Australian Public Service reform

Dr Nicholas Horne, Politics and Public Administration Section

A number of reform themes are current for the Australian Public Service (APS).

The 2010 blueprint for reform

In September 2009 then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced the establishment of an Advisory Group to develop a ‘blueprint for reform’ of the APS.

The Group, chaired by head of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet Terry Moran AO, completed its work in March 2010 and proposed a number of reforms including:

  • restructuring and augmenting the role of the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC)
  • reviewing employment arrangements for departmental secretaries, and
  • reviewing public service efficiency mechanisms such as the efficiency dividend.

In May 2010 the Prime Minister announced that the Government had accepted all of the Advisory Group’s recommendations. The 2010–11 Budget provided additional money ($38.7 million) for the APSC to undertake its expanded role including implementing half of the blueprint and taking policy responsibility for APS employment conditions and agreement-making.

Shortly before the 2010 federal election the Government announced that, if it was returned to office, the APSC would still undertake its expanded role as planned but would not receive the additional funding specified in the Budget.

The APSC has already commenced its new role; with the return of the Gillard Government, it remains to be seen how the APSC will pursue the reform agenda without additional funding.

Increased regional focus

In its agreement with two of the non-aligned independents, Tony Windsor MP and Robert Oakeshott MP, the Government has committed to a range of governance and public administration measures in order to provide a greater emphasis on regional policy.

These measures include a regional Australia cabinet ministry; a dedicated Department of Regional Australia; a regional Australia coordinating unit within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet; and an agency to provide advice to the public concerning regional health and aged care.

The efficiency dividend

Currently the efficiency dividend, which is an annual funding reduction, is imposed on government agencies at the rate of 1.25 per cent per annum. Prior to the 2010 election the Government announced that it would retain the dividend at this rate if returned to office.

Coalition policies

In its pre-election policies the Coalition indicated that, if elected to office, it would not proceed with the blueprint reform programme, and that it would set the efficiency dividend at 1.25 per annum with a subsequent increase to 2.0 per cent per annum from 2012.

The Coalition also indicated that it would impose a recruitment freeze on the APS for two years to achieve a reduction of 12 000 positions through natural attrition (first announced in May 2010).

APS employee numbers

In June 2009 the APS (i.e. staff employed under the Public Service Act 1999) had just over 162 000 employees.

APS employees numbers 1990-2009 - Text version

APS employees numbers 1990-2009

Source: APSC, State of the Service Report 08–09, APSC, Canberra, 2009, p. 2,

Library publications and key documents

Australian Labor Party and the Independent Members Oakeshott and Windsor, Agreement, 7 September 2010,;query=Id%3A%22library%2Fjrnart%2F218795%22

Advisory Group on Reform of Australian Government Administration, Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the Reform of Australian Government Administration, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Canberra, March 2010,

Australian Labor Party, Updated net budget impact of election policies, media releases, 31 July 2010 and 16 August 2010,;;query%3DId%3A%22media%2Fpressrel%2FZCRX6%22

Liberal Party of Australia and the Nationals, The Coalition’s Plan for Real Action for Australia’s Future, Liberal Party of Australia, Canberra, August 2010, pp. 16, 19,;query=Id%3A%22library%2Fpartypol%2F67572%22