Australian leaders link corona response to civil service reform

By on 24/03/2020
The government has unveiled its second coronavirus stimulus package, worth AUS$66bn, as part of which Services Australia will receive an additional 5,000 staff. (Photo by Mark Broadhurst via pexels).

Two of Australia’s most senior civil servants have praised officials for their dedication to service delivery during the coronavirus pandemic, and reminded employees that the need for agility underpins the ambitious Australian Public Service (APS) reform agenda. The news comes as the government unveiled its second stimulus package, worth AUS$66bn (US$39bn), as part of which Services Australia will receive an additional 5,000 staff.  

In an open letter published on Friday, Philip Gaetjens, secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and head of the APS, and the country’s Public Service Commissioner, Peter Woolcott, thanked the APS workforce for its efforts in delivering services “in these testing times”. They reassured government employees of the measures being taken to protect them from the virus, before drawing comparisons between what the APS has proven it is capable of achieving during the current public health emergency and what will be required of it in pursuing the reform agenda unveiled in December 2019.

“Events like these demonstrate the importance of adaptability to how we meet future challenges,” Gaetjens and Woolcott wrote. “Now more than ever, the need for an agile and responsive public service is clear. As we continue to drive the reform agenda, the work that is currently being undertaken across the APS is already embracing the ethos behind it – an APS that works together to provide for Australians now and into the future.”

The Independent Review of the Australian Public Service, by Australian businessman David Thodey, was submitted to government in September last year. It made 40 recommendations. Of those, 15 were accepted by the government in full, twenty were partly accepted, two were noted, and three were rejected.

The focus is on creating a citizen-centric public service and on boosting capability.

Additional staff for Services Australia

The letter came as it was announced that Services Australia – the agency responsible for welfare payments – will gain an extra 5,000 workers to help deliver new support measures for disadvantaged Australians during the pandemic.  

The Mandarin reported that the additional workers will help deliver new government measures outlined in the new rescue package. The latest cash injection is in addition to an initial AUS$17.6bn (US$10.4bn) package, plus more than AUS$100bn (US$59.3bn) in emergency banking measures designed to protect credit markets. The latest round of funding ramps up support for small businesses and includes a temporary supplement for welfare recipients who will lose their jobs over the coming months, as non-essential services shut down across the country in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus.

The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) national secretary, Melissa Donnelly, called on the government to ensure that all new Services Australia staff are directly employed by the APS.

“Now is not the time for the government to outsource its responsibility. It is essential that the 5,000 new Services Australia staff be APS employees and for the long-term. This will ensure that there is no double handling or delays at this critical time,” she said on Sunday, as reported by The Mandarin.

According to CPSU, more than 3,823 Services Australia and Centrelink jobs have been cut since 2013.

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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