Review and fee for service
Significant work has been undertaken on streamlining internal case management and developing the capability of review staff. Although the review casework is unpredictable because it is demand-driven, the time taken to complete reviews and the quality of the outcomes have improved continually since 2010–11, when the review function was moved from Canberra to Sydney.
I met regularly with my delegates and the Group Manager, Ethics to monitor the progress of review cases, identify potential problems, and develop strategies to improve the handling of cases.
My discussions with the review team also allow agency-specific or systemic issues to be identified. These issues are fed back to agencies and, where appropriate, reported to the Commission Executive to inform policy development.
Early in 2013–14, I supported the work of the Commission's Ethics Group to raise agencies' awareness of the 1 July 2013 changes to the PS Act and Regulations, including ensuring that they understood the transitional arrangements resulting from the changes. The legislative changes provide for greater flexibility and more efficient review processes.
During 2013–14, my delegates worked with the review advisers to continue to build capability, particularly in the areas of assessing and weighing evidence. An emphasis has been placed on discussions between delegates and review advisers at critical stages in the review process and, in particular, after allocation of a case to form a preliminary view and identify additional lines of investigation. In addition, the promotion review procedures have been streamlined. I expect my office to be professional in its interactions with employees so I was pleased to receive unsolicited feedback commending one of my staff for being helpful and informative.
During the year further modifications were made to the Merit Protection Commissioner's case management information database to improve data capture and enable more comprehensive reporting of trends in review work. This enables me to use the information I collect to respond to increasing demands from parliament and other bodies for analysis of the caseload, to support submissions to various inquiries and provide briefings to agencies.
Box M1: Merit Protection Commissioner's policy on review of redundancy issues
The Merit Protection Commissioner has received inquiries and applications for review of agency decisions on voluntary redundancy issues.
The majority of actions related to voluntary redundancies are excluded from review of action by the provisions in regulation 5.23 and Schedule 1 to the Regulations. These include:
- an agency's decision to make a function redundant or to undertake a restructure
- agency policy decisions as to where, how many and to what categories of employees voluntary redundancies are to be offered
- the determination of duties of an employee including reassigning duties to an employee away from an area which may have redundancies
- an agency's recruitment and excess staff policies or decisions to fill a vacancy in a particular way
- where a complainant is making general complaints about redundancy, redeployment or failure to follow procedures and has insufficient direct interest in the matter
- where another jurisdiction may be more appropriate such as the Fair Work Commission.
Under the Regulations, the Merit Protection Commissioner has a degree of flexibility in relation to the exercise of discretion for deciding not to review a matter. Notwithstanding that the majority of actions relating to redundancy are not reviewable, there may be some concerns about fairness—particularly where an employee is made involuntarily redundant. The Merit Protection Commissioner will consider undertaking a review in certain circumstances including where the employee claims to have been unfairly targeted for redundancy or not properly considered for redeployment.
However, where the concern is that an employee has retained their job and not been offered a voluntary redundancy, the Merit Protection Commissioner will exercise her broad discretion not to review the complaint. In this circumstance there is no entitlement to be made redundant and no substantive unfairness to the employee.
While recruitment-related activity has reduced this year, reflecting a general downturn in recruitment across the APS, I have continued to place a high priority on the quality of those services. The recruitment-related fee-for-service activities predominantly comprise establishing ISACs to manage recruitment processes at the APS 1–6 level and Independent Advisory Selection Panels for the Australian Federal Police. Draft revised templates for agreements with agencies on establishing an ISAC have been prepared and I have explored the possibilities of using ISACs to assist with open and transparent downsizing exercises in agencies.