The interregnum at the Australian Public Service Commission

Many years ago now, Steve Sedgwick the Australian Public Service Commission explained to me that it wouldn’t be right to publish the hoard of information the APSC has on APS employees’ attitudes to their workplaces agency by agency because that would undermine the relationship of discretion and cooperation the APSC has with agencies.

Just thinking about that argument it falls apart it seems to me. If the rules are the results are published the APSC publishing the data isn’t a hostile act, it’s just process. Anyway, no progress has been made while this kind of data has been published in other countries routinely and the whole world gets the bug on open data.

Meanwhile I suspect the reports the APSC sends each agency outlining its performance are FOIable. If that’s true it’s all a bit of a house of cards waiting to fall. And all of a sudden five capability reviews appeared on the APSC website one Friday afternoon. The Mandarin covered the contents of the reviews which are quite candid about departmental shortcomings. Only two of the five capability reviews were recent. One was from earlier this year and two were from last year.

No press release, no date on the website. Why? Who knows, but here’s hoping the house of cards continues to collapse.

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derrida derider
derrida derider
6 years ago

” If the rules are the results are published … [then] publishing the data isn’t a hostile act, it’s just process.”

A general observation that those opposing open government miss. For instance, if you always publish the internal debate leading up to a Cabinet decision then it becomes an unremarkable story and governments won’t be embarrassed. If, on the other hand, you insist on classifying advice you think erroneous then if (when?) it leaks it will have far greater – and often undeserved – credibility precisely because it was secret.

PoliticoNT
PoliticoNT
6 years ago

Nicholas

Here’s a question for you – do we actually need the APSC? Does it do anything that’s vital to the function of the APS? My view (as former APS) is that most of what the APSC does, achieves little if anything. It could be replaced by a 4-5 person team within PM&C, which would run a review process once every 5 years (policy would be covered off under this as required). Salary and conditions would however be excluded, and instead handed off to Finance.

My experience (as a former APS director) is that when you ask APSC for assistance they refuse to engage and refer you back to your own department. Very much like the Defence People Group (within Defence) that Richardson went to such lengths to defend recently. For the uninitiated the DPG do not look after uniform personnel, only civilian APS. But they undertake no practical workforce planning for Defence (that’s an ad hoc process done on an ongoing basis by individual divisions), and like APSC, if asked for assistance refer you back to the HR cell in your own division.

I suspect a rational review of APSC outcomes would find it is of little or no value.

Views?

Paul Frijters
Paul Frijters
6 years ago

PoliticoNT,

an interesting question! I dont know about this either, but does the APSC serve a deterrence function? One might for instance say that in a peaceful and quiet neighbourhood one doesnt need a police, or one might argue that the neighbourhood is peaceful and quiet partially because of the deterrence emanating from the existence of the police. Would the APSC similarly prevent certain problems from arising? I dont know, and am just asking.

PoliticoNT
PoliticoNT
6 years ago

Paul

No, the APSC doesn’t perform a deterrence function. It carries out a number of ongoing reviews (continuously), produces reports and publications, attends symposiums, sits on various boards and councils and committees, but has no real impact on the function of the APS.

It played a peripheral/overlord role in the recent review of responsibilities and duties. The review itself was an attempt to counter the widespread over-classification of positions across the APS – which if the APSC played an effective and substantive role – wouldn’t be as bad as it is. And it is bad. If you want to scare yourself have a look at last year’s annual report for the Dept of Health & Aging. The sheer number of EL1s & EL2s is astounding. We’re talking in the 1000s, and this for an agency that has few actual federal responsibilities, and no service delivery ones. Again, an effective APSC would ensure departments aren’t overstaffed, over classified and overpaid. I won’t hold my breath.

The APSC is just another bloated self important agency of little real value. An argument could be made to have it along the lines of say the Vatican’s bureaucracy having its own oversight committee. And judging by Pope Francis’s latest missive I can imagine just how ‘effective’ such a committee might be.

PoliticoNT