The APS is a large, complex and diverse culture. Planning for the future is essential. It is a pleasure to share some ideas, insights and thought provoking, possibly controversial concepts. Please find attached submission.
APS Workforce - Performance based contracts, fixed-term (3yr x 3yr)/mandatory mobility at end
The APS workforce of the future will need to be fluid. The current workforce is stagnant with some
SES and APS staff remaining in the same departments or role for 20 years+. A lot of these positions
are not roles requiring specialist skills and could be applied across other departments or agencies. In
the digital age staff will need to be more mobile, remain current in new technologies and maintain
both corporate and technical skillsets.
SES staff should be employed under fixed term performance based contracts. It is important that the
Public Service leaders never settle for mediocrity and are held to highest standards of performance
Terms could be 3 years x 3 years; or 3 years x 2 years; followed by mandatory mobility for non-
specialist functions. The notion of ongoing employment as a ‘given’ should be abolished. The current
APS is more of an institution built on tradition, where people just set-up house and attendance is the
The APS employment model needs to be a major focus of future reform if the public service is to
evolve and meet the challenges of the future. The old guard are cloning future leaders in their image
when there is a need to introduce fresh new ideas, a mindset of continuous improvement and
commercial acumen. The sheltered workshop that exists in some pockets of the service needs to be
addressed. The APS cannot be considered a job for life if staff are not prepared to continually
demonstrate their competitiveness, currency and relevance. The days of ‘safe, secure job with
excellent entitlements’ must be earned and not taken for granted.
Attraction and retention of the best and brightest
Whilst I am not advocating the reintroduction of the public service test, there is merit in introducing
some form of minimum standard or aptitude requirement. This would be more directed towards
‘direct’ entry as opposed to existing on-boarding programs such as: graduate program, cadetships,
traineeships, interns etc. There must be a minimum standard to avoid ‘dead wood’ or attracting
personnel that do not fit the culture of a dynamic, flexible and innovative workforce.
There may be opportunity for pre-requisite ‘entrance’ public service development program that
could be undertaken prior to applying for an APS position covering: structure and function of the
APS, legislation, terminology, budget and finance, APS communication, security etc. It is amazing
that some APS staff have little knowledge of the APS environment, government processes or the
environment in which they operate. This approved program designed by the public sector could be
offered through government TAFEs or Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) panels providers
– and serve as a pre-requisite for employment.
Too much time is spent managing underperformance, jumping through politically correct hoops,
only to have the underperforming staff member moved to another area to repeat the cycle. This has
created a ‘sheltered workshop’ of staff who do not have the skills, knowledge or attitude to be a
public servant. This must be addressed.
Recruitment processes need to be streamlined. The use of selection criteria needs to be phased out
with more emphasis on behavioural-based interviews. Technology should be used more for initial
applications i.e. video responses to a range of role-based questions and submit with a resume and
covering letter. Whilst there may be some concerns around ageist or other discrimination occurring
based on appearance or representational skills, one would hope a professional public servant would
conduct themselves professional and unbiased manner. A simple desktop audit of random selection
processes could manage any such concerns.
Merit based selection is an absolute fallacy. No one believes this occurs with constant gripes across
departments and agencies about: nepotism, favouritism, cronyism being rife. The conversation
needs to shift to ‘robust, valid and justifiable’ appointments. ‘Merit’ is tarnished, old and frankly
lacks any credibility. Recruitment and selection needs to go beyond ‘looking’ transparent – and being
focussed on delivering the best people, skills and attitude for the role.
There needs to be a balance between recruitment process and what is realistic. Having to go through
personality tests, assessment centres, criterion, interviews in one department; and then only having
to complete a 1-page pitch in another department will impact on the candidates that apply for the
role. There needs to be a universal approach to recruitment.
Also, a candidate’s time and effort should be respected and acknowledged. It is not acceptable to
not inform of a recruitment outcome, or have a candidate jump through endless process only to find
their hours of effort writing applications, attending interviews and performing other competitive
activities were wasted.
Effective performance management
The current performance management system across the APS is flawed. In most cases it is a
meaningless process that is not valued, taken seriously or linked to any relevant metrics.
There is also no national performance management database so that an APS employee records can
be reviewed before any offer of employment is made. This could be as simple as linking the AGS
number to a database record.
Performance management needs to be able to be measured against clear deliverables or results. The
current system of mid-point unrated performance reviews, followed by end of cycle tick n flick
processes with a vague ratings i.e. ‘meets requirements’ serves no purpose. Every role should have
clearly defined, measurable KPIs that have been established from the top down i.e. Department,
Group, Division, Branch, Section plans with KPIs of what success will look like.
Everyone has a story of where underperformance has not been managed effectively and where the
problem (staffer) is just bounced around to another area because no one wants to manage the
problem; deal with HR areas or end up in Fair Work Australia.
It has become all too hard to terminate employment without going through endless red-tape,
mediation, re-training, counselling etc. – resulting in a drain on resources, personnel and tax payer’s
If performance reports were maintained on a central APS database before an offer of employment
was made, it could alleviate some of the problem.
The Home Affairs Department has an Employment Suitability Check which has some very good
aspects worth considering.
The APS also needs leaders who are capable of having difficult conversations – most do not and just
move the problem around; or ignore the problem or give them a good referee to move them onto
another department or agency for the cycle to start over again.
Absenteeism is also an issue for the current public service. The rise of more and more flexible work
practices in a politically correct environment has led to a less stable workforce, inefficiencies and
unproductive behaviour. Independent and departmental contractors could assist to alleviate this
issue as there is a clear motivator to attend work and deliver on he agreed outcomes.
Independent contractors do not attract the overheads of ongoing staff and only get paid when they
‘work’ and ‘deliver’ on contract requirements. The APS save on insurances, workers compensation,
payroll tax, sick leave, long service leave, public holiday pay, leave liabilities. A lot of independent
contractors are former public servants and understand the APS landscape.
Bullying is unlawful and there should be zero tolerance for such behaviour. The rising statistics about
bullying are alarming. In one department, 24% of staff experienced or witnessed workplace bullying
in the previous 12mths. When a quarter of the workforce has experienced or witnessed bullying, it
points to a toxic environment – which would reflect in efficiency, effectiveness and productivity
The endless traditional leadership development programs and love-ins should be abolished. There is
little evidence that two and three day residential leadership programs have any impact on
performance or behaviour ‘in the long-term’. In fact, the growing bungles in decision-making, project
delays and failures across the APS in recent years would anecdotally allude to a deterioration in
effective public service leadership. Furthermore, all departments have their own methodology and
approach to leadership development – and not all staff undertake the training, making it less
There also needs to be an onus on staff to maintain their own skills and not expect the department
or agency to provide all development. It is unsustainable to provide employment for staff if they do
not maintain their own skills, knowledge and competitiveness. People need to take personal
accountability for their own development. The APS of the future cannot sustain an under skilled
workforce or personnel who are not self-starters.
The State of the Service report illustrates a tendency for departments and agencies to promote from
within. Whilst this might maintain corporate knowledge, it may not deliver the best results in
leadership when there is no injection of new ideas, talent and expertise.
Also, having SES attend Executive Master Programs via organisations such as ANZSOG and then not
applying any of the learnings; choosing to stick with old habits, is a waste of time and money and
nothing more than a smoke-screen.
The future APS will need greater emphasis on: user-centred design, consultancy skills, business
acumen, behavioural economics (insights), user experience (UX), exceptional communication and
representational skills and diverse digital agility.
Remuneration and incentives
To be sustainable in the future there needs to be greater alignment between private and public
sector remuneration, superannuation, work level standards and incentives.
Superannuation should be the same rate for the public sector as it is for private sector. Personal
leave should also be in line with private sector. There is absolutely no valid argument or reason for
the public sector entitlements to be over and above private sector.
The entitlement mentality of annual pay rises that are not based on efficiency, productivity or a
significant change in job role requirements should be abolished. Annual pay increases should be
based on inflation, cost of living, GDP; unless the job role substantially changes; or productivity or
efficiency targets are met. “The age of entitlement is gone”, coined by our politicians needs to be
modelled by the APS. Some roles are remunerated well beyond the skills and knowledge of the
occupant. The disparity in role levels and responsibilities and remuneration between
departments/agencies in the ‘One APS’ is inexplicable.
There is no justification for 6%+ variances in superannuation between public and private sectors.
Private sector organisations, Not for Profits, Charities etc. contribute just as much to the Australian
economy so there should be parity in employment conditions, superannuation and remuneration
across all sectors.
There are endless examples where the qualifications, certifications, skills and knowledge of current
public service staff (at all levels) do not match the remuneration they are receiving – for the outputs
The public service has a track record of promoting people above their level of incompetence and this
leads to failure to implement effective public policy, incur budget blow-outs, lost time, and rework.
Blended workforce - Consultants, Contractors (Independent), Contracts (departmental i.e. non-
There needs to be acceptance of a blended workforce. The APS cannot be expected to have all the
skillsets, all the time. There are good business reasons to engage independent or departmental
contractors for short stints.
There is a need to have a blended workforce that considers: consultants, contractors, both
independent and departmental i.e. non-ongoing.
Whilst there seems to be a palpable friction at engaging independent contractors to do APS work,
the reality is that contractors are engaged based on ‘delivery’ and not attendance. With over 30
years’ experience in the public service (state and federal), I can attest that the public service can
operate at a pedestrian pace and the blend of the workforce can benefit in many ways i.e. drive
change, collaboration, capability development, fresh ideas, quality outcomes, healthy
competitiveness and better results.
Privatisation and outsourcing
There is definitely room for privatisation of services to achieve better outcomes. Payment services
and call centre operations are just two examples that can be operated in a more efficient and
effective manner if outsourced, resulting in quality outcomes for the consumer. To suggest only
public servants can deliver quality public policy outcomes is farcical. The future of the public service
is not to provide jobs for people who would otherwise be displaced. It is to deliver quality outcomes
for all Australian’s in a professional and cost-effective manner. A job for life will be based on the
continued performance and competitiveness of the staff member – it is not a given.
Outsourcing of tasks and embracing technology, online services and apps needs to become more
mainstream and acceptable. In a recent example a government department used Fiverr to prepare a
range of marketing materials. The cost, time and resource saving of this activity was thousands of
dollars. The department also used the service to create a webpage design and template. This also
yielded efficiencies and cost-savings without compromising security or confidentiality.
The public service flexible work practices i.e. teleworking, work from home, flex, part-time, casual,
compressed hours etc. has led to inefficiencies and an inability to predict deliverables due to an ever
changing predictor of available effort. Whilst flexibility is very good for staff, morale and work-life
balance it proves difficult to manage such a transient workforce and plan projects.
It is likely the future public service workforce will become more reliant upon contracting services as
it is more stable, predictable and there are less overheads i.e. leave, workers compensation,
superannuation, long service, business insurances, payroll tax etc. There is a worldwide shift to an
outsourced and contractor workforce.
Work, health and safety
The current Comcare premiums across many departments and agencies I have worked are crippling
and on the rise. The effort and infrastructure required for managing Return to Work programs has
created a new industry within the APS, requiring substantial investment and infrastructure to
To manage the future sustainability of the APS a risk-based approach needs to be considered. This
• Mandatory government medical assessments based on a risk approach i.e. previous medical
history (including mental illness), accidents, incidence, job role, industry etc.
• Requirements for personal insurance to be taken out by the employee
• Increased outsourcing of services; or
• Engaging of independent contractors who are self-insured
Rationalisation of Departments and Agencies
Departments and Agencies need to be consolidated into more ‘functional’ portfolios i.e. all science
agencies merged into one portfolio; Veteran Affairs under Defence; Australian Public Service
Commission (APSC) a Division under Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C). It is
time to totally overhaul the structure and functions of the APS. This would reduce the cost of
endless duplication of infrastructure.
Machinery of Government changes that seem to follow federal elections; or ministerial reshuffles
need to cease. The government needs to show restraint and not continually place additional burdens
and costs on the APS and taxpayers by changes of names or merging and separating of portfolios
without any logical reason.
The duplication and red-tape needs to be addressed. The complex nature of doing business with
government is ridiculous. It is almost impossible to talk with a person face-to-face; or email directly
etc. and systems are not mature enough or intuitive enough to meet community expectations. There
needs to be a shift in culture and public servants need to be accessible and come out from behind
the bollards, emails and voicemail – and engage with the people they are serving.
Australia needs to improve its digital transition as a major priority. We are way behind the rest of the
There needs to be a standardisation of government ICT platforms. Allowing Departments and
Agencies to make strategic procurement decisions in isolation is not sustainable or cost effective. It
certainly is not efficient to have countless vendors, all implementing high cost solutions that either
do not meet requirements, or have unsustainable customisations.
More business needs to be moved to the Cloud and a whole of government roadmap for ICT
infrastructure and digital needs to be established. The Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) has
emerged as an island, as opposed to the central driving force leading the digital revolution.
It is time to consider non-traditional solutions – other than Microsoft. State government
departments in NSW are using G-suite (Google Apps etc.), Open Office etc. to reduce operating costs
and transition to an online, secure, cost effective business model with ROIs of 304% over 3 years.
Now is the time to move away from dedicated workstations and antiquated hardwired solutions.
The APS workforce of the future needs to become less reliant upon physical infrastructure and
equipment and transition to an online digital workforce. The APS needs to embrace and promote the
various digital disruptors i.e. Ai, wearables, APIs, Apps, Gameology etc
The APS needs to make it easier for people to do business online in a safe and secure environment.
To allow consumers to self-service and access automated services online we need to reform
government policy i.e. simply the tax and welfare systems. If our policies are like a Yellow Pages
directory, and cannot be explained to an 8 year old – they are far too complex.
The APS is a large, diverse and complex organisation. There needs to be a strong push to improve
the culture of the APS.
Absenteeism and bullying are two areas which need to be addressed as it impacts on the entire
workforce, costs and wellbeing of our staff. Staff surveys tell a sorry tale of absenteeism and level of
bullying across the public sector.
Personal presentation is another area requiring attention. There is endless research about workplace
attire, uniforms and professional image that aligns with business confidence and outcomes. The
level of personal grooming has dropped over many years. There is a lack in professional image and
pride which detracts from the overall perception of our stakeholders. Jeans and a t-shirt is not an
acceptable work attire.
Work attire is not just for the employee, it is for our customers, stakeholders and clients.
It is hard sometimes to know if someone is on a day off, or actually coming to work, such is the drop
in standard of personal grooming, presentation and appearance of staff. Casual Friday or mufti day
now seems to be everyday.
Whilst I do not suggest a formal dress regulation – minimal standards of dress to ensure
professionalism and WHS must be considered along with etiquette training for staff. You cannot
expect to be considered worthy of the very generous remuneration, work conditions and
entitlements if you look like a homeless person.
Punctuality has become harder to manage due to core hours and flexible start times all under the
auspices of a flexible workplace. Workplace policies do not support managers and allow for
Productivity needs to be measured. A recent time and motion study of productivity reported that
less than three hours a day was productive and focussed on business deliverables. All of us are busy
doing busy work, but maybe not the work that contributes to workplace outcomes. The flexibility
and ‘reasonable use’ policies have blurred the lines of what is work related – and this does not take
into consideration the multiple trips to the coffee shops, socialisation, birthday morning teas, hour-
long meetings without agendas and purpose and the list goes on.
Thank you for considering my insights.