Turnbull launches major review of Australian Public Service

By on 18/05/2018 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Malcolm Turnbull, prime minister, Australia. (Image courtesy: Commonwealth of Australia).

Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has commissioned the first major, independent review of the Australian Public Service (APS) for more than 40 years.

The review, which aims to ensure the APS is well placed to serve Australia’s governments and people into the future, will be carried out by a panel of six experts with experience in the public and private sector both at home and abroad.

The panel will be led by David Thodey, chair of Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the former chief executive officer of Telstra mobile phone and internet provider.

Reshaping the public sector

Announcing the review last week, Turnbull said the APS has a long and proud history of advising governments and serving the people well, but a range of global, technological and public policy developments are transforming Australia’s economy and society.

He said the time is therefore right to examine the capability, culture and operating model of the APS to ensure it is ready to capitalise on these opportunities, improve citizens’ experience of government and deliver better services.

“Our APS must be apolitical, professional and efficient,” Turnbull said. “It needs to drive policy and implementation, using technology and data to deliver for the Australian community. Many of the fundamentals of Australia’s public sector in 2018 reflect the outcomes of a Royal Commission held back in the mid-1970s.”

Business and universities dominate panel

The other members of the review panel, which is dominated by figures from the worlds of business and higher education, are Maile Carnegie, group executive for digital banking at ANZ Bank; Professor Glyn Davis, vice-chancellor of the University of Melbourne; Dr Gordon de Brouwer, former secretary of the Department of the Environment and Energy; Belinda Hutchinson, chancellor of the University of Sydney; and Alison Watkins, group managing director of Coca-Cola Amatil.

The panel, which will be supported by a secretariat within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, is expected to report back to the government in the first half of 2019.

In a letter circulated to staff, the 20 heads of federal government departments who sit on the Secretaries Board said the APS must “adapt to change and strive for improvement”.

“This review provides the opportunity for a thorough assessment of our long-term needs,” it states. “We expect the review will consult widely, both across and beyond the APS. We encourage you to participate and share your views in a frank and fearless manner.”

The ability of the APS to deliver high quality advice and regulatory oversight, to improve citizen’s experience of government, and to develop the skills and expertise of its workforce are among key issues that will be examined.

The review will also consider the public service’s capacity for driving innovation and productivity in the economy; collaborating with the community, businesses and citizens; and coordinating and managing Australia’s domestic, foreign, trade and security interests.

About Liz Heron

Liz Heron is a journalist based in London. She worked on daily newspapers for more than 16 years as an education correspondent, section editor and general news reporter. She was Education Editor of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong and has contributed to a wide range of British media including The Independent, The Guardian and the BBC.

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