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Secretaries Board driving outcomes across government and APS performance

The Secretaries Board is the APS’s principal service-wide governance body. There is an opportunity to build on its high-level legislated responsibilities, with the Board driving collective accountability for leadership of the APS and unifying the service in delivering on government priorities and outcomes for Australians.

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What we think is needed

  • Secretaries Board with the decision-making rights and support to fulfil its mandate in leading the APS – including by driving cross-portfolio policy and delivery outcomes and ensuring the APS is fit for the future.
  • Secretaries Board to prepare a national outlook – with key trends, opportunities and challenges for Australia, based on service-wide data and insights – published after each election to help inform government policy.
  • Greater access to and communication of the work and decisions of the Secretaries Board, where appropriate, consistent with its leadership role.
  • Establishment of specific Secretaries Board committees as required to support delivery of government priorities (for example, mirroring Cabinet committees) and service-wide initiatives (for example, the APS Reform Committee).

What is shaping our thinking

  • The current legislated functions of the Secretaries Board, including: taking responsibility for stewardship of the APS; identifying strategic priorities; drawing together advice from senior leaders in government, business and the community; and working collaboratively and modelling leadership behaviour.
  • The relationship between accountability of secretaries to their portfolio ministers and secretaries’ broader stewardship and cross-service responsibilities as set out in legislation.
  • Feedback on limited APS or public awareness of the Secretaries Board, alongside evidence that, for the best organisational outcomes, key governance boards must clearly and regularly communicate their role and decisions.
  • Experience of comparable international jurisdictions that demonstrates the benefits of outcomes-focused governance structures that enable cross portfolio collaborative approaches (for example, Canada and New Zealand).
  • Work already undertaken by the Secretaries Board to support service wide initiatives, such as the Diversity Council and APS Reform Committee.

What we are still exploring

  • Appropriate governance, resourcing and support for a strengthened Secretaries Board. This could include a delivery assurance function to help monitor and drive delivery of whole-of-government outcomes.
  • How to best reflect in legislation and practice the distinct and complementary roles of the Secretaries Board, individual secretaries, the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) and the APS Commissioner.


Thu, 02 May 2019

We need to build consistency, align common areas, strengthen relationships and actively work as an APS. A Secretaries Board can do this but we can strengthen this and ensure lasting change by providing them with a multi-disciplined team who works for the Board and across the APS - with annual reviews on performance.

Thu, 02 May 2019

There needs to be more transparency on how the board governs, its mandate and governance framework; its member's individual and collective responsibilities. How is it held accountable, especially to ensure the cultural health of the APS? What are the performance requirements of the Secretaries, relative to the future vision/needs? What is their committment to the purpose of the APS? How do we ensure public trust by avoiding conflicts of interests and `revolving doors' that are currently undermining trust. These elements are THE KEY aspects to ensure successful, sustainable, implementation.

Wed, 01 May 2019

The members of the Secretaries Board should be accountable for reporting to each other where they have taxpay-funded facilities within their departments that can be shared with others to maximise their public utility.

Wed, 01 May 2019

So important! Opportunity for cross pollination, bigger picture vision and collaboration. We need to have understanding of best practice so we aren't re-inventing the wheel, we are aware of our strengths and weaknesses and are open, honest and accountable for decisions.

Wed, 01 May 2019

We talk a lot of meaningless palaver Has this board actually done anything, what does it cost and what are it's real benefits??

Mon, 29 Apr 2019

This is a good proposal for keeping everyone on-target to implement the Government’s highest priorities, including those of a cross-portfolio nature.

It might be worth thinking about suggesting to Government that they include a national outlook incorporating social, economic, environmental and international security information into Budget Paper #1 since this already covers the economic outlook and provides useful context for understanding the current Government’s budget decisions.

Thu, 18 Apr 2019

Advising the APS of the decision is a waste of time - we need to have input before the decision is made. Each Secretary should be passing the information through their agency and then their response to the Board should be what the agency staff say in the majority.

Thu, 18 Apr 2019

leadership accountability to provide accurate information to staffs, support and develop staffs. NO MORE DISCRIMINATE RACE and CULTURE

Wed, 17 Apr 2019

Just do it

Mon, 15 Apr 2019

APS jobs are awarded on merit of a good application and not on being worthy of promotion. The consequence of this is that:

  1. many competent and forward thinking staff end up leaving the public service to futher their career.

  2. the wrong people are given promotions and end up leading and advising Australia's policy

  3. we end up with a cookie cutter workforce - where all staff and leaders are the same.

the other issue is that staff employed to the public servce are employed for life. In the private sector staff need to stay relevant to stay employed, but not the case in the public service. Consequently, our forward thinking staff again leave and go elsewhere to work with otherlikemindeds.

Sun, 14 Apr 2019

Senior public servants interacting with Ministers must have courage to 'speak truth to power', and a willingness and ability to argue their case with integrity.

I am a Ministerial adviser and a senior public service official (division head) told me that they, and other senior public servants they know, will only disagree with the wishes of their Minister once - and after that, they are afraid of losing their jobs.

I was stunned.

When I worked in a government department a number of years back, the Secretary of the Department said to the entire Department that one of the most important attributes a public servant is 'speaking truth to power'.

It sincerely worried me to think such a senior person lacked the courage to 'speak truth to power'.

Tue, 02 Apr 2019

I believe informing the APS of any outcomes from the Secretaries' Board may be a step in the right direction - transparency of decisions that can affect good governance and practices would be helpful, I like the idea of a national outlook from a single voice of the heads of agencies, this is one way to help the APS come together as one. We do have difficulty with the MoG process, I note in your report that over the last 20 years there have been more than 200! A more transparent operation of the Secretaries' Board may help the APS staff to adjust through these processes - but as was also pointed out, we need to try to align the APS so that MoGs are not necessary for governments to achieve their goals. A flexible workforce will help with that if we can breakdown silos not only across agencies, but also within departments. We need to know where the APS is headed in order to transform and I think the Secretaries' Board should be instrumental in setting the direction of making the outcomes of this report achievable.