Keep up-to-date with APS Reforms

As the APS Commissioner, Dr Gordon de Brouwer, has pointed out, ‘public sector reform has been a recurring feature of public administration since the first departments of state were established at Federation in 1901’.

Whether you’re seeking to enter the APS, or progressing your career, it’s worth keeping up-to-date with reform processes. They may inform your pitch for roles and clarify your motivation for public service work.

The current reforms, announced in October 2022, are part of a ‘multi-year transformation’ process.

The  2023 reform progress report explains that the reform agenda is built on four interrelated priority pillars, 44 initiatives, underpinned by eight outcomes to measure progress and impact over time. Responsibility for developing and implementing these initiatives is held by 12 departments and agencies. Of the 44 Phase One initiatives, 10 are complete, 15 are in the delivery stage, 11 in the planning stage, and 8 in the design stage.

In summary, applicants may need to stay current on the following topics:

  • The history of APS reform.
  • The nature of integrity and what it means to uphold integrity.
  • The SES Performance Leadership Framework.
  • The proposed new APS Value – Stewardship.
  • Building partnership and engagement capabilities.
  • The work of the Digital Transformation Agency.
  • The Long-Term Insights Briefings.
  • What’s needed for effective relationships and partnerships with First Nations peoples.
  • Policy changes concerning the APS being a model employer.
  • What relevant capabilities to build.
Know the history of APS reform

Section One of the report gives an overview of reform. If you’re applying for a role in APS reform, then it’s worth knowing the history to the process. In October 2022, Senator the Hon. Katy Gallagher, Minister for the Public Service, outlined four priority areas or pillars, for reform. These concern integrity, putting people and business at the centre of policy and services, being a model employer, and building capability. Section One lists source materials for the reforms.

Pillar One: An APS that embodies integrity in everything it does

Initiatives relevant to job applicants include integrity-related initiatives, reforms to make the APS a model employer, the APS Surge Reserve workforce, and the APS Academy. The reform process has involved uplifting lead team skills. Capability areas strengthened by reform initiatives include project management and strategic policy advice, use of data in evidence-based policy, outcomes-based working, promotion of active engagement and partnership, and cultural capability. These capabilities point to useful skills for applicants.

Key outcome areas point to areas relevant to applicants. Outcome 1 concerns public sector employees acting and championing integrity.

Section 2 of the reform report explains that:

‘Employees need to understand what integrity means, their responsibilities, and uphold integrity; championing this in the context of their daily work and behaviours. Improving understanding of the Commonwealth integrity architecture ensures a strategic and effective approach to preventing, detecting and sanctioning fraud and corruption, protecting whistle-blowers, and enabling pro-integrity behaviours. By doing this, trust and confidence in the APS and government is increased …’

Other related initiatives concern performance management and implementation of remaining government-related recommendations in the Set the Standard Report, aimed at ensuring Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces are safe and respectful. While a non-SES performance framework won’t be available until 2025, it’s worth looking at the SES Performance Leadership Framework.

The Framework comprises elements each agency will need to include in their performance practices:

  • expectations for behaviours and outcomes
  • performance assessments
  • reward and recognition
  • development and
  • unsatisfactory performance.

A key feature of the Framework is ‘the principle that behaviours are as important as outcomes and both must be assessed as part of an SES leader’s performance. Excellence in delivering outcomes cannot be used to offset or minimise behavioural concerns’. Applicants for management roles may find it useful to consider this framework.

Outcome 2 concerns public sector employees being stewards of the public service. The government seeks to add Stewardship as an APS Value under the Public Service Act 1999, a value currently only applying to Secretaries, the APS Commissioner and Secretaries Board. The new Value has been defined as “The APS builds its capability and institutional knowledge, and supports the public interest now and into the future, by understanding the long-term impacts of what it does”. Applicants could consider what stewardship means for them and their roles.

Pillar Two: An APS that puts people and business at the centre of policy and services

Pillar Two of the reforms concerns the APS putting people and business at the centre of policy and services. Outcome 3 states that the APS delivers human and user-centred policy and service excellence. This outcome concerns partnership and engagement with people, communities, non-government sectors, academia and industries. Such an approach can build trust, confidence and satisfaction in public services. Initiatives concern ‘meaningful engagement’ and ‘uplifting capability to deliver policy and services that are human centred’.

The development of a Charter of Partnerships and Engagement sets out principles for improving the way the APS puts people and business at the centre of policy, implementation and delivery. The APS is establishing a whole-of-service approach to outcomes-based contracting with third parties to deliver services for Australians.

Another part of Outcome 3 concerns investing in data and digital capability uplift. Three initiatives concern the Data and Digital Government Strategy, improving the quality of digital and ICT investment and the myGov User Audit. Applicants interested in roles that require data and/or digital capabilities need to be familiar with the work of the Digital Transformation Agency, including their policies, standards and frameworks.

Two initiatives seek to develop more understanding about the APS’s operating context: the Survey of Trust and Transparency in Australian public services and Long-Term Insights Briefings, aimed at ‘analysing significant, complex, longer-term, cross-cutting and strategic policy challenges that may affect Australia and the Australian community in the medium and long-term’.

The first of these briefings concerns How might artificial intelligence affect the trustworthiness of public service delivery? It explores how the APS could integrate artificial intelligence (AI) into public service delivery in the future, and how this might affect the trustworthiness of public service delivery. It also offers insights into how the APS can ensure that AI contributes to the delivery of high quality and trustworthy public services in the future.

Outcome 4 concerns having effective relationships and partnerships with First Nations peoples. Outcome 7 concerns setting the standard for First Nations employment and cultural competency. This includes increasing the number of First Nations staff, particularly at senior levels, ensuring their retention, building cultural safety and eliminating racism in government institutions. Making a real difference to these outcomes will be critical given the referendum result.

Pillar Three: An APS that is a model employer

Pillar 3 concerns creating an attractive employee value proposition. Policy changes to support this process are the New Workplace Relations Policy, the Maternity Leave Act review, access to flexible work, and APS Net Zero 2030. Applicants seeking management roles need to examine these changes, along with initiatives concerning inclusion and diversity and reducing the gender pay gap.

Pillar Four: An APS that has the capability to do its job well

Pillar Four, Outcome 8 is that the APS continuously improves its capabilities. Initiatives supporting this outcome invest in new bodies and frameworks, invest in known capability gaps, and seek to understand the broader picture of APS capability. Reforms include an in-house consulting model, now known as Australian Government Consulting, and the Strategic Commissioning Framework.

Applicants looking at roles that involve procurement and working with consultants need to be across these developments.

Projects concerning known capability gaps include Delivering Great Policy, two programs to establish Asia and the Pacific capability: APS Indo-Pacific Executive Development Program and Pacific Cultural Capability Microcredential, strengthening APS partnerships with Ministers, futures and strategic foresight capability, and optimal management structures. The APS Academy has plenty of resources on policy that applicants could find useful.

Section Three of the report outlines the implementation architecture of the reforms, comprising governance and decision-making structures, program delivery, reporting and engagement processes. Section Four sets out program risks and Section five covers future focus areas.

 Other resources:
Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.