Review of the Australian Public Service
Response to Interim Report
Level 9, 117 Clarence Street Anne Hampshire, Head of Research and Advocacy
GPO Box 10500 email@example.com
Sydney, NSW, 2001 Telephone 02 9085 7249
Review of the APS
Overview of The Smith Family
The Smith Family is a national charity founded in 1922 to improve the lives of disadvantaged
children in Australia. Almost a century on from its founding, it is now the nation’s largest children’s
Our vision is a better future for young Australians in need. Our mission is to create opportunities
for young Australians in need by providing long-term support for their participation in education.
This mission is founded on the belief that every child deserves a chance.
Our mission guides every element of our work, including program development and delivery,
research, advocacy and fundraising. The Smith Family delivers programs in each state and territory
in Australia, in over 90 communities, including many regional and rural communities.
In 2017-18, The Smith Family supported more than 170,000 disadvantaged children, young people,
parents, carers and community professionals through its education-focussed programs, including.
over 140,000 children and young people. We are supporting 45,000 financially disadvantaged
children and young people nationally on our largest program, the Learning for Life educational
scholarship. One in five students on the Learning for Life program is of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
As part of our leadership and collaborative work in the sector, The Smith Family is a member of a
number of organisations and represented on a number of advisory groups and boards, including
the Community Council of Australia.
Review of the APS
The Smith Family welcomes the opportunity to provide a further submission to the Independent
Panel (the Panel) on the Australian Public Service (APS) responding to the interim report, Priorities
for Change (the Interim Report). We commend the Panel on its work so far to ensure the APS is
truly fit-for-purpose and can best serve the Australian people in the coming decades.
The Smith Family strongly supports the quality and value of the work undertaken by the APS across
the country. The APS is a unique national institution safeguarding the public interest. The APS
connects in some way with all Australians, who each have a vested interest in its future.1
We think the four priorities for building an APS that is fit for the future, outlined in the Interim
Report, are a solid foundation for organisational reform. We are also pleased to see that the Panel
places equal importance on implementing reform across the APS as it does on identifying better
ways of operating to serve the Australian people. We are also pleased that the Panel is actively
considering the findings and recommendations of previous reviews, and the impact or lack of
impact they had on improving the functioning of the APS.
The Smith Family is particularly concerned that 1.1 million Australian children and young people
are living in poverty.2 These young people are at serious risk of experiencing long-term negative life
experiences. Significant numbers of adult Australians are also living in poverty, particularly single
parents, those experiencing long-term unemployment and people with a disability.3 Poverty has a
negative flow on effect in people’s lives. For instance, poor Australians have limited capacity to find
quality, secure employment in a rapidly changing labour market, especially so for young people
and women.4 Poverty also impacts a person’s health, their overall wellbeing and their capacity to
contribute to the community.
The Smith Family believes that government should be offering short-term assistance to people
who need it, as well as improving the structures that create economic and social problems in the
first instance. This means providing evidence-based, targeted programs that help disadvantaged
Australians in their daily lives, and addressing the persistent problems of child poverty,
disadvantage and inequality.
Our further submission offers comment on specific aspects of the Interim Report, regarding how to
ensure the APS can best help disadvantaged Australians and tackle systemic social problems. Our
points are as follows:
1Advisory Group on Reform of Australian Government Administration, Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the reform of Australian
Government Administration, March 2010, p 2.
2 Social Poverty Research Centre & Australian Council of Social Services, Poverty in Australia 2016.
Social Poverty Research Centre & Australian Council of Social Services, Poverty in Australia 2016.
Australian Bureau of Statistics, ‘Spotlight on Underemployment’, 6202.0 – Labour Force, Australia, November 2016.
Review of the APS
In strengthening the culture, governance and leadership model of the APS, we support the
developing of a common purpose and vision that is centred on best serving the Australian
people and seeking to improve their quality of life, in addition to faithfully serving the
government of the day.
In expanding the responsibilities of the Secretaries Board, consideration should be given to
how it can work with major external partners in the community and business sectors, as
well as state, territory and local governments.
In a shift to measuring outcomes across the Federal Government, it is important that the
APS develop a methodical process through which outcomes can be identified, measured
and evaluated. Developing the most appropriate outcomes requires working
collaboratively with external partners delivering programs and services in the community.
We also recommend the panel consider whole of government outcomes for child health,
education, safety and wellbeing, including reducing child poverty.
In making greater use of digitisation to deliver seamless services and local solutions, the
Panel should take into account the level of digital exclusion and deprivation experienced
by some children, young people and their families across the country.
Developing stronger external partnerships requires further embedding the APS in local
communities, and ensuring service users are able to influence the design of the services
they rely upon. This can be facilitated via genuine partnerships with community sector
organisations, including the sharing of data where appropriate.
In addition to the 21st century capabilities identified in the Interim Report, a range of soft
skills will be crucial in delivering effective services to disadvantaged Australians and in
solving systemic social problems.
These points are outlined in more detail below.
- A common purpose and vision for the APS
The Smith Family supports the Panel’s consideration of introducing a legislative requirement to
develop an inspiring purpose and vision to unify the APS building on existing values articulated in
the Public Service Act 1999 (the Act).
Maintaining an apolitical public service that can faithfully serve and advise the Federal Government
of the day is a cornerstone of Australian democracy. We also acknowledge that the Act details APS
Values and a Code of Conduct. But we think it is important to articulate the reasons for the APS’
existence, which includes a vision for how the public service works and contributes to Australia.
This will ensure the APS culture is driven by shared public purpose as well as shared values.5
A statement of common purpose and vision should include at its heart the dual roles of the APS.
Firstly, to best serve the interests of the Australian people, and to strive to continually improve
Donaldson, David, ‘The OECD’s 14 principles for a successful public service’, The Mandarin, 15 March 2019.
Review of the APS their quality of life. Secondly, to faithfully serve the government of the day. Such a statement will
also help the APS move towards identifying and measuring collective outcomes, a point we will
return to later.
- Making best use of the Secretaries Board
The Smith Family supports the Panel considering how to strengthen the functioning of the
Secretaries Board, including ways to drive cross-portfolio policy and deliver stronger outcomes for
the Australian people. Sitting at the apex of the APS, improving the functioning and responsibilities
of the Secretaries Board is a valuable way to break down siloes across government and encourage
a truly collaborative approach to problem solving and service delivery between departments,
including shared accountabilities. The complexity of major public policy issues, the intractability of
some of them and the rapidly changing economic, social, cultural and physical environments
require such an approach. Child poverty is one such complex social policy issue which is not
decreasing and which needs more integrated strategies and effort.
We also support the idea that the Secretaries Board could prepare a national outlook with key
trends, opportunities and challenges for Australia, to be published after federal elections. We
agree that this would help inform government policy development, and frame decision-making,
over a three-year term.
Whilst it makes sense that a national outlook be developed from APS data as stated in the Interim
Report, we would encourage the Panel to examine ways that external partners can contribute to
developing the national outlook. The outlook should draw on existing work by many research and
related institutions rather than generating new data. The community and business sectors could
provide relevant insight from their fields of expertise, ensuring that the final analysis provided by
the Secretaries Board accurately reflects the reality of what is occurring across Australian society.
For instance, the Reserve Bank of Australia has a commendable community liaison function which
complements a range of quantitative economic and social data with insights from the community
and business stakeholders.
Given that there is no national definition for poverty, child poverty or inequality, and no nationally
consistent data collection on these items, a national outlook may not identify the scale and extent
of these problems in the community if it does not draw upon existing work outside of the APS.
Collaboration with external partners could help improve the analysis. For similar reasons, it would
be prudent to ensure the state and territory governments can also contribute to the development
of the national outlook. Contributions by these governments could be coordinated by respective
departments of premier and cabinet to streamline the input process and limit the burden on the
A strengthened Secretaries Board, which regularly produces a rigorous, credible national outlook
on major trends and opportunities, could help reintroduce a longer-term vision for public policy
Review of the APS
- Outcomes measurement
The Smith Family supports the Panel examining how the APS can move to measuring outcomes
across the whole of government. As cited in the Interim Report, there are some valuable examples
from other jurisdictions at home and abroad that may assist with thinking through this option.
Shifting to outcomes measurement has the potential to significantly improve the delivery of
services to disadvantaged families. Instead of the APS measuring the inputs and outputs of
individual service contracts to determine the impact services have in a community, the focus
would be on measuring and evaluating change in the lives of people being assisted. The APS could
move towards designing and delivering integrated, wraparound services collaboratively with local
partners, in a way that better meets community need and delivers meaningful outcomes for
However, this approach requires the APS to operate very differently from the current
departmental model with its siloed service delivery, where similar responsibilities are delineated
across several different agencies that tend not to work effectively together in community.
For an outcomes-centric approach to be effective, it requires methodical planning by the APS in
identifying the right outcomes to be measured, with a clear plan for determining how to measure
and evaluate them, and a strong understanding of the evidence required to do so. Given how
significant this shift would be for the APS, we strongly recommend that any move towards
outcomes measurement be supported with comprehensive implementation plans that step out
the process by which outcomes are designed, measured and evaluated over time. Such plans
would require collective ownership and input from relevant departments, as well as stakeholders
outside of government in business and the community.
For a shift to outcomes measurement to be effective, relevant stakeholders in and outside the APS
must clearly identify the underlying problem, or set of problems, that need to be tackled. This
requires the APS to authentically engage partners in local communities to develop a rigorous
understanding of the problems from the community’s point of view. Once this is established,
desired outcomes can be identified. Targeted programs and approaches can then be designed
addressing the problems. Governments should not assume that because they have been
delivering, or funding, a particular set of essential services, that they have a firm understanding of
the underpinning problems needing to be solved in a community, or the best way to tackle them.
Involved in understanding the problem is identifying the systemic and individual factors at play,
and the interdependencies between them. A focus on only measuring outcomes at the individual
level, for instance, leaves major structural considerations unaddressed. The influence of public
policies made at different levels of government impacting a community must also be
acknowledged. Effective outcomes measurement also requires clarifying the complex intersection
of local, state and federal public policy issues. It is important to understand these wider influences
as it not only impacts how outcomes are defined and measured, but it can also encourage more
innovative, joined-up and effective approaches to solving complex problems. For instance, if the
outcome is to reduce the number of long-term unemployed persons in a community, structural
economic factors must be considered alongside individual factors. An individual’s job prospects are
affected by their physical and mental health, qualifications, skillset, their caring responsibilities,
Review of the APS access to transport and the like. But they are equally affected by the number of suitable jobs
available in that area, the effectiveness of programs to offer a pathway to employment, federal,
state, territory and local government policies aimed at helping unemployed persons and so on.
Reducing long-term unemployment over time must address all of these elements in a shift to
measuring holistic outcomes.
It is also critical that the APS consider what data is available to measure particular outcomes,
whether the data is reliable and rigorous, including for different cohorts of people, and whether
there are any gaps needing to be remedied. There is a risk that proposed measurable outcomes
are determined by what data is available, rather than determining what data is required to
meaningfully measure appropriate outcomes. If gaps are identified in necessary data, the APS may
need to invest in improving data systems and capability, including those of its external partners. It
is important that contracted or funded partners can collect, analyse and measure outcomes, and
are able to pass this information to the APS. This may require upskilling and training local partners
as well as APS staff.
Outcomes measurement will only be meaningful and successful if there is a methodical process
that accommodates the above items. Without effective cross-governmental collaboration, without
authentic engagement with local partners to understand the problem, without effective data
systems and capability, the validity of outcomes measurement will be compromised, and the risk
of perverse incentives and negative, unintended outcomes increases as a result. This is why
something akin to a comprehensive implementation plan for a shift to outcomes measurement will
The Smith Family recommends the Panel consider whole of government outcomes in child health,
education, safety and wellbeing in any recalibration of the APS and shift to outcomes
measurement. Within this suite of outcomes we would recommend specific items on reducing
child poverty. This is in line with Australia’s commitments to the United Nations Sustainable
Development Goals. Outcomes should be developed in collaboration with partners outside
government who work directly with children, young people and their families across all aspects of
their life. In this regard, the development of the Child Youth and Wellbeing Strategy in New
Zealand is instructive. The NZ Child Poverty Reduction legislation encourages the government to
focus on child poverty reduction specifically, and child wellbeing more generally. A key
requirement of the legislation is the creation of New Zealand's first Child and Youth Wellbeing
Strategy. The Strategy is to provide a framework to drive government policy and action on child
wellbeing. It will commit government to set and report on outcomes and actions to improve the
wellbeing of all children and young people, with a particular focus on child poverty and those with
The NZ Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet led the development of the draft Strategy. It
engaged widely with the community, including community partners and NGOs, as well as the
public. Stakeholders provided specific feedback on the proposed Outcomes Framework, including
the vision statement, principles, outcome statements, and an indicative list of 16 potential focus
New Zealand Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, ‘Child and youth wellbeing strategy’.
Review of the APS areas.7 The public were asked to provide their perspective on what makes ‘a good life’ in New
Zealand. Over 10,000 New Zealanders, including over 6,000 children and young people, shared
their perspectives during this process. This example is valuable for further consideration in the
Australian context. Recent work in Australia led by Professor Peter Saunders of the Social Policy
Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, and in which The Smith Family was a
partner, identified what young people see as the ‘essentials of life’ and can contribute to efforts in
this areas.8 This publication is available on our website.
- Cautioning against an over-reliance on digital technology in service delivery
In rethinking how the APS can use technology to deliver better quality and more personalised
essential services, the Panel should recognise the level of digital disadvantage and exclusion that
persists in the community, especially for low-income and disadvantaged families, or communities
in regional, rural or remote areas.
Increasingly, essential services are delivered in communities with the assistance of digital
technology, including in social services, employment services and education. The Interim Report
identifies automation and digitisation as tools that can help the APS improve its service delivery
and, as a result, the overall experience of service users. However, a significant cohort of young
Australians have limited or no reliable access to the internet in their daily lives. In The Smith
Family’s Learning for Life scholarship program, three in ten students do not have a computer or
other device connected to the internet at home. Our experience of working with disadvantaged
families shows that even when people do have internet access, they often have very limited data
plans, inadequate or outdated laptops, or a heavy reliance on phones as opposed to other devices.
Young Australians who experience digital deprivation can find it harder to participate in the
community, tend to feel less capable with digital technology and literacy and can find it more
difficult to access essential services delivered online.
The Smith Family supports finding the most effective ways for the APS to utilise digital technology
to improve service delivery to the public. However, we also recommend that the Panel actively
consider how best to serve Australians who experience digital deprivation and exclusion, and to
ensure that their access to essential services is not compromised in any way. Moving to a user-
centred service delivery model requires an explicit acknowledgement that users do not have
uniform access to technology or the same level of capabilities to navigate digital systems. The
reforms to employment services, recently announced by the Department of Jobs and Small
Business, is an example of the need to balance an increased reliance on digital technology with
7New Zealand Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Summary Report – National engagement on New Zealand’s first Child Youth
and Wellbeing Strategy, 28 March 2019.
University of New South Wales, The Smith Family, Material deprivation and social exclusion among young Australians: a child focused
approach – Snapshot, November 2018.
Review of the APS maintaining quality services to disadvantaged Australians, if not actually improving the service
- Stronger partnerships
The Smith Family supports the Panel’s intention to build stronger external partnerships and to find
new ways of working with families, communities, non-government providers and others to enable
better social outcomes. This is a crucial area of opportunity to improve on current business as
usual practices. We are pleased to see that wrap-around case management and place-based
approaches are identified as potential ways of working. In The Smith Family’s work, we see the
impact that these types of approaches can have to improve the outcomes for disadvantaged
families across their lives.
It is important that the Panel identify ways that the APS can authentically engage with its partners
on the ground in designing and delivering targeted programs that meet community need. Despite
many overtures to genuine collaboration and co-design, all too often important programs are
designed with inadequate or token input from local community partners. Authentic engagement
with these partners is needed from the APS so that the underlying systemic problems can be
identified, and the most suitable services designed that can best address the problems.
We also support the Panel’s interim finding to improve the release and transparency around data,
analysis, research and evaluations in an effort to create greater public value and foster stronger
external partnerships. Improved sharing of data between the APS and its local partners will help
develop more sophisticated evidence sets for complex social problems. Any efforts to improve
data release and transparency still needs to be complemented with improving public policy
capabilities to analyse quantitative and qualitative data. As such, we also welcome the Panel’s
acknowledgement of the need to build in-house research capability including data analytics.
- 21st century capabilities
The Smith Family supports the Panel prioritising the importance of 21st century delivery, regulation
and policy capabilities in reforming the APS. Investing in the APS’ skills base is paramount if it is to
be fit-for-purpose in dealing with the major challenges confronting Australia. As mentioned earlier,
we strongly support an emphasis on research and data capabilities within the APS.
As the Panel continues to examine the skill sets required for the APS, the importance of soft skill
capabilities in complex human service delivery needs to be recognised. The APS increasingly
delivers social services targeting multiple and complex community need through a combination of
direct delivery and contracting of local partners. With the design of intricate and sophisticated
systems in service delivery, there is a considerable risk that the experiences, perspectives and
insights of individual service users, and local partners, are marginalised in the process. Often there
is an institutional disconnect between Commonwealth policy makers and program managers on
one hand, and non-government service providers and service users on the other. This disconnect
Australian Government, Department of Jobs and Small Business, ‘New Employment Services Model’.
Review of the APS means services are not as impactful as they should be in meeting community and individual need.
Ensuring the APS has the right set of capabilities will help ward against this in the future.
As the OECD recently noted, increasingly, public servants dealing directly with the community are
not only required to provide a particular service, but also to help individuals navigate their way
through complex service systems in order to receive the most suitable help.10 This requires a
service mentality. It means public servants must act as guides to help people determine the
entitlements, benefits and eligibility status, rather than viewing their role as purely transactional.
These tasks require more detailed knowledge of local communities and relevant programs and
services at different levels of government, which in turn require high-level communication skills,
empathy, reflection, discretion, critical thinking and ability to operate with autonomy. It is crucial
that there is investment in strengthening these capabilities within the APS, especially in relation to
social policy programs.
Similarly, genuine partnerships between government and non-government organisations to design
and deliver social services require authentic engagement, built on mutual respect and trust. A
similar set of soft skills are equally as important in the development of collaborative working
arrangements with non-government providers in the design and delivery of effective social
programs. For instance, this is crucial in identifying the underlying problems to be solved in a
community, as mentioned earlier.
We commend the Panel in charting a way forward for strengthening the APS and for explicitly
dealing with the scale of implementing such significant organisational and operational reform.
Ensuring the APS is fit for purpose is a challenge that should bring together all sides of politics, and
the whole community. The Smith Family strongly believes that the APS can be better connected
with the community it serves, delivering whole-of-government and cross-government solutions
and that the Panel has laid the foundations for achieving this in coming years. Successful reform of
the APS will mean it is well positioned to make headway on problems that now seem intractable.
OECD, Skills for a high performing civil service, 11 September 2017, p 3.