Role and function
The office of the Merit Protection Commissioner is established under section 49 of the PS Act, and is an independent office located within the Australian Public Service Commission. Ms Annwyn Godwin was reappointed as Merit Protection Commissioner by the Governor-General in January 2013 for a five-year term.
During 2013–14, Ms Karin Fisher acted as Merit Protection Commissioner between 8 August 2013 and 25 October 2013.
The Merit Protection Commissioner's functions in 2013–14 were set out in sections 50 and 50A of the PS Act and Parts 2, 4, 5 and 7 of the Regulations. They included:
- reviews of employment actions and promotion decisions
- inquiries into whistleblower reports made to the Merit Protection Commissioner by APS employees alleging breaches of the APS Code of Conduct (up until 15 January 2014)
- employment services for APS agencies, in particular ISACs
- other reviews, in particular reviews of the entitlements on separation of former APS employees and reviews of the employment-related actions of statutory office holders
- employment services to non-APS organisations on request, including agencies in other jurisdictions
- other inquiry functions, including inquiries into alleged breaches of the APS Code of Conduct by the Public Service Commissioner and inquiries into APS actions at the request of the Public Service Minister.
The Merit Protection Commissioner charges a fee for establishing ISACs and for providing employment services.
The Merit Protection Commissioner's functions were amended with effect from 1 July 2013 by the Public Service Amendment Act 2013.
The amendments did not significantly affect the primary role of the Merit Protection Commissioner as an independent review body on employment matters. The two key changes were:
- providing a right of review by the Merit Protection Commissioner of a finding that a former APS employee has breached the Code of Conduct where that finding was made after the employee left APS employment and was related to actions the employee took when employed in the APS (section 50(1)(d) and regulation 7.2A)
- enabling the Merit Protection Commissioner to undertake an inquiry into and make a determination of a breach of the Code of Conduct by an APS employee at the request of an agency head and with the agreement of APS employee (section 50A).
The Merit Protection Commissioner's functions were amended further with effect from 15 January 2014 by the PID Act. On the commencement of the Act, the whistleblower provisions in the PS Act were repealed. Transitional provisions enabled the Merit Protection Commissioner to finalise the whistleblower reports received before 15 January 2014.