Home > Your ideas > Submissions > The Smith Family

The Smith Family


Please see attached submission

PDF icon Download (491.7 KB)
Automatic Transcription: 

Review of the Australian Public


Submission to the Independent Panel

July 2018

Anne Hampshire Telephone 02 9085 7249

Head of Research and Facsimile 02 9085 7299

Advocacy Anne.hampshire@thesmithfamily.com.au

Level 9, 117 Clarence Street

GPO Box 10500

Sydney NSW 2001
Submission to the Independent Panel

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

education charity.
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 2016-17, The Smith Family supported more than 151,000 children, young people, parents,
carers and community professionals through its programs. Over 120,000 children and young

people participated in programs run by The Smith Family. This includes almost 39,000 children and

young people participating in our largest program, Learning for Life.
In 2016-17, The Smith Family’s total income was approximately $100 million. Around 70% of this

funding comes from private donations from individual supporters, corporate partners, universities,
trusts and foundations, and bequests. There are over 230 partnerships helping to sustain our

programs. Only a quarter of The Smith Family’s income is sourced from different levels of

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.

Submission to the Independent Panel

  1. Introduction

The Smith Family welcomes the opportunity to provide a submission to the Independent Panel (the

Panel) on the Australian Public Service (APS). The APS is a unique national institution safeguarding

the public interest. It is tens of thousands of talented people dedicated to public purpose and

ethical service to the community, be it in the departmental headquarters in Canberra or providing

essential services across the country. The APS connects in some way with all Australians.1 Equally,
all Australians should be concerned with the performance and capability of the APS. Reforming the

APS to better function in the present era is crucial for three chief reasons.

Firstly, to ensure that the APS is positioned to best meet community need. Australia is faced with a

series of complex long-term policy challenges on which we are failing to make sufficient progress.
It is crucial that the APS is recalibrated to better tackle these and other challenges, and in doing so,
make a meaningful positive impact in peoples’ lives. This recalibration requires greater evidence-
led policy development and improved service delivery.

Secondly, the APS is fundamental to protecting and promoting a vibrant, diverse and democratic

nation, where civil society and business have strong, durable voices in shaping public policy.

Thirdly, an active, impactful and accountable APS can help restore public confidence in Australia’s

democracy. Australians’ trust in their political system has been waning significantly over the past

decade. The Edelmann Trust Barometer highlights that in both 2017 and 2018, only about one-
third of the general population trust the institution of government.2 In the 2018 survey,
government was listed as the institution most broken (56% of respondents) when compared to

media (17%), business (6%) and non-government organisations (4%).3 However, Australians are

waiting to have their confidence and trust restored. According to Edelmann in 2018, Australians

still think that government remains one of the main actors in creating a better future.4

The APS is pivotal in helping our country maintain, and hopefully improve, its quality of life, in

protecting the openness and vibrancy of our society, and in safeguarding our democracy against

the perpetual tumult of the 21st century, including the challenge presented by alternative, anti-
democratic governing models.

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 Edelmann, ‘2018 Edelmann Trust Barometer – Australia Results’, p 9.
Edelmann, ‘2018 Edelmann Trust Barometer – Australia Results’, p 11.
Edelmann, ‘2018 Edelmann Trust Barometer – Australia Results’, p 11.

Submission to the Independent Panel

The main points that The Smith Family makes in its submission align with the Terms of Reference,
and are as follows:

 The Panel should draw on existing research examining the state of the APS and build on
findings and recommendations from previous inquiries where relevant.
 The Panel should take a holistic approach to the role of innovation in driving meaningful
change, and go beyond a focus just on productivity or economic impacts.
 The APS must be recalibrated into a structure, and develop a culture, more suitable for tackling
contemporary national policy challenges. This includes investing in necessary capabilities to
ensure the APS workforce thrives.
 The APS needs to improve its relationship with the community it serves. This includes in
particular how it designs and delivers services.
These are outlined in more detail below.

  1. Building on existing research into the APS

Credible research examining the state of the APS and ways to improve its functioning is already

available to the Panel. In particular, a formal government review was held in 2009, when the

Australian Government established an Advisory Group, comprised of senior public servants and

leaders from business and academia, to review Australian Government administration and develop

a blueprint for reform. The Advisory Group undertook an extensive consultation process, including

with the APS, the wider public and received more than 200 submissions.

The Advisory Group’s final report, Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for Reform of Australian

Government Administration was released in March 2010. The findings and recommendations of

this report remain pertinent. It identified major, complex, cross-portfolio public policy challenges

at the domestic and international levels, which, relevant to The Smith Family, included the quality

of Australia’s education and skill base.5 It also assessed the performance of the APS, and laid out a

roadmap for reform, which, included the following recommendations which remain relevant


  1. Delivering Better Services for Citizens,
  2. Creating More Open Government,
  3. Enhancing Policy Capability, and
  4. Reinvigorating Strategic Leadership.

The Smith Family recommends that the Panel build on this expert work, utilising it as much as

possible, as well as updating the findings, trends and recommendations where necessary.

5Advisory Group on Reform of Australian Government Administration, Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the reform of Australian

Government Administration, March 2010, p 9.
Advisory Group on Reform of Australian Government Administration, Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the reform of Australian

Government Administration, March 2010, p ix-xi.

Submission to the Independent Panel

  1. Role of innovation in reforming the APS culture and practice

The APS as an institution needs to build a common culture of innovation. It needs to see

innovation as a ‘means’ to improve economic and social outcomes, rather than ‘an end’ in itself.

The Smith Family provides services to over 151,000 children and families in 94 communities across

Australia. Given the scale and complexity of our work, innovation is an important element in

continuously improving both our organisational culture and our educational services. From The

Smith Family’s perspective and experience, what is required for the APS is not formulating large-
scale innovation strategies or striving to ‘be innovative’ per se but rather creating meaningful

change using innovative methods across all areas of work. Whilst the Panel is interested in

recommendations regarding ‘driving innovation and productivity in the economy’, we would

recommend that the Panel take a more holistic approach to how the APS can best use innovation

across the entire machinery of government.

The Smith Family has adopted a definition of innovation developed by Inventium7 for application

across every area of its activity, which is ‘change that adds value’. This definition means that all

staff can bring an innovation lens to their work, regardless of their level of seniority or portfolio.
We have an organisation-wide innovation strategy and have embedded this approach in our

annual performance development agreements. This in turn is helping build a common culture of


Additionally, we are rolling out an innovation-themed program for finding creative solutions to

various business challenges that can be tested and rolled out quickly. We can then capture

learnings to apply to other areas of our organisation. We have also established a Research and

Development Incubator to develop different techniques aimed at improving our programs for

children and young people, which will be trialled and tested quickly so that we learn, improve and

adapt new ideas for wider rollout to the communities we serve. This incubator is charged with

looking at various aspects of our services, for instance, how we improve parental engagement in

their children’s education, how we better help build children’s resilience and wellbeing, or how we

improve their transition from school to work or further study and training.

Similar to these examples, a range of other civic and corporate organisations are working in the

area of innovation. Their experiences can help inform the APS of lessons learnt.

  1. Positioning the APS to tackle major public policy challenges

Australia is presently not well placed to tackle whole-of-society challenges with whole-of-
government, cross-jurisdictional and cross-sectoral strategies that make best use of available

resources and capabilities. One crucial component in rectifying this problem is recalibrating the

APS to be fit-for-purpose for the 21st century.

Inventium, ‘What does innovation actually mean?’, 21 April 2015.

Submission to the Independent Panel

New operating models should be developed in order to harness the abilities and expertise of the

APS to the fullest potential. This includes supporting the APS to develop additional, requisite skills

relevant to the contemporary era of policy-making and service delivery.

The APS has operated in a similar manner for almost 40 years. Due to a lack of comprehensive

reform to structure and purpose, a reliance on outsourcing for major service delivery, and a

sustained focus on curtailing the workforce headcount8, the APS is currently not well placed to deal

with major national public policy challenges. The Panel must reassess the present collection of

individual portfolios and agencies, because the services and policy initiatives offered do not

adequately match the scale, complexity and entrenched nature of these challenges. It must also

determine the best way to reinvest in APS capabilities, including public policy development and

data and research literacy skills. Doing this will help ensure the APS adapts, thrives and continues

to deliver significant, positive impacts for the community. This is a significant reform challenge, but

one offering significant reward when done successfully.

From the perspective of The Smith Family, entrenched inequality, and increasing numbers of

Australians living in poverty and disadvantage are relevant challenges highlighting the difficulty the

APS has in designing, developing and delivering impactful policy solutions. Inequality is one of the

defining problems of our era. The OECD argued in 2015 that inequality is a fundamental issue

when considering how growth is distributed across societies.9 Contemporary research

demonstrates that inequality is stagnating at best, and widening at worst. Wealth inequality in

particular is more pronounced in the last five years.10

Of particular concern to The Smith Family and Australia’s long-term economic and social wellbeing,
is that 1.1 million Australian children and young people live in poverty and the number is rising. 11

These young people are at significant risk of experiencing long-term negative life experiences.
Significant numbers of adult Australians are living in poverty, particularly single parents, those

experiencing long-term unemployment and people with a disability.12 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.13 Poverty also impacts a person’s health, their overall wellbeing and their capacity to

contribute to the community. There is also no standard national measurement on poverty for

which to make consistent, longitudinal national comparisons.

8 Burgess, Verona, ‘Burgess: have public service cuts given us small government?’, 20 April 2017.
Whiteford, Peter, ‘Good times, bad times’, Inside Story, 5 July 2018.
10Sheil, C, & Stilwell, F., ‘The ABS is wrong: inequality is getting worse in Australia’, University of New South Wales Newsroom, 18

September 2017; Clarke, C., ‘RBA Governor says inequality getting worse, contradicting Scott Morrison’, ABC News, 27 July 2017.
11 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.

Submission to the Independent Panel

Combatting these and other challenges requires the APS to be able to develop concerted, long-
term policy responses. However, our current responses to these and other major challenges is

piecemeal and incoherent, often slipping between the gaps of different Commonwealth portfolios.
The APS is not set up to devise and execute whole-of-government strategies to such whole-of-
society problems because they do not fit neatly into the current silos of the public sector. The

additional challenge for the APS is that these responses will also often need to involve other

jurisdictions and sectors. As a result, it is difficult to execute a coherent, coordinated and

collaborative strategy that makes inroads on these inequality and poverty trends.

This difficulty was exemplified in Australia’s Report on the Implementation of the UN Sustainable

Development Goals (SDG). Australia has committed to the SDGs which include objectives of

eliminating poverty and reducing inequality. The Report demonstrated that there is no coordinated

strategy to meet either objective. Instead, because of the structure of the APS we largely rely on

respective, individual departments to provide ‘business as usual’ services to address poverty and

inequality over time.14 The report argues that by offering individual programs in education,
employment and social security, Australia will eventually make inroads into poverty and inequality.
A ‘business as usual’ approach is insufficient and we are failing to make a deep impact on the

problems. An important component of changing this reality is reform of the APS and maximising its

capacity and abilities.

There are important lessons that can be absorbed from comparable jurisdictions abroad when

considering how to reform the APS. For instance, the New Zealand approach to poverty reduction

is a leading example of how to create coordinated, long-term public sector responses to whole-of-
society challenges. In February this year, the New Zealand Government introduced legislation

aimed at addressing child poverty, acknowledging the importance of the SDG.15 The Bill includes

the development of a child wellbeing strategy and measures for how success will be determined

and reported on, both in the short and long-term. Australia need not reinvent the wheel on public

sector reform, but rather learn from the practice and progress of neighbours and allies alike,
adapting it to our own particular circumstances and governance arrangements. The Smith Family

therefore welcomes the establishment of the international reference group to advise the Panel.

Our inability to deal with poverty and inequality is a demonstration of why the APS needs to be

recalibrated and restructured to meet the present. This includes a sustained investment in

boosting public policy capabilities, in particular its capabilities in analysing quantitative and

qualitative data. Given the importance of data in identifying policy problems and designing

targeted responses, not to mention the volume of data routinely produced currently, the APS must

have high proficiency and literacy in this area. This was a key recommendation as well in Ahead of

the Game.16 This will help ensure the APS is sufficiently skilled to be able to tackle problems like

14 Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Report on the Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, 2018, p 23-24.
15 New Zealand Government, Child Poverty Reduction Bill – a background summary; Child Poverty Reduction Bill 2018.
Advisory Group on Reform of Australian Government Administration, Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the reform of Australian

Government Administration, March 2010, p ix-x, 20, 23, 25.

Submission to the Independent Panel

poverty, for instance offering crucial policy leadership on the lack of common national


There are other major challenges such as climate change, population growth and ageing, that are

equally challenging and permeate our entire community, on which we are suffering from a similar

lack of progress. These and other challenges highlight why people are increasingly losing trust in


  1. Improving the relationship with the community

The Panel should consider ways to improve the APS’ relationship with the community it seeks to

serve, as part of reforming its broader functioning and purpose. 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 means services are

not as impactful as they should be in meeting community and individual need.

The Smith Family is particularly mindful of the disconnect in areas relating to the human services,
social services and employment portfolios. Programs and policies developed and implemented by

the APS increasingly fail to substantively recognise, or address, the structural economic and social

factors that make life difficult for disadvantaged individuals and families. For instance, the

responsibility for breaking the poverty trap and inter-generational disadvantage has

disproportionately shifted to individuals and families who are in need of high-quality public

services and other government support. Whether it is, for instance, the payment of childcare

subsidies and social security supports, or assistance in finding employment, members of the public

are required to navigate complex systems and compliance regimes and are under constant

scrutiny. Less focus is applied to how the government can work with people to improve their lives

and mitigate the structural factors at work in denying these same people opportunity, such as

persistent unemployment and underemployment.

One of the best ways to improve the relationship between the APS and the community is to

improve the ways services are designed, delivered and evaluated. The rationale for service delivery

must derive from an accurate understanding of community and individual need as determined by

members of the community. The delivery of services must also be based on the best evidence

available of what is effective in bringing about desired outcomes. Initiatives and programs must be

tied to an overarching, explicit purpose and a clear articulation of the problem being solved.
Without this clarity it is incredibly difficult to produce, or measure, tangible outcomes. As a result,
inputs and outputs tend to be measured instead of outcomes.

The Smith Family recommends that the APS move to fully embrace co-design methods for services.
Whilst there is much rhetoric regarding co-design, it is still inconsistently applied by the APS in

service design and it tends to be used to ‘tweak’ services rather than for large-scale reform. There

are still too many instances where the APS develops programs and initiatives without properly

collaborating with non-government experts and end users from the start. This limits the quality

and effectiveness of programs. The genuine application of co-design principles helps ensure

Submission to the Independent Panel

broader ownership of programs as well as maximising the likelihood of the programs having a

positive impact on service users and the community.

Further, in moving to a proper co-design service model, the APS should also be placing the

individual service user at the centre of the design process, ensuring that programs are created

according to the needs of those who access them. An important way this can be accomplished is

by incorporating end users into the design process and engaging them throughout the initial

rollout. The perspective, experience and insight of users will help reform service systems and

ensure they are better able to address the identified problem. The NDIS is a notable reform that

places users at the centre of the service design, but it remains the exception to the rule.

Additionally, the APS should combine a user-centric approach with a strengths-based framework,
similar to that being developed in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander policy.17 This framework

accentuates the advantages, skills and positive qualities that individual service users have,
including those who are disadvantaged or vulnerable. Harnessing the strengths of individuals is an

important and missing element in user-centred service design. For instance, in assisting people in

poverty, a user-centred approach would not only work out the best ways to assist someone, but

also the individual traits a person can draw on, such as resilience, determination or personal

aspirations for work, training or study.

The community sector also has incredible expertise and institutional memory that can be better

utilised by the APS. The Smith Family, for instance, can lend its service expertise, and research and

evaluative expertise, to help the APS design programs targeting the relief of educational

disadvantage for children and young people.

Improving the design and delivery of services includes finding ways to personalise large-scale

services to better meet the needs of individual persons. The best way to make services personal is

to make them local. The APS must tailor national programs to local communities, in order to

improve the impact of these programs. This can be done effectively within national frameworks. It

requires the APS to work more collaboratively with other levels of government, as well as with the

NGO sector, business and the community generally. These other levels bring additional expertise

and insight on regional and local conditions.

There is also an increasing focus in public administration research on policy decision-making and

management emphasising the value of engaging across the boundaries of public agencies, levels of

government and across sectors.18 More effective collaboration with state and local government

involves forging close, coordinated, constructive working relationships with clear delineation of

responsibilities and mutually agreed objectives and measurable outcomes. It requires a high level

17Council of Australian Governments, Closing the Gap, The Next Phase: Discussion Paper, p 4; Department of Prime Minister and

Cabinet, Indigenous Advancement Strategy: Evaluation Framework, 2018, p 6.
Australia and New Zealand School of Government, ‘Deputy leaders to learn why collaboration is an essential part of leadership', 5 July


Submission to the Independent Panel

of skills. The Smith Family can see a material benefit to improved collaboration across government,
given that we operate in 94 communities across Australia and regularly liaise with all three levels of

government for different programs and initiatives.

  1. Conclusion

The importance of a well-functioning, fit-for-purpose and highly effective APS to the economic and

social wellbeing of Australia cannot be understated. The Panel has a unique opportunity to develop

a reform plan that truly matches the scale and size of the policy challenges facing the country. A

public sector better connected with the community it serves, structured in a way to deliver whole-
of-government, and cross-government solutions, whilst drawing on relevant expertise and

experience outside government, will be well positioned to make headway on seemingly intractable

problems. This in turn will contribute to Australia’s economic and social wellbeing. It can restore

people’s faith in government as an institution of progress and achievement, helping ensure

Australia’s democracy is fit-for-purpose in a volatile and uncertain era.