The Australian Public Service and its Ministers: time for change?

Ten months since the Commonwealth initiated its review of the Australian Public Service, the review panel has just released its Priorities for Change report. The Review’s brief is to consider whether the APS’s capability, culture and operating model are suited to harness the opportunities of a transformed Australian economy and society, in an increasingly complex global context.

Research papers commissioned through the Australia and New Zealand School of Government by the APS Review include one by Hamilton Stone director Ian Holland and Griffith University researchers Anne Tiernan and Jacob Deem. It considers how to reform relationships between ministers, their offices and the APS. This relationship has changed substantially over recent decades, and constitutional conventions and practice have not kept up. At the same time, the APS need no longer be the primary source of impartial policy advice.

The paper asks, firstly, how can advisory arrangements be reconfigured to ensure Ministers receive expert, high quality analysis and advice across the spectrum of their responsibilities? Second, how should the APS's duty to serve the government of the day be interpreted? Should the role of the APS be clarified as exclusively responsible to ministers, or should it retain a responsibility (similar to that set out in the Public Service Act at present) to also act in the interests of Parliament and the community? If the responsibility for multiple interests is retained, how should it be given effect? Whatever answer is chosen to these questions, current arrangements need to change.

The APS review is seeking comment on its Priorities for Change by 2 May 2019: you can provide input here. You can read the Canberra Times coverage of the release of the report here, which includes reference to some of the ideas covered in the research paper.