Australian commissioner hits out at partisan public servants

By on 07/03/2017 | Updated on 24/09/2020
The Hon. John Lloyd PSM australian public service commissioner (CC Image courtesy @APSCnews)

The Australian public service commissioner, John Lloyd, has attacked Labor-run state governments for allowing union members among their public sector employees to engage in overtly political activities.

Lloyd, who has clashed repeatedly with public sector unions over pay, conditions and election campaigning since he was appointed by former Liberal prime minister Tony Abbott in December 2014, said that impartiality of the Australian Public Service (APS) is the bedrock of the country’s system of government.

“Some recent developments demonstrate that this is not easy,” said the commissioner, whose role is to ensure that the APS has the organisational and workforce capability to meet future needs. Lloyd was speaking at a local government HR conference held in Sydney last month.

During a wide-ranging speech about HR in the Australian public sector on 23 February, Lloyd referred to an incident during the 2014 Victoria state election, where uniformed firefighters – union members employed by the Country Fire Authority (CFA) – handed out information leaflets produced by the Labor party.

“The active engagement of Victorian government employees in state and federal election campaigns is wrong,” he said. “CFA employees, for example, handed out how-to-vote cards and door-knocked wearing uniforms. This would not be tolerated in the Commonwealth [national government].”

He also questioned Queensland’s decision to introduce a criterion of ‘support for the government’s agenda’ when recruiting departmental heads. Supporting the government of the day, “irrespective of who is in power”, is the point of public service, he said – so such a criterion should not be necessary.

“There can be no dilution of this obligation” to support whichever government has been elected, said Lloyd. “If you are unable to support lawful directions to implement policy then you should resign.” And the commissioner hit out at
unions which, he said, “labour under old notions that bosses are about ripping off the worker”.

While Australia’s defence permanent secretary announced with irritation last month that contractors now outnumber employees in his department, Lloyd explained that he thinks the array of employment types found in the APS is a good thing.

“Many people – not all – embrace the opportunity to work in flexible ways,” he said. “For government businesses it offers flexibility to make best use of resources by offering a better fit between work, business planning and budgets.

“I think we have to get involved with this. Basically get with it or be left behind.”

Lloyd also talked about talent retention, which is something that the APS has not always excelled at, he said. HR managers have to sell the APS as “an attractive employment proposition”, because they cannot compete with the private sector on pay, he added.

The Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) recently announced a new recruiting slogan for the APS. ‘Shape Australia. Create Your Future’ was chosen following a competition among APS employees that attracted more than 700 entries. It will be used on the APSjobs website, as well as other agency websites and social media. The rebrand is necessary to set the APS apart from competing sectors and support recruitment, the APSC said.

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See also:

Contractors outnumber civil servants in Australia’s defence department

Australia’s government IT projects face scrutiny in new review

Australia and New Zealand School of Government names new CEO

Surprise resignation of Australia’s digital chief, Paul Shetler


About Tamsin Rutter

Tamsin Rutter is a journalist based in Brussels, Belgium. She writes on a variety of topics, including public services, cities, local and central government and education. She was formerly the deputy editor of the Guardian's Public Leaders Network and Housing Network.

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