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Save the Children Australia


Correspondence attached from Paul Ronalds, CEO.

For any further inquiries, please also contact the Head of Government Relations, marion.stanton@savethechildren.org.au

Please also redact any personal contact details prior to publication.

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Save the Children
33 Lincoln Square
Carlton, 3053
E:pRedacted savethechildren.org.au


To the Review Panel,

Re: The Independent Review into the Australian Public Service

Thank you for the opportunity for Save the Children Australia to comment on the Australian Public Service

The Australian Public Service (APS) plays a critical role in designing and implementing public policy to

improve the lives of all Australians. We endorse the view that the Australian public and successive

Australian governments have generally been well served by a highly professional and capable APS.
However, given the challenges Australia faces, we believe that it is vitally important that focused

investments are made to improve the APS’ skillsets and capacities in a number of key areas.
i. The current challenge

Save the Children is concerned that the capacity of the APS to identify, implement, monitor and evaluate
‘what works’ to address complex policy areas has been eroded.
For example, we draw attention to the challenges posed by issues of complex disadvantage and inequality

recently highlighted by the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet who argues

that ‘we need to ensure the rising tide lifts all boats and strengthens our societies, rather than fomenting

inequity and division’.1 To that end, our submission will focus specifically on the importance of the APS

reinvesting in skillsets and capabilities that support complex policy implementation in both the domestic

and international development context.
Save the Children believes complex disadvantage has a substantive economic and social cost, particularly

for young people. Complex disadvantage entrenches intergenerational inequality and increases the

burden on the taxpayer.2 For example, younger people whose parents or guardians had a very high level

of welfare dependency are 5.8 times more likely to be on income support payments compared to young

people without that parental history.3 Some young people engage in multiple statutory systems

simultaneously. This further entrenches disadvantage, as we can see with almost 40 per cent of young

people under Australia’s youth justice supervision coming from the child protection system.4 These

cohorts would engage with government services on a daily basis, and yet, government policy and

programs struggle to shift them towards more positive outcomes.
We further note that Australia’s future economic growth is tied to the prosperity and stability of our region

and beyond. We therefore cannot afford to lose geopolitical influence in helping shape equitable

development outcomes in neighbouring countries. In addition to the decline in our overseas aid

1L.Bourke ‘The challenge is different’: Top bureaucrat’s warning to London audience’, SMH, 19 July 2018. Accessed at:

2 See for example:

Lamb, S. and Huo, S. Counting the costs of lost opportunity in Australian education. Mitchell Institute report No. 02/2017. Mitchell Institute, Me

lbourne. Available from: www.mitchellinstitute.org.au.
3 Department of Social Services, 30 June 2017 Valuation Report, Final Report 2018, Australian Government, pg 3.
4 Young people in child protection and under youth justice supervision 2015-16; AIHW. See: https://www.aihw.gov.au/getmedia/06341e00-

expenditure which risks our capacity to influence these outcomes, the merger of the Department of

Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and AusAID has resulted in a significant loss of aid and development

expertise within the APS. DFAT has sought to mitigate this loss of expertise by outsourcing an even larger

proportion of the aid budget to private contractors and increasing funding for multilateral partners.
ii. Our submission – enabling the APS to effectively respond to complexity

To be an organization fit for purpose in the 21st century, the APS must reinvest in the skills and capacity

to support the people and communities they seek to serve both here and overseas, especially the ‘hardest

to reach’. Our submission will focus on three areas for action to address these challenges:
A. The APS should strengthen its capacity for cross sector collaboration with civil society and
business to better address complex policy problems;
B. The APS should reinvest in its implementation capacity to improve outcomes;
C. The APS should support greater investment in evaluating the effectiveness or otherwise of
programs, including building evaluation into program design and delivery.
Ultimately, this submission will argue that for the APS to be better positioned to help solve complex policy

problems, it must rebalance its skill set and capacity investment to look more like an iceberg - with 10 per

cent of the effort going into developing the policy and 90 per cent into its implementation and evaluating

A. Strengthening capacity for cross-sector collaboration

Progress on society’s most complex problems will not occur without all levels of government and all

sectors of society collaborating more effectively. Harnessing this potential requires public sector leaders
(especially its most senior leaders) with specific skills and experience in leveraging government’s

convening power and working cross-sectorally. The issue for a future focused APS is how to better foster

partnerships and collaboration across government, civil society, business and academia.
In particular, while the majority of public servants are motivated by a mix of a strong work ethic, expertise

and desire to contribute to the public good – there is some concern over attitudes to engagement with

the public. For example, the recent Future of Australia’s Federation Survey of State and Federal public

servants found a degree of ‘elitism’ from public servants regarding their perceptions of the general

public’s capacity to engage in policy-making and decisions.5 We wonder whether this lack of engagement

arises from a lack of skills to effectively engage the public in policy discussions, rather than any aversion

per se to public engagement.
With the right skills and experience, as the McClure Welfare Review identified, sectors can be incentivized

towards collaboration, particularly in social policy. For example: ‘Civil society organisations benefit from

human resources, expertise and capital. Businesses that recognise their social responsibilities boost staff

morale, enhance their reputation and make a difference in their local area. Governments meanwhile reap

the benefits of innovation and better social outcomes that arise from these partnerships’.6 We endorse

the Community Council of Australia’s call for a change of culture in the way government relates to the

community, particularly through better engagement, transparency and accountability. 7

We suggest that the APS can facilitate collaboration between public servants, non-government

organisations and business through greater engagement with ‘boundary riders’ – those people who

R. Levy, “Australia’s public servants are dedicated, highly trained and elitist”. The Mandarin, 22 June 2018. Accessed at:
6 P. McClure et al, A New System for Better Employment and Social Outcomes Final Report, Australian Government, 2015, pg 167.
7 Community Council of Australia, Draft Open Government National Action Plan, Submission to the Department of the Prime Minister and

Cabinet, July 2018.

understand the capacities and limitations of government, civil society and business and have the skillsets

required to negotiate outcomes.8

Practically, this may mean greater use of secondments between government and non-government

organisations or businesses to improve understanding of the priorities and pressures each sector faces.
This could be used to particular effect by mandating that cross-sector experience is necessary at higher

levels of the bureaucracy.9 This should not only be limited to civil society organisations but extended

wherever possible to cross-jurisdictional experience in States and Territories, business experience as

previously advocated by the Business Council of Australia10 and where appropriate, international

experience – particularly in the case of development expertise.

  1. The APS should invest in, and reward staff who have or seek out cross-sector experience, particularly
    through career progression. Where possible, it should facilitate and support secondments between the
    APS, non-government organisations, business and international organisations. This will help enhance
    cross-sector understanding and develop potential ‘boundary riders’ to navigate complex program

    B. Reinvest in implementation capacity to improve outcomes

We observe that APS policy roles are more likely to support public servant career progression than

implementation roles. This creates a strong incentive for the most capable public servants to move into

policy roles. It also creates an incentive for senior people to spend more time on policy issues than

implementation issues. This is the opposite of what is required. The APS needs its best staff, and most of

their effort, focused on policy implementation.
The 2010 Ahead of the Game report into the Australian Public Service (Advisory Group on Reform of

Australian Government Administration 2010) provided a plethora of recommendations to improve

government service delivery, enhance the Australian Public Service’s policy and implementation capability

and facilitate cross-sector working. Many of these recommendations remain relevant and should be

revisited. In particular, progress on implementing recommendations 1.1-1.3, 2.1 and 3.3 of Ahead of the

Game has been too slow.11

We note implementation expertise is an issue, not just in domestic policy, but also in the international

development context. The integration of AusAID and DFAT in 2014 led to the loss of staff with

experience in managing and overseeing aid programs. As acknowledged in the OECD DAC Peer Review

of Australia 2018 ‘DFAT has a limited number of specialists working on the aid program, preferring to

invest in the skills of generalists and outsource implementation to contractors’.12 This is reflected in the

sharp rise in the amount of ODA allocated to private companies, which is currently 20% in the current

budget year - up from 14 % in 2012.13

This trend towards increased use of contractors is not of itself a problem. However, it is critical that

departments retain sufficient knowledge and capability to select the most suitable mode of

8 Ronalds, P. ‘The Challenge of Change’. In The Three Sector Solution, ANU Press, 2016, pg. 348.
9 Ibid.
10 M. Grattan. Business lobby urges new government thinking to boost Australia’s competitiveness, The Conversation, July 28 2014. Accessed at:


2010 Ahead of the Game report into the Australian Public Service (Advisory Group on Reform of Australian Government Administration)
12 OECD DAC Peer Review of Australia 2018, DAC’s main findings and recommendations, pg 23.

H. Belot, ‘Australia’s decreasing foreign aid budget offers chance for private companies to cash in’, ABC, 24 Aug 2017. Accessed at:
implementation, appropriately monitor and engage with contractors where they mode is selected, ensure

program outcomes are achieved and the taxpayer receives value for money.
We do not think this is the case in the context of Australia’s aid program. It is unclear why there has been

such a sharp increase in the amount of funding allocated to private contractors as compared with other

development partners. There may be an assumption that private contractors are more cost efficient, but

there is a lack of transparency on the terms on which private contractors are engaged by DFAT, including

a lack of disclosure of project costs, overheads and the profit margins of for-profit entities. Furthermore,
there is a lack of transparency on what operational and technical advantages private contractors offer in

ensuring aid effectiveness for each award, particularly given they often do not have an established

operational presence, long term development programs and existing relationships with local stakeholders

in the geographic locations for which they are awarded grants despite overwhelming evidence that this is

usually critical to success.14 Overall, it is therefore questionable whether they are able to deliver aid

programs in a more efficient and effective manner. In particular, as noted by the OECD DAC Peer Review

of Australia in 2018, this approach poses risks to Australia’s oversight of aid programs, ability to deliver

on its commitments to aid effectiveness and also its reputation.15

More broadly, we share the concern of Terry Moran and the Centre for Policy Development in a recent

joint submission, that there has also been a contraction of APS capability following a focus on outsourcing

to consultants and contractors. There is merit to their argument that there must be reinvestment in the

APS’s ‘policy memory and capability, greater independence and service-delivery experience to be the

crucible for reform’.16


  1. The APS should invest in skillsets relating to implementation as well as policy design to make better
    decisions about which implementation modality is appropriate in a given context. In particular, skills
    to: provide genuine opportunities to contribute to design and delivery of local solutions to local issues;
    the ability to bring together economic and social outcomes; negotiation and facilitation of cross sector
    working and management of implementation of programs designed to achieve complex social and
    economic outcomes, including in difficult physical or politically charged environments.
    C. Support greater investment in evaluations of the effectiveness of APS programs

Save the Children notes evaluations in government can often be of mixed quality, with insufficient rigor

applied to developed methodologies. As a result, at best we are not achieving outcomes and at worst, we

may be causing harm to those we are seeking to support. This makes it challenging to determine with

rigor ‘what works’ in practice to deliver improved outcomes, and to then bring them to scale.17

At a Commonwealth level, the focus on evaluation remains mixed. Government departments have lost

much of their program evaluation capability over recent times. The World Bank once suggested that

Australia was a case study for best practice in monitoring and evaluation (in the period 1987–1997).18

During this time, the Department of Finance was responsible for overseeing evaluation and acted as a key

This issue has also been considered the UK Parliament in their Inquiry into the Department for International Development’s use of private

contractors. For further information see: Eighth Report of Session 2016–17, DFID’s use of private sector contractors, on 4 April 2017 as House of

Commons Paper HC 920. Accessed: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmintdev/920/920.pdf

OECD DAC Peer Review of Australia 2018, Section 4, pg 71.
16 Centre for Policy Development, Australian Government Contract Reporting - Inquiry based on Auditor-General's report No. 19 (2017-18),

Submission to the JCPAA Inquiry, February 2018, p. 2.
Save the Children, Submission to the Productivity Commission, Human Services Reform, 26 July 2016. Accessed at:

K. Mackay, ‘The Australian Government’s M&E System’, in Lopez-Acevedo, G., P. Krause and K. Mackay. 2012. Building Better Policies: The

nuts and bolts of monitoring and evaluation systems. Washington, DC: The World Bank, pp. 197-209
source of bureaucratic accountability. After this time, however, responsibility was devolved and as

budgets were cut, evaluation teams were often the first to go.
Moreover, there have also been recent reported instances of deficiencies in the undertaking of

independent evaluations under the oversight of the Commonwealth. This is even the case in high profile,
contentious and novel interventions where you would expect the most rigorous evaluations to take place.
For example, we note that issues regarding the evaluation of the Cashless Debit Card trial were recently

considered by the Australian National Audit Office who found that the Department of Social Services’
‘approach to monitoring and evaluation was inadequate. As a consequence, it is difficult to conclude

whether there had been a reduction in social harm and whether the card was a lower cost welfare

quarantining approach’.19

Most program evaluations that do occur now focus on process, inputs or outputs, rather than outcomes.
These evaluations often begin at the end of a program, rather than being planned during program design

and integrated into the program logic and intended outcomes. Evaluations are often of poor quality—
because of a lack of independence, transparency and dissemination of results. Time is also an issue.
Previously, the Australian Public Service Commission has noted that whole of government or partnership

approaches for disadvantaged communities also often require long term commitments of 10-20 years to

deliver lasting and meaningful outcomes.20

Accordingly, we suggest a renewed focus on evaluation, particularly in social programs. This is normal

practice for DFAT funded international development programs but is not institutionalised across the rest

of the APS. This would include strengthening the capacity and skillset of the APS to both undertake, and

effectively procure independent evaluations. It would also enable the APS to rebuild corporate knowledge

and support greater facilitation of evaluations between government, service providers and participants.
It should include increased investment to support the engagement of genuinely independent experts to

undertake evaluations, particularly for large-scale or politically sensitive programs or the establishment

of a separate arms-length evaluation agency. 21

An increased focus on evaluation requires a whole-of-government effort that changes incentives to

focus on outcomes, rather than outputs or even (as is sometimes the case) inputs. Budget and Cabinet

submission processes should require that all new policy proposals include an evaluation strategy.
Evaluations should be built into program design and logic to ensure the intended outcomes are

understood from the start. This requires consideration of identifying baseline data and a control group

from the outset, or at least a clearly identified project population and a clear intent to de-couple actual

evaluation outcomes from politically desirable outcomes.22 This would also require that a reasonable

proportion of program funding was dedicated to meeting the costs of undertaking robust evaluations.

  1. A modern APS should have a renewed focus on evaluation, particularly in social programs. This includes:
    a. strengthening the capacity and skillset of the APS to both undertake, and effectively procure
    independent evaluations;
    b. increased investment to support the engagement of independent experts to undertake evaluations
    where appropriate, particularly those which are high cost, politically sensitive or have high
    potential for impact if brought to scale; and

19 Auditor General Report No. 1 2018-1,’The Implementation and Performance of the Cashless Debit Card Trial’, p8.
20 Australian Public Service Commission, ’Tackling Wicked Problems: a Public Policy Perspective’, Commonwealth of Australia, 2007. Accessed

at: https://www.apsc.gov.au/tackling-wicked-problems-public-policy-perspective

21 D. Cobb- Clark, “The case for making public policy evaluations public” in Productivity Commission 2013, Better Indigenous Policies: The Role

of Evaluation, Roundtable Proceedings, Productivity Commission, Canberra, pp 81 – 91, pg 91.
22 Ibid.

c. ensuring quality evaluations are built into program design and logic to ensure intended outcomes
are understood from the start.
4. Budget and Cabinet submission processes should require all new policy proposals to include an
evaluation strategy, and sufficient funding to support effective and robust evaluations.

Thank you again for the opportunity to comment on this Independent Review. We look forward to

reading the Final Report and the solutions proposed to ensure the APS is capable and ready to grapple

with complex policy challenges, now and into the future. If we can be of any further assistance while the

Review process is underway, please don’t hesitate to contact me or our Head of Government Relations

Yours sincerely,

Paul Ronalds



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