Australia to reform senior executive recruitment

By on 24/01/2019 | Updated on 24/09/2020
A portrait photograph of Australian Public Service Commissioner Peter Woolcott
Australian Public Service Commissioner Peter Woolcott. Photo: APSC.

The Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) is shaking up the way it hires its most senior executives, in a bid to speed up recruitment, improve coordination between departments and sharpen central oversight. 

From February 1st, agencies will be required to directly notify the Public Services Commissioner, Peter Woolcott, and to check ‘merit lists’ from other agencies before advertising senior vacancies. An APSC spokesperson said the updated arrangements seek to improve the “efficiency and effectiveness” of Senior Executive Service (SES) recruitment.

The changes to recruitment practices were agreed in December and announced in a circular distributed at the end of 2018, which asked agencies to “advise the Commission that current merit lists for similar vacancies have been identified and reviewed.” It added that agencies are under no obligation to make an offer of employment to anyone on the merit list.

Broadening the pool

A centralised system of merit lists is expected to be introduced later this year. “The Commission will develop a more centralised process for sharing SES merit lists, and further advice will be provided in due course,” the circular said. 

The change follows feedback from agencies which “indicated that centralising the sharing of merit lists would streamline current processes used across the APS,” an APSC spokeswoman told The Sydney Morning Herald last week. 

Agencies were also asked to notify the Commissioner one month before advertising an SES Band 3 post, and to invite him to “participate in the selection process”. For other SES vacancies, agencies were asked to suggest that a Commissioner’s representative be involved.

Central scrutiny

The APSC spokesperson said: “The participation of the Commissioner, or a representative in the SES selection process, provides independent assurance that any decision to engage or promote a person into these senior roles is based on merit. “Advance notice of the advertising of SES Band 3 vacancies will help to identify opportunities for coordinated recruitment between agencies. This should reduce the duplication of processes and administrative burden for both agencies and applicants.”

About Natalie Leal

Natalie is a freelance journalist whose work has been published by The Sun Online, The Guardian, Novara Media, Positive News, and Welfare Weekly, among others. She also writes reports and case studies on global business trends for behavioural insights agency, Canvas8. Prior to working as a journalist Natalie worked for the public sector in social services for several years. She switched careers in 2013 after winning a fully funded NCTJ in a national writing competition. She holds a Masters degree in social anthropology from Sussex University where she specialised in processes of social change and international conflict and reconciliation processes.

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