- revising the APS Values and introducing Employment Principles to support the cultural changes envisaged by the Blueprint.
At the same time, other amendments improve the operation of the PS Act after 13 years’ experience. These include amendments aimed at strengthening the APS Code of Conduct and the handling of misconduct. Changes made to the Regulations included simplifying the arrangements for employing people as non-ongoing employees.
The first four elements of the Code of Conduct (behaving honestly and with integrity; acting with care and diligence; treating everyone with respect and courtesy, and without harassment; and complying with all applicable Australian law) have been amended to apply where there is a ‘connection’ with the employee’s employment, rather than the narrower test of connectedness of ‘in the course of employment’. Other amendments to the code’s provisions for handling misconduct allow agencies to deal more effectively and efficiently with unacceptable behaviour. The amendments also allow a misconduct investigation to be finalised after an employee has separated from the APS. This provides more certainty for agencies and makes it less attractive for employees who are under investigation to resign in the hope of bringing an investigation to an end before a finding is made.
The changes to the Regulations streamline the grounds on which agencies can engage people on a non-ongoing basis for a specified term or the duration of a specified task; standardise the three-year time limit for all non-ongoing specified term engagements (a maximum initial period of engagement of 18 months will continue to apply in certain circumstances); provide the Commissioner with the power to extend specified term employment beyond three years in special circumstances (up to a further 12 months); and introduce new provisions which specifically relate to the engagement of state and territory public servants as non-ongoing APS employees for a specified term.
Amendments made to the role and functions of the Merit Protection Commissioner are reported on in the Merit Protection Commissioner’s annual report which follows the appendices to this report.
Other amendments address operational matters that have become apparent since 1999.
Speaking in parliament on the second reading of the Public Service Amendment Bill 2013, the Hon Gary Gray AO MP, the then Minister for the Public Service and Integrity, said:
It is important that the public service legislation supports a Service which is fit for purpose, meeting the legitimate needs of the Government of the day both now and into the future.
This Bill provides for a modern, contemporary employment framework that will allow greater agility and responsiveness by the APS to the community and government. It will result in greater efficiency and more effective use of Commonwealth resources. It will also facilitate and accelerate the cultural shift towards operating more effectively as ‘One APS’.
Supporting agencies to be ready for the amended Public Service Act
Throughout 2012–13, the Commission informed agencies about progress with the Bill and the content of the legislative changes in a wide range of forums, including the Heads of Corporate Forum and the HR Leaders Forum. Updates (including circulars) were also posted to the Commission’s website, and the Commission directly communicated significant developments to heads of agencies and heads of corporate areas.
Once the commencement date of 1 July 2013 was proclaimed for the Public Service Amendment Act 2013, the Commission delivered an APS-wide information session in Canberra on 8 April 2013. The slides from that session were posted to the Commission’s website to ensure wider access to the information. Agency-specific information sessions were provided for very large agencies (the Australian Taxation Office, and the departments of Defence and Human Services).
Between mid-April and early May, the Commission issued a series of detailed advices (16 in all) to give agency corporate areas more detailed information about how the changes to the legislative framework would affect them, and the actions they needed to take to prepare for commencement of the new provisions on 1 July 2013. Two circulars on the amendments supplementing these advices were released in June.
The Commission established a question-and-answer webpage, along with a dedicated email address, that informed APS agencies about how amendments to the PS Act would affect them. Support for agencies will continue into 2013–14 to assist them to integrate the new provisions into their policies, procedures and practices.
To further assist agencies, guidance on a range of employment matters was updated to reflect the new provisions and released before 1 July 2013. Other guidance will be updated during 2013–14.
The APS Values
The revised APS Values provide a smaller set of core values that are more meaningful, memorable, and effective in driving change, as recommended in the Blueprint.
A model to assist agency heads to embed the revised APS Values is shown in Figure 2, which also sets out four building blocks for strengthening a values-based culture:
- Commitment to the APS Values as the basis for the way we do business
- Leadership to integrate the Values into agency decision-making processes and culture; leaders who consistently reflect the Values in their own behaviour
- Management Systems that integrate the APS Values into day-to-day operations
- Assurance mechanisms that provide confidence that decisions and actions in the APS are based on the APS Values.
Figure 2: Integrating the APS Values
The new Values are:
The APS is apolitical and provides the government with advice that is frank, honest, timely and based on the best available evidence.
Committed to service
The APS is professional, objective, innovative and efficient, and works collaboratively to achieve the best results for the Australian community and the government.
The APS is open and accountable to the Australian community under the law and within the framework of ministerial responsibility.
The APS respects all people, including their rights and their heritage.
The APS demonstrates leadership, is trustworthy, and acts with integrity, in all that it does.
The APS Values are complemented by a set of Employment Principles that deal with employment and workplace relationships in the APS.
The Hon Mark Dreyfus QC MP, Minister for the Public Service and Integrity, launching the APS Values at a graduate event on 18 June 2013.
Embedding the APS Values and Employment Principles
The APS Values were jointly launched by the Hon Mark Dreyfus QC MP, Minister for the Public Service and Integrity, and the Public Service Commissioner, on 18 June 2013 at a graduate event, hosted by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.
The Commission developed the following resources to support the Commissioner’s Directions on the APS Values and Employment Principles and assist agencies in integrating the Values and Employment Principles into their practices:
- Strengthening a values based culture: A plan for integrating the APS Values in the way we work, a publication which provides a practical framework and checklist for agencies.
- A series of bookmarks and posters to raise awareness among APS employees of the Values, Employment Principles and Code of Conduct.
The Commissioner with APS graduates and Ms Karin Fisher, Group Manager Ethics, holding up the APS Values and Employment Principles at the launch on 18 June 2013.
The Strengthening a values based culture plan was developed in close consultation with the Ethics Advisory Group. This group consists of nominees from the departments of Defence, Finance and Deregulation, Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Human Services; Austrade, the Australian Taxation Office and ComSuper. All nominees were selected for both their expertise and to reflect the make-up of the APS. The group’s input into the plan was invaluable.
Information aimed at all APS employees about the new APS Values and Employment Principles has also been published on the Commission’s website.
In addition, the Commissioner commenced a series of briefings for the SES on the new APS Values and Employment Principles, and further sessions will be delivered in 2013–14 in response to invitations from agencies.
The Commission also worked closely with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry to develop an e-learning module to help employees learn about the APS Values, Employment Principles and Code of Conduct and their impact on employees’ day-to-day work. The module has been designed to be easily tailored to the needs of other agencies and is available from the department on request.