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Sect 1.1 The APS—Defined by Values

Note that this page is under review. It has not yet been updated to reflect changes to the Public Service Act 1999 and Public Service Regulations 1999, or contained in the Australian Public Service Commissioner's Directions 2013, that came into effect on 1 July 2013. Agencies may continue to use the
guidance for reference, but should be aware that it may not reflect current legislative requirements.

The proclamation of the Public Service Act in 1999 reflected the culmination of two decades of public sector reform.

The devolution of employment powers to agency heads was designed to facilitate a more responsive, flexible and performance-focused Service. The APS Values form the enduring framework that defines the Australian Public Service, rather than rules and processes set by a central employer.

The principles of good public administration, embodied in the APS Values, lie at the heart of the democratic process and the confidence the public has in the way public servants exercise authority when meeting government objectives. Good public administration is a protection not only against inefficiency
and poor performance, but also against fraud, corruption, inequity, inability to conduct business confidently and infringement of human rights.

The APS Values and Code are not simply aspirational statements of intent. They are mandatory. A breach of the Code of Conduct can result in sanctions, ranging from a reprimand to termination of employment. All APS employees are required to uphold the Values and comply with the Code. Failure to do so
may attract sanctions. Agency heads (and the Senior Executive Service) are required also to promote the Values. The Public Service Commissioner is empowered to evaluate the extent to which agencies incorporate and uphold the Values and the adequacy of systems and procedures to ensure compliance with
the Code.

Key relationships and behaviours

Values underpin relationships and behaviour. They establish 'the way we work around here'. This is the essence of values-based management.

Although the PS Act does not group or prioritise the Values (or the Code), it is helpful to consider them in terms of relationships and behaviours:

  • between APS employees and the Government and the Parliament
  • between APS employees and the public
  • amongst APS employees in the workplace
  • personal behaviour.

The following links each of the Values to one or more headings.

The APS Values and relationships

Key Values: Relationship with Government and Parliament

  • The APS is apolitical, performing its functions in an impartial and professional manner (s. 10(1)(a)).
  • The APS is openly accountable for its actions, within the framework of ministerial responsibility to the Government, the Parliament and the Australian public. (s. 10(1)(e)).
  • The APS is responsive to the Government in providing frank, honest, comprehensive, accurate and timely advice and in implementing the Government's policies and programs (s. 10(1)(f).

Key Values: Relationship with the public

  • The APS delivers services fairly, effectively, impartially and courteously to the Australian public and is sensitive to the diversity of the Australian public (s. 10(1)(g)).
  • The APS provides a reasonable opportunity to all eligible members of the community to apply for APS employment (s. 10(1)(m)).

Key Values: Workplace relationships

  • The APS is a public service in which employment decisions are based on merit (s. 10 (1)(b)).
  • The APS provides a workplace that is free from discrimination and recognises and utilises the diversity of the Australian community it serves (s. 10(1)(c)).
  • The APS establishes workplace relations that value communication, consultation, cooperation and input from employees on matters that affect their workplace (s. 10(1)(i)).
  • The APS provides a fair, flexible, safe and rewarding workplace (s. 10(1)(j)).
  • The APS focuses on achieving results and managing performance (s. 10(1)(k)).
  • The APS promotes equity in employment (s. 10(1)(l)).
  • The APS provides a fair system of review of decisions taken in respect of APS employees (s. 10(1)(o)).

Key Values: Personal behaviour

  • The APS has the highest ethical standards (s. 10(1)(d)).
  • The APS has leadership of the highest quality (s. 10(1)(h)).
  • The APS is a career-based service to enhance the effectiveness and cohesion of Australia's democratic system of government (s. 10(1)(n)).

This guide is structured around these relationships and behaviours.

The APS as an institution

There are three arms of the Australian Government:

  • the Parliament or Legislature, which has the power to make laws
  • the Executive Government (which is often referred to simply as 'the Government', and is determined by majority of the House of Representatives)
  • the Judiciary, which has the power to interpret laws and decide whether and how they apply in individual cases.

The APS is part of the executive arm of government, which is accountable to the Parliament, and bound by the law as interpreted by the Judiciary.

The APS is also itself an institution of Australia's democratic system of government, playing a particular role within the executive arm of government. Its role as an institution is reflected in the APS Values, including in particular:

  • its relationship with the Government and the Parliament:
    • the apolitical nature of the APS (s. 10(1)(a))
    • accountability within the framework of Ministerial responsibility to the Government, the Parliament and the Australian public (s. 10(1)(e))
    • responsiveness to the elected Government (s. 10(1)(f)).
  • its relationship with the public:
    • impartial, as well as fair, effective and courteous (s. 10(1)(g)).
  • its workplace relations:
    • the merit principle governing employment decisions (s. 10(1)(b)).
  • its requirements for personal behaviour:
    • the highest ethical standards (s. 10(1)(d)).

These particular Values reflect the core principles of public administration that have applied in Westminster systems of government for over a hundred years. Each is critical to the role and responsibilities of the APS. They complement each other in defining the professional behaviour expected of public
servants. They are also supported by the provisions in the Code of Conduct.

Of particular importance to the role of the APS as an institution is the requirement in the Code for compliance with the law (s. 13(4)). APS employees have particular responsibility for due process, including compliance with the requirements of financial management law and administrative law as well as the specific legislation their agency may be responsible for administering.

The Value of the highest ethical standards reflects the expectation the public has that power, authorised by Parliament and delegated to Ministers and to public servants, will be exercised to a standard of ethics at least as high as anywhere in the community. The Value is supported by many elements of the Code,
which require personal standards of behaviour such as honesty, integrity, care, diligence, respect and courtesy. APS employees are also required to behave at all times in a way that upholds the integrity and good reputation of the APS (s. 13(11)).

The importance of ethical behaviour is also reflected in the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 (FMA Act), which requires Chief Executives to promote the '…efficient, effective and ethical…' use of Commonwealth resources.

APS employees should be aware of the respective roles of the different arms of government, and the role of the APS as an institution in Australia's democratic system. Adherence to the Values enables the Parliament and the public to be confident about the capacity of the APS to efficiently, effectively
and ethically administer public money and property, in line with the policies of the elected Government and consistent with the law.

Balancing the Values

While the Values complement each other, there may be tensions between them. No Value should be pursued to the point of direct conflict with another. For example, being apolitical does not remove an employee's obligation to be responsive to the Government in providing frank, comprehensive, accurate
and timely advice and in implementing its policies and programmes, nor does responsiveness permit partisan decisions or decisions that are not impartial. Compliance with the law always takes precedence over a public servant's obligations to achieve results and be responsive.

Ethical behaviour goes beyond the requirements of lawful behaviour. It requires employees to merit the respect of the public in their official dealings. This is not a requirement for zealotry, but for professionalism, taking into account all the APS Values, including achieving results and managing

On occasions, dilemmas may arise and public servants need to make difficult decisions. Agencies must have processes that enable employees to recognise such dilemmas and make considered ethical judgements.


The APS Values and Code cover all APS employees, and agency heads.

Some statutory office-holders must also comply with the Values and Code, though the degree of application may vary. See Regulation 2.2 of the Public Service Regulations 1999 for detail.

Last reviewed: 
29 March 2018