Australian federal agencies told to expect capability reviews as government steps up reform plan 

By on 02/11/2022 | Updated on 02/11/2022
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Australia’s minister for finance and the public service Katy Gallagher has told agencies to expect independent capability reviews as the government pushes ahead with its public service reform plan.

The announcement came in conjunction with Labor’s first budget, delivered last week, in which the government made clear its intention to scrutinise agencies’ performance.

In her preface to the budget paper, which contains the government’s agency resourcing plans for 2022-23, Gallagher said that to fulfil its ‘reset and rebuild’ agenda for the Australian Public Service (APS), government first needed to know where agencies’ weak points were.

“Understanding the Australian Public Service capability, knowing our strengths and weaknesses, and being transparent about how we can do better, is fundamental to building a stronger APS that is committed to improving the lives of Australians,” she said.

“Evaluation is also a clear priority for the government, as it assesses if the policies and programmes deliver what is intended. [We] will work to align evaluation functions and build capability to support better outcomes for Australians and better-quality government spending.”

Read more: Minister vows to revive ‘mothballed’ APS reform agenda

The government is reviving a reform agenda that came off the back of a milestone 2019 review into the APS, known as the Thodey review. Gallagher said the agenda was “largely mothballed” under the former government and that as a result, Labor would have to work to change citizen’s “jaundiced” perception of public services.  

Public service pay deal among Labor government changes

Gallagher has made a series of announcements concerning the APS in recent weeks, on issues such as pay, the government’s intention to improve training provision, and its plan to address historic gaps in representation, resource, staff engagement and agency capabilities.

In a report published last month which highlighted the link between diverse workforces and effective delivery, Gallagher drew on data from the APS employee census to argue that it should look beyond representation targets and address discrepancies that exist in the experiences of employees who identify with different diversity groups.

Read more: Australian Public Service staff to receive interim 3% pay rise

She also affirmed government’s efforts to offer enhanced staff training through the APS Academy, which she said 20,000 employees had already attended. The Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) is expected to use its workforce and learning and development strategies to boost human resource and capabilities across the public service.

On pay, Gallagher revealed last month that public servants would get an interim 3% pay rise while a longer-term policy that aims to reduce fragmentation of pay and conditions across the service is worked up. She said such fragmentation had led to a ruthless bargaining system that undermined the APS’s goal of becoming a model employer.

The Labor Party ousted Australia’s Liberal/National coalition after nine years in power in the federal election in May this year.

In its first budget last week, the government announced its intention to start what treasurer Jim Chalmers called “a new discussion about measuring what matters”, taking inspiration from New Zealand’s wellbeing budget.

Read more: Australia’s ‘wellbeing budget’ inspired by New Zealand

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About Jack Aldane

Jack is a British journalist, cartoonist and podcaster. He graduated from Heythrop College London in 2009 with a BA in philosophy, before living and working in China for three years as a freelance reporter. After training in financial journalism at City University from 2013 to 2014, Jack worked at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters before moving into editing magazines on global trade and development finance. Shortly after editing opinion writing for UnHerd, he joined the independent think tank ResPublica, where he led a media campaign to change the health and safety requirements around asbestos in UK public buildings. As host and producer of The Booking Club podcast – a conversation series featuring prominent authors and commentators at their favourite restaurants – Jack continues to engage today’s most distinguished thinkers on the biggest problems pertaining to ideology and power in the 21st century. He joined Global Government Forum as its Senior Staff Writer and Community Co-ordinator in 2021.

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