‘Urgent’ need to streamline Australia’s civil service, review finds

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A review of hierarchies within the Australian Public Service (APS) has recommended that its senior structures need to be modernized and investments made “urgently” in the capacity of future leaders.

The review – conducted by an independent group last year – aimed to devise ways to streamline APS management, improve decision-making and bring together expertise and resources.

In its report released last Friday, the panel made a total of eight recommendations. Suggestions included reducing the number of civil service job ranks, known as classifications, from 13 to eight; limit the number of people reporting directly to senior management; and make training mandatory for all staff with supervisory responsibilities.

He also advised enabling employee progression through the ranks “through fair and transparent assessment focused on skills, competency development and workforce planning”, and adopting a leadership charter “to promote collaborative behaviors. and team”.

Read more: Australia’s civil service prepares for ‘rapid phase of reform’ as government responds to landmark review

The report was launched by APS Commissioner Peter Woolcott. “I strongly support the aspiration to modernize the way we operate in APS, better position ourselves to meet future challenges and provide more rewarding careers for our employees,” he said.

“As we seize the opportunities ahead, our APS culture must continue to evolve – to better value people for their contribution, regardless of rank, to actively develop great leaders, and to embrace flexible and modern ways of working. .”

Reform work “already underway”

The Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) said work was “already underway”. He indicated, for example, that a charter of leadership behaviors had been developed defining the behaviors expected of senior APS leaders. “It emphasizes collaboration, integrity, respecting and valuing others, and empowering people — key behaviors that modern APS leaders need to be successful,” Woolcott said.

He added that the APS Academy – the central learning center for the civil service – was co-designing an approach to strengthen the capacity development of managers, with a focus on supporting them as they respond to the advances in technology and more flexible working methods.

“The review highlights important points about how to attract and retain talent, particularly staff with specialist skills, and we will be looking at this as part of our capabilities focus,” Woolcott said.

However, he said that while the panel “makes a good case” for classification reform, “the timing and viability of such a complex reform must be carefully weighed”. He said the APSC was not looking to make any changes to the classifications “at this stage” and that any decision to do so in the future would require “consultation with staff and stakeholders”.

“My priority is to update our guidance on optimal management structures. This will go a long way towards achieving the objectives of the review, while allowing agencies to adjust their structures flexibly over time,” he said.

Read more: ‘The war for talent’: APS deputy commissioner warns of difficulties in attracting staff

The APS Hierarchy and Classification Review was itself a recommendation from the Independent Review of the Australian Civil Service – also known as the Thodey Review – published in 2019.

The landmark review was the largest APS review in 40 years and resulted in a 385-page report. He found that while there were “many examples of excellence across the service”, he was “ill-prepared to seize the opportunities of the future” and that if he did not become a more inclusive organization , citizen-centric and technology-based, its weaknesses “would turn into critical failures.”

Successful implementation of public sector reform: lessons from New Zealand

The hierarchy and classification report comes shortly after Gordon de Brouwer, Australia’s secretary for public sector reform, visited New Zealand to find out how his civil service had successfully implemented reform.

In a LinkedIn post, de Brouwer said it was a pleasure to meet New Zealand Public Sector Commissioner Peter Hughes and that he “learned a lot”.

“My thanks also go to the leaders and teams from Treasury, Revenue, New Zealand Customs and the Ministries of Environment, Social Development and Justice who met with me to discuss their recent reform initiatives” , did he declare.

Hughes said the New Zealand Civil Service Act 2020 “modernized the way we work” and allowed the service to operate with a common purpose, principles and values. “We are already seeing significant gains from the reforms, and I was happy to share our journey with Dr de Bouwer,” he said.

De Brouwer has been a longtime supporter of civil service reform, notably as a member of the Thodey Review. In 2017, when he was secretary of the environment department, he said civil servants needed to be given more autonomy, bureaucratic thinking needed to be broadened, and trust in public institutions increased.

Read more: Australian government urged to produce long-awaited digital capabilities review

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