Chapter Four: Further Opportunities to Strengthen Partnerships
Whilst the three core products launched to date are important, the Panel believes there are further opportunities to strengthen the partnership between the APS and Ministers.
Two views featured strongly in consultation:
- the need for dedicated human resources support for MOP(S) employees, and
- the need for an improved training framework for MOP(S) employees. The Panel notes the Department of Finance offers training, however, staff self-select their training, it is general in nature, there is limited take-up and there is no specific training for specific roles.
Human Resources Support for MOP(S) Employees
The Panel notes significant resources have been invested to promote and equip the APS as a professional service. An investment should be considered for staff employed under the MOP(S) Act. This includes professional support for MOP(S) employees in recruitment, placement, induction, professional development and career planning.
The Panel acknowledges other processes are on foot to consider support and human resources mechanisms for MOP(S) staff. This includes Set the Standard: Report on the Independent Review into Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces, by Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, which was released on 30 November 2021. The Report recommends establishing an Office of Parliamentarian Staffing and Culture:
Recommendation 11: Office of Parliamentarian Staffing and Culture
The Australian Government should establish an Office of Parliamentarian Staffing and Culture, within 12 months, to provide human resources support to parliamentarians and Members of Parliament (Staff) Act employees that is:
(a) centralised and accountable to Parliament, with the enforcement of standards
(b) designed to provide human resources support and administrative functions in the areas of policy development, training, advice and support, and education.
It is understood that the proposed Office of Parliamentarian Staffing and Culture would provide independent services across the Parliament in the same way. The Panel has identified a range of additional supports for staff that could also be offered, but would be better managed by internal Parliamentary groups which recognise the unique and sensitive nature of Parliamentary work. Support could include assisting with recruitment and staffing committee arrangements, staff declarations of interest and similar matters, assisting staff with career planning and supporting mentoring and coaching relationships. Separate “Staffing Support Offices” with Government and non-government arrangements could offer a comprehensive program, including assisting with induction, and could work in tandem with, or in addition to, the proposed Office of Parliamentarian Staffing and Culture.
The Panel’s view is that that the establishment of SSOs could be considered in the deliberations of existing reviews.
Professionalisation of MOP(S) Employees
The Panel considers MOP(S) employees would benefit from appropriate induction, development, management and support. Additionally, MOP(S) employees should have access to clear work health and safety support, including support for mental health and wellbeing. The Panel notes that this is a shared responsibility of the employing parliamentarian and the Department of Finance.
Training for MOP(S) employees must be relevant and have clear support from employers to demonstrate that it is valued. Delivery must be appropriate, the content tailored for different roles, and consider the varied backgrounds and knowledge of MOP(S) employees.
Consultations suggest that uptake of the current training provided by the Department of Finance is limited and inconsistent. To improve uptake of training, and ensure that staff receive the training that is fundamental to their role, a review of the current offerings and delivery of training is advisable.
The Panel met on several occasions with the Department of Finance and is pleased the Department is working on improved training for MOP(S) employees. The Department of Finance is aiming to provide targeted offerings for different levels and roles of MOP(S) employees. The Panel welcomes this development. It is important that any new training should be developed in conjunction with Government and Opposition representatives, with the joint aim of professionalising the various roles of MOP(S) employees.
Specific Training for Senior Government and Non-Government MOP(S) Employees
The Strengthening Partnerships SES Learning Program is an exciting development in lifting APS capability to deal with Ministers and their offices. The Panel believes the Program’s focus on involving practitioners with lived experience of the Ministerial and APS operating environments offers both practical and meaningful insights for participants.
There is an excellent opportunity to adapt the Strengthening Partnerships SES Learning Program to make it relevant for Government and non-Government MOP(S) employees. A repurposed program would maintain the focus on delivery by experienced practitioners, but could explore the role of the APS and how MOP(S) employees can work with the APS to achieve improved results. Such a program could be delivered at an appropriate time after an election, with specific training programs for both Government and non-Government cohorts.
The Panel encourages the APSC to engage with the Government to examine opportunities to deliver a Strengthening Partnerships Learning Program to MOP(S) employees in 2022. The Panel also notes feedback from the Secretaries Board that consideration should be given to joint training sessions for MOP(S) employees and APS employees, particularly those in senior roles, such as Chief of Staff or Deputy Secretary.
Opportunities for APS Employees to Work in Ministerial Offices
The relationship between the APS and Ministerial advisers is most effective when the roles are well understood by one another. A key focus of the Panel’s training and guidance material is clarifying these different, but complementary, roles.
There are further opportunities to encourage mutual understanding of roles between the APS and MOP(S) employees. An effective way to strengthen this mutual understanding is fostering and enabling employment or secondment opportunities across the two cohorts.
The Panel’s consultations highlighted the need to better utilise the DLO role as one avenue for enhancing shared understanding. The Panel’s paper, Principles for DLOs, provides guidance to the APS on recruitment and support for these positions. Guidance includes attracting the right candidates, making the role as effective and meaningful as possible and how to support staff into, during and upon exit from these roles.
Another obvious avenue for APS employees to gain greater understanding of the role of a Ministerial adviser is for APS employees to be supported and encouraged to take up positions in Ministerial offices. The SES Talent Councils should continue to emphasise the value of these roles. Agency heads and senior leaders should actively champion these opportunities by encouraging and making it possible for senior staff to take up these roles.
The APS should make it clear that it is beneficial for APS employees to take opportunities in Ministerial offices. APS employees should also be assured that they will be supported to return to meaningful work in the APS after undertaking a role in a Ministerial office. The APS must make efforts to ensure that APS employees who undertake work in Ministers’ offices are appropriately recognised for the additional skills they have developed and that they are not disadvantaged as a result of their time in a political office. This must also be respected by Members of Parliament.
The Panel suggests APS staff should also be encouraged to take up other roles that work closely with Ministers. These roles include working in Ministerial and Parliamentary liaison functions or leading a taskforce or function that works closely with Ministerial offices. This could also create opportunities for Ministerial advisers to engage closely with the APS operating environment.
Engagement with Other Reviews
During the course of its work, the Panel engaged with two significant reviews that were established to examine the parliamentary workplace.
On 16 February 2021, the Prime Minister, the Hon Scott Morrison MP, tasked a review of the procedures and processes involved in identifying, reporting and responding to serious incidents that occur during parliamentary employment. The Prime Minister asked that the review be conducted by Panel Member, Ms Stephanie Foster PSM, Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and that it provide recommendations on how to ensure independence from the employer in such processes, empowerment to victims, and timely, effective and ongoing services and support.
The Review of the Parliamentary Workplace: Responding to Serious Incidents was released on 24 May 2021 and made some significant findings and recommendations to improve how serious incidents are prevented and dealt with in the parliamentary workplace. These include implementation of a face-to-face education program helping managers and staff understand their obligations in relation to a safe and respectful workplace, and to recognise and respond appropriately to serious incidents or patterns of behaviour in the workplace. The Report also recommended the development of an independent, confidential, complaints mechanism for serious incidents.
The Government accepted all ten recommendation of the Report. The Panel’s consultations revealed a consistency of issues identified in the Report. The Panel welcomes the establishment of the Australian Parliament House Counselling Service (1800 APH SPT), the roll out of safe and respectful workplaces training and the start of the Parliamentary Workplace Support Service.
On 5 March 2021, the Government announced an independent review into Commonwealth Parliamentary workplaces, led by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Ms Kate Jenkins. The aim of The Independent Review into Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces is to ensure all Commonwealth Parliamentary workplaces are safe and respectful and that our national Parliament reflects best practice in the prevention and handling of bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault.
The Panel met collectively and individually with Ms Jenkins to share their views. The Australian Human Rights Commission released its report on 30 November 2021.
The Panel’s work is broader than standards of behaviour. The Panel wishes to note, however, that its support for a dedicated human resource function and improved and more targeted training for MOP(S) employees would improve workplace culture and complement both these reviews.
The Panel found overwhelming support for strengthening partnerships between Ministers and the APS. The Panel views these partnerships as essential to deliver for the Australian community. The Panel recognises developing and maintaining a strong partnership can be challenging. Nonetheless, the Panel encourages continued progress on the issues identified in the Independent Review of the Australian Public Service and the Panel’s consultations.
Leadership is critical to support strong partnerships. Ministers, Parliamentarians and the APS must engender an environment to support these partnerships. By responding to the recommendations of the Independent Review of the Australian Public Service and commissioning the Panel, the Government has already demonstrated its commitment to strengthening partnerships.
However, improvement in the long term will only continue if there is ongoing consideration of partnerships at regular intervals. There must also be a commitment from the leadership of the APS, Governments and Oppositions to make it a priority. Examples of regular consideration include annual discussions at Secretaries Board, or a regular update from the Minister for the Public Service to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet.
The leadership of all Parliamentary Parties (the Leaders’ offices) also have responsibilities. The leadership needs to set an example about how they interact with the APS, how they expect their Parliamentarians to interact with the APS and make it a requirement for their MOP(S) staff to undertake necessary training and engagement.
With leadership, investment and improved support, the Panel believes the partnership between Ministers and the APS will be strengthened.
The Panel thanks the Government for the opportunity to consider these important issues. The Panel also thanks the participants in its consultations for generously contributing their time and insights. Finally, the Panel acknowledges the support from the Strengthening Partnerships Secretariat at the APSC.
- Strengthening Partnerships Ministerial Liaison Reference Panel
Canberra, 10 December 2021
 Australian Human Rights Commission. 2021 Set the Standard: Report on the Independent Review into Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces, p22.