Please see attached file
12 July 18
To the Australian Public Service Review Panel,
Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the Review of the Australian Public
Science & Technology Australia (STA) is the peak representative body for more
than 70,000+ scientists and technologists in Australia through our member
organisations, including associations and societies, research institutes, and
research strategy bodies such as councils of deans. Our mission is to connect
science and technology with governments, business, and the community, to
enhance the role, reputation and impact of science.
STA appreciates the opportunity to provide feedback on the future development
of the Australian Public Service. Considering the value of evidence-informed
policy, it is essential that the Australian Public Service has both the capacity to
incorporate research in to its policy making process and the ability to perform its
own research. This would be further enhanced by seamless integration of data
between departments, and well-managed control for researchers.
Furthermore, a network of STEM skilled employees spread throughout the
broader Australian Public Service will aid in the development, implementation
and evaluation of robust and future-proof public policy. It will also ensure that
the Australian Public Service is innovative and able to support the private sector
to prepare for the advent of new technologies, discoveries and the digital
In considering these issues, STA recommends that the APS:
- Increases research capacity within all departments through hiring
- Places an emphasis on STEM skills for APS staff in policy and decision-
- Updates and commits to continued implementation of the Public-
Sector Data Management Project to align with changes in the
Australian Public Service, and to empower researchers to contribute
more meaningfully to policy.
Please find our specific feedback below: thank you for considering our
Dr Jeremy Brownlie Kylie Walker
Science & Technology Australia Science & Technology Australia
The Australian Public Service (APS) is one of the largest employers of Australians
in the country, and a gateway between the Federal Government decision making
and the Australian people.
While the APS1 must maintain clear values, it is increasingly important that it is
also capable of adopting values that will prepare it for the changing economic
and social environment in Australia. A successful APS will need to ensure that it
is flexible enough to capitalise on new technological advancements (such as
making programs and services digitally accessible for all Australians) and that it
is innovative in its adoption of new policy informed by the best evidence
Increasing the capacity of the APS to undertake research and
One of the most important functions of the APS is the research and development
of public policy. This process includes the implementation of decisions made by
the Federal Government, while incorporating aspects of expertise and opinion
from the broader Australian community.
The importance of evidence-informed policy is recognised around the world.
Although using evidence and research to inform decision-making and policy may
seem self-evident, concerns remain about the capacity of the APS to create
evidence-informed policy when compared to its international counterparts2.
Surveys of Australian public servants indicate that while 60.7% have written one
or more documents that draw on academic research, only 30% believe these
resources provide information useful to policy making3.
This contrasts with a speech by the 2009 Productivity Commission Chairman,
which emphasised the importance of evidence-based policy, especially in regard
to long-term and complex policy ideas. Instances such as the Higher-Education
Contribution Scheme and the shift to inflation targeting monetary policy are just
two examples of long-term policy being developed from a strong evidence base4.
To improve the capacity for the APS to undertake research and develop
evidence-based policy, research capacity within the departments should be
consciously improved. Less than 40% of employees surveyed indicated that they
had a postgraduate qualification, which indicates a lack of exposure to formal
research training among the majority of public servants5.
1 “Public Service Act 1999” Federal Register of Legislation, 1999
2 “Benchmarking Australian Government administration performance” KPMG, 2009
3 “Policy capacity and evidence-based policy in the public service” J Nerman et. Al, 2017
4 “Evidence-based policy-making: What is it? How do we get it?” Gary Banks, The productivity
5 “Policy capacity and evidence-based policy in the public service” J Nerman et. Al, 2017
Compounding this was the APS staffing freeze in 2013, which saw 17,300 public
servants leave the APS in the first 2 years6.
To increase its capacity to undertake research and develop evidence-based
policy, the APS must be able to hire research trained individuals. This cannot be
achieved if staff numbers are being regularly reduced.
STA recommends the APS increases research capacity within all
departments through hiring research-trained staff.
The importance of STEM training in the modern APS
In an era of big data and digital delivery of government services, there is an
increasing need for STEM qualified employees within the APS.
As outlined above, the importance of a STEM trained workforce does not end
with data and digital delivery, as STEM qualifications also improve the overall
quality of policy-making through the application of evidence and research.
However, STEM is not the only skillset vital for a thriving and effective APS.
According to the most recent State of the Service Report, Agencies that are
directly related to science, such as Geoscience Australia and the Bureau of
Meteorology, have a high level of technically trained workers. Outside of these
Agencies, arts, social sciences and business-related graduates are more
common7. This illustrates a separation of these groups.
It is STA’s view that by providing non-STEM employees with training and
support to develop STEM-related skills (and vice-versa), a more diverse APS
workforce will result. Teams that are more diverse have been shown to be more
effective in policymaking and reflect a greater diversity of views within the
For example, there would be great benefits for all departments if it were a policy
to employ or train one team member in every departmental policy group to
analyse statistics, understand the applications of big data, and provide insights to
access and utilise the best research and evidence.
Effective and robust policy also needs to have a whole-of-government approach.
Policy developed by the Australian Government has suffered from the effects of a
siloed system. This silo effect leads to policy and legislation having unintended
consequences such as the inadvertent effects of the 2017 visa changes on the
higher education sector9.
6 “Australian Public Service staffing and efficiencies” Philip Hamilton, 2015
7 “State of the Service Report 2016-17” Australian Public Service Commission, 2017
8 “How diversity makes us smarter” Scientific American, 2014
9 “Universities fear 457 visa changes will harm ability to attract academic talent” The Guardian,
Additional to supporting the development of STEM skills for APS staff in policy
and decision-making roles, there should also be a focus on facilitating inter-
departmental collaboration between staff.
Increasing the number of STEM trained staff, who bring both subject matter
expertise and expertise in the scientific method and the rigour of research, will
help with the following goals of the APS:
• Drive innovation and productivity in the economy;
• Deliver high quality policy advice, regulatory oversight, programs and
• Tackle complex challenges in collaboration with the community, business
and citizens; and
• Acquire and maintain the necessary skills and expertise to fulfil its
STA recommends an emphasis on recruiting for and supporting the
development of STEM skills for APS staff in policy and decision-making
Developing a centralised data access plan across departments
Inconsistency of data management between departments poses serious
obstacles to best-practice within the APS. This is demonstrated in the significant
variation between departmental websites and databases, and the availability of
data and publications for each of these departments.
The release of the Public-Sector Data Management Project10 in 2015 was a
catalyst for addressing the issues of inconsistency of data management between
departments, as well as access to data for research purposes by outside entities.
However, since the Implementation Report11 was released in 2016, there has
been little reported progress in this area of the APS.
Centralised data access across governmental departments also improves the
digital delivery of public facing services. Integration of centralised data and
access is already being achieved in some areas via the MyGov website12 which
integrates data from the Australian Tax Office and Department of Human
The pinnacle of digital delivery by government is still considered to be Estonia,
where voting, tax returns and even prescription collection can be handled online,
using a single identifier13
10 “Public Sector Data Management” Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, 2015
11 “Public Sector Data Management implementation report” Department of the Prime Minister
and Cabinet, 2016
12 “MyGov Services” Australian Department of Human Services, 2018
13 “What Australia can learn about e-government from Estonia” Matthew Sorell, The
With integrated, uniform data collection, the APS can provide pathways between
departmental databases, empower researchers to discover ways to improve the
delivery of programs and services, and achieve greater efficiencies.
STA recommends an update and continued implementation of the Public-
Sector Data Management Project to align with changes in the Australian
Public Service, and to empower researchers to contribute more
meaningfully to policy.