Public sector reform

During the 2022 federal election campaign, the Labor Party included improving the Australian Public Service (APS) within its raft of policy commitments. Since the election, Labor’s Minister for the Public Service, Katy Gallagher, has appointed Gordon de Brouwer as Secretary for Public Sector Reform. This Flagpost article examines the key issues likely to influence plans for reform, taken from the ALP’s policy positions, inquiries initiated by the previous Government, and other related issues.


Labor commitments


During the 2022 election campaign, Labor committed to abolish the Average Staffing Level cap, because it had ‘impacted on services provided to Australians, eroded public sector capability, reduced job security and wasted taxpayer funds’. Labor also promised to cut spending on external private labour (contractors, consultants and labour hire) by $3 billion over four years, with a 10% cut in the first year. However, a recent Senate inquiry report into APS capability noted the limited availability of APS labour hire data, including expenditure and headcount.


Labor also proposed an APS employment audit and an intention to convert some labour hire, casual or contract roles into ongoing APS employment. This may not be straightforward, as The Mandarin has observed that consultants and contractors are ‘entrenched’ in agencies’ work structures, due to increased workloads and static staffing levels.


Two inquiries instigated by the new Government will also have implications for public administration. The Terms of reference of the Royal Commission into the Centrelink online compliance initiative (‘robodebt’) include departmental advice and processes around design, implementation, risk management, complaints handling, and internal scrutiny. The second is a ‘user audit’ of the myGov portal, which provides access to a range of Government services, and ‘will be conducted at arm's length from Services Australia and myGov but will be led by a senior public servant from within departmental resources’.


Reviews initiated by the previous Government


Labor’s reform agenda will also be informed by the reports of reviews commenced by the Coalition Government, most notably the 2019 report of the Independent review of the APS led by David Thodey. Noting 18 reviews of the APS in the ten years to 2018 (p. 59), the Thodey review made 40 recommendations, including several relating to the relationship between departments and ministers (recommendations 5, 11 and 24)ِ and ‘cross-swear[ing] ministers to departments’ (recommendation 30).

Recently, two reports arising from Thodey review recommendations were released.

The recommendations of performance audits published by the Auditor-General are also relevant to improved public sector performance. In August 2022, the Auditor-General highlighted cybersecurity, procurement, and grants administration as areas of particular concern.

Other issues of relevance

Several additional current processes relate to public sector reform, or public administration more broadly


Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament

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