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Commissioner’s review

Peter Woolcott AO

Australian Public Service Commissioner

The Australian Public Service Commission holds a crucial role within the Australian Public Service (APS). We aim to position the APS workforce for the future by being a valued, credible and trusted partner to the rest of the public service.

The APS is undergoing unprecedented change. There are complex factors behind this including the increasing complexity of issues, the speed of technological change and the expectations of the public. The Government has made clear that it wants the APS to focus on effective delivery, tangible outcomes that make a difference to our country and its future, and a much more people–centric approach. We also need to anticipate the Government’s response to the Independent Review of the APS. What this means is that the Commission will continue to play a central and expanding role in ensuring the good governance of the APS and Australia.

In 2018–19, the Commission initiated a range of strategic and operational improvements to prepare for these challenges, including a restructure of the agency to strengthen and better organise our business model. Establishing more cohesive arrangements internally has been crucial, both as to how we work together, and as to how we work with the rest of the APS.

To better understand the Commission’s ability to meet current and future challenges, I commissioned an independent capability review of the Commission, led by David Tune AO. The capability review has recently been completed and was extraordinarily valuable in testing the Commission's progress and preparedness. It provided an independent perspective of strengths, capability gaps and areas for future focus.

I am pleased that this review affirmed that the Commission has a dedicated and highly engaged workforce with deep technical expertise and a track record of delivering activities that are highly valued across the Service. There is, however, work to do in ensuring the culture of the organisation is more outward facing and agile if we are to build on these strengths.

The review also acknowledged the challenges of the Commission's current funding model and proposed an approach to develop a more sustainable revenue base in collaboration across the service. I am supportive of exploring opportunities over the next financial year to reduce administrative burden while improving the impact of the Commission's activities across the Service.

We need to position the APS for the next quarter century and the Commission’s current areas of focus are leadership, mobility and integrity.

Strong leadership is critical to APS performance and is a key driver in managing change and driving performance. This leadership is exercised at a range of levels in the APS. APS agencies have provided feedback that priority areas for the development of our leaders is around resilience and change management. This feedback recognises the rapidly changing context in which the APS operates.

Additionally, the development of soft skills is vital for senior officials. The Commission is playing a key role in supporting this work. A large number of APS senior leaders are now going through capability and talent assessments to assist us in developing them for current and future roles. And we’ve continued to deliver high quality leadership courses for APS managers at all levels.

This year, I also amended the Australian Public Service Commissioner’s Directions 2016 (the Directions) to enhance performance management within the APS. The amendments to the Directions hold all APS employees accountable for upholding the APS employment principle that requires effective performance from every employee.

We saw again this year an increase in the response rate to the APS employee census, a result that reflects the importance that agencies place on receiving feedback from their employees. The Commission will publicly release its census results at the time of the publication of the State of Service report as a way of promoting both transparency and accountability.

On a more system wide basis, the APS employee census is just one avenue the Commission utilises to recommend improvements on key employment matters such as recruitment, separation and mobility.

Mobility in the public sector is important. The APS must be more permeable and mobile in order to foster diversity of thinking, the contestability of ideas and assist in capability development. In December 2018, I was pleased that the Secretaries Board supported administrative changes to Senior Executive Service (SES) recruitment practices to provide me, as the Australian Public Service Commissioner, with greater visibility of SES movement and capability.

As the Australian Public Service Commissioner, I have a statutory responsibility to uphold the integrity and values of the APS. Integrity should be the embodiment of who we are as public servants. Integrity underpins how we engage with the public, with each other and the Government. It should be at the forefront of our mind in our everyday work.

In 2018–19, the Commission observed an increased demand from APS agencies for ethics awareness support. With a more mobile workforce, moving in and out of the public sector, we need to ensure that our focus on integrity remains strong.

This year the Commission conducted the Values Evaluation Survey with a representative sample of APS employees. Survey data indicated that 86 per cent of employees perceived their agency always expected full compliance with the APS Values. Other survey results identified a number of strengths and areas of potential improvements in relation to the APS Values. These results will form the basis for the Commission’s future work with agencies to enhance employees’ understanding of their professional obligations.

As you will see in this 2018–19 Annual Report, over the past year we have laid the groundwork for some important work happening now. A whole–of–APS workforce strategy is being developed. A new professional employment model will be another important move towards developing career pathways within the public service. I am also pleased that the Commission is continuing to actively engaging with countries in our region to support strong public sectors, as well as looking at best practice examples from across the world.

2018–19 signified my first full year as the Australian Public Service Commissioner. I have been continually impressed by the professionalism of Commission staff and the way in which they respond to emerging challenges and opportunities. I am proud to be the Australian Public Service Commissioner and look forward to the contributions the Commission can make to an effective and trusted APS over the coming years.

Peter Woolcott AO

Australian Public Service Commissioner

15 October 2019