As at June 2015, the Australian Public Service comprises some 152,430 officers alongside a further 90,000 people employed in the broader Commonwealth public sector. Accordingly, the Australian Public Service is one of the largest employers in Australia.
The first public service appointments were made under section67 of the Constitution of Australia, and this arrangement remained in place until the commencement of the Commonwealth Public Service Act 1902, which came into force on 1January1903. At the commencement of the Commonwealth Public Service Act, there were 11,374 officials employed under the Act.
A new legislative framework was introduced in 1923 in the form of the Commonwealth Public Service Act 1922.
A section in both the 1902 Act and the 1922 Act stated that every female officer was deemed to have retired from the Commonwealth service upon her marriage. In November 1966 Australia became the last democratic country to lift the legislated “marriage bar”, which had prevented married women from holding permanent positions in the public service for over 60 years.
In November 1996, Peter Reith issued a discussion paper, Towards a best practice Australian Public Service. The paper, among other things, recommended key elements which might need to be incorporated into a new streamlined and principles-based Public Service Act. After several years spent developing a new Act, the Public Service Act 1999 came into effect on 5December1999. The new Act introduced APS Values and a Code of Conduct into the Act for the first time. Public servants who breach the code of conduct can be demoted, fined, reprimanded or fired.
In 2010 a comprehensive reform agenda was introduced as outlined in Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for Reform of Australian Government Administration.The reforms were aimed at strengthening strategic direction, citizen engagement and staff capability across the APS.
Functions and values
Geoff Gallop describes the spectrum of activities undertaken by staff in the APS as fitting into four work functions: service delivery; law making, rule making and policy development; tax collection and managing government finance; and monitoring and enforcing laws and regulations.
The APS Values are set out in section 10 of the Public Service Act 1999. The Values are mandatory and are intended to embody the principles of good public administration.
The APS Values were most recently revised in 2013, with the aim to comprise a smaller set of core values that are meaningful, memorable and effective in driving change. The values are stated in section 10 of the Public Service Act 1999 as follows:
Impartial: The APS is apolitical and provides the Government with advice that is frank, honest, timely and based on the best available evidence.
Committed to service: The APS is professional, objective, innovative and efficient, and works collaboratively to achieve the best results for the Australian community and the Government.
Accountable: The APS is open and accountable to the Australian community under the law and within the framework of Ministerial responsibility.
Respectful: The APS respects all people, including their rights and their heritage.
Ethical: The APS demonstrates leadership, is trustworthy, and acts with integrity, in all that it does.
The Australian Public Service formally comprises all Australian Government departments and agencies where staff members are or can be employed under the Public Service Act 1999. At June 2013, there were 167,257 APS employees, down from 168,580 APS employees in June 2012. The 2013 figure included 152,230 ongoing (or permanent) employees, and 15,027 non-ongoing (or contract) employees. Staffing in Australian Public Service agencies accounts for around half of total employment in Australian Government administration. Public servants employed by the Commonwealth Government under legislation other than the Public Service Act include Australian Defence Force personnel, government business enterprise employees, parliamentary staff, Australian Federal Police staff and public servants under other Commonwealth agency-specific legislation.
In the decade to December 2012 the APS grew in numbers; there was also notable 'classification creep', in which a higher proportion of staff are employed at higher pay-grade levels. Before the 2013 federal election, the Coalition promised to reduce the size of the public service by at least 12000 jobs, through natural attrition.Joe Hockey told an Adelaide radio station in May 2013 that the Coalition planned for the loss of 12,000 public service jobs to be just a starting point in the first two years of a Coalition government.
Overall the APS has quite a feminised workforce—57.9percent of all APS employees are women. 39.1percent of APS employees work in the Australian Capital Territory. At June 2013, the median age for ongoing APS employees was 43years. Like the Australian population, the APS workforce has been ageing rapidly since the early 1990s.
In 2009 there was a ratio of oneAPS official for every 135Australians, compared to 1991 ratios of 1:106.
Measuring APS performance
Beginning in 2009–10 all APS entities were required to report in accordance with the Outcomes and Programs Framework, whereby programs provide the link between Australian Government decisions, actitivities and their actual outcomes. In the Outcomes and Programs Framework, organisations identify and report against the programs that contribute to government outcomes over the budget and forward years. All APS agencies contribute to Portfolio Budget Statements that inform Parliament and the public of the proposed allocation of Government outcomes. Portfolio budget statements outline:
outcome statements, which specifically articulate the intended results, impacts or consequences of actions by the Government on the Australian community;
programs to address outcomes, which are designed to deliver benefits, services or transfer payments to target groups; and
resourcing information, deliverables and key performance indicators for each program.
Annual reports report performance of agencies in relation to services provided.
Prior to the introduction of the Outcomes and Programs Framework APS entities reported against an Outcomes and Outputs Framework, which had been introduced in 1999. Reforms have been progressively introduced to the APS with the specific aim of making it more efficient, accountable and responsive to community needs since the mid-1980s.
The Australian National Audit Office provides the Australian Parliament and the public with an independent assessment of selected areas of public administration in the APS, and assurance about APS financial reporting, administration and accountability.
Benchmarking the APS
In November 2009 KPMG published a report benchmarking Australian Public Service performance against international public services. The report found that the APS measured up well against some of the world's leading public services. The report found that the APS is a high performer compared to other public services when it came to: being responsive to economic changes; being independent and values-based; and for proportions of women employed. It found that the APS performed poorly in: its capability for coordinated, informed and strategic policy; its mechanisms for integrating external stakeholders into policy development and service design; and its understanding of government priorities through an overarching framework.
Public opinion and criticism
The APS is often the target of public criticism. For example, in 2011 and again in 2013, the director, deregulation at the Institute of Public Affairs, Alan Moran, argued that the Australian Government was not seeking enough savings from a bloated Australian Public Service. In October 2013, newly appointed Defence Minister David Johnston told media he had 'inherited a mess' and that he believed that in the Defence department '23,000 public servants is too heavy.' The Noetic group said in 2014 that most Australian Public Service organisations could not demonstrate the benefits from large and expensive programs of work.
Other commentators, including political scientist Richard Mulgan, have argued that rhetoric in 2013 about a bloated APS is ill-informed and unsustainable, if service benchmarks are to be met. Rob Burgess, in a Business Spectator article in November 2012 argued that efficiency dividends imposed on the public service are actually delivering one of the world's leaner public sectors.
All APS vacancies for ongoing and non-ongoing jobs for more than 12months are notified in the APS Employment Gazette, a weekly electronic publication. Public service wages were decentralised in 1997, allowing individual APS agencies to negotiate their own pay deals. Individual Australian Government agency websites also advertise jobs and some jobs are advertised on external job boards, such as in newspapers.
The Australian Public Service career structure is hierarchical. The table below lists APS employment classification levels from lowest to highest.
Employment classifications in the Australian Public Service
B Total reward includes base salary, plus benefits such as superannuation and motor vehicles plus bonuses such as performance and retention payments.
The Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) is responsible to the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service. The APSC is led by a Commissioner, who is tasked with promoting the APS Values, evaluating public service performance and compliance, and helping to build the capability of the Service.