Strengthening Partnerships - Final Report
In September 2020, the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) appointed a Ministerial Liaison Reference Panel (the Panel) to support the implementation of the Government’s response to Recommendation 11 of the 2019 Independent Review of the Australian Public Service.
Recommendation 11 is to “strengthen Australian Public Service (APS) partnerships with Ministers by improving support and ensuring clear understanding of roles, needs and responsibilities”. As part of its response, the Government agreed:
The [Secretaries] Board will support the APSC and the Department of Finance to improve and roll out better training and guidance for APS employees and parliamentary staff on how to support Ministers and their offices. The APSC will update its guidance on the roles and responsibilities defining interactions between Ministers, their advisers and public servants.
The partnership between the APS and Ministers is important. A strong partnership is critical to effective government and to the delivery of policies and services to the Australian community. This partnership is characterised by mutual respect and an understanding of the different, but complementary, roles of the APS and Ministers. Without a strong partnership, delivery of the elected Government’s agenda is more challenging.
The focus of the Panel’s work has been on the relationship between the APS, Ministers and their staff.
The Panel’s views, recommendations and products deliver practical outcomes that are intended to strengthen public administration.
The Panel members are:
- Ms Stephanie Foster PSM, Deputy Secretary, Governance and APS Reform, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
- Ms Rachael Thompson, Chief of Staff to Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham, Minister for Finance and Leader of the Government in the Senate
- Mr Ben Hubbard, former Chief of Staff to Prime Minister Julia Gillard AC
- Mr Tony Nutt AO, former Principal Adviser to Prime Minister John Howard OM AC
- Mr Wayne Eagleson, former Chief of Staff to New Zealand Prime Ministers
Sir John Key GNZM AC and Sir Bill English KNZM
The Panel worked closely with the APSC throughout the project.
The Panel held consultations with former Prime Ministers, and with current and former Ministers, Ministerial staff, Secretaries and senior public servants. The Panel also spoke with a number of commentators and academics.
Feedback from the consultations revealed overwhelming support for the Panel’s work. This highlights the importance of the partnership between Ministers and the APS and the importance of providing guidance to strengthen and improve the partnership.
The Panel also supported the APS Academy to design and deliver a Strengthening Partnerships Leaning Program for senior APS employees. Informed by consultations and the Panel’s knowledge and experience, the Program provides greater understanding of the operating environment and various roles and responsibilities in a Minister’s office; ways of working effectively with a Minister’s office; and ways of effectively supporting the Minister. The Program also offers practical ways to build and maintain the partnership.
Supported by the APSC, the Panel has produced guidance papers designed for the APS on critical knowledge areas. This guidance will be published as part of an online Strengthening Partnerships Toolkit and will be available for interested parties, including APS and Ministerial staff.
Finally, the Panel has asked the APSC to consider developing a new website to house the Strengthening Partnerships guidance materials and other resources relevant to the APS and Ministerial partnership. The APSC will maintain the website, ensuring current and reliable guidance is easily accessible to all APS and Ministerial staff.
 Commonwealth of Australia. 2019, Our Public Service Our Future: Independent Review of the Australian Public Service, p137.
 Commonwealth of Australia. 2019, Delivering for Australians: A world-class Australian Public Service, p18.