The Blueprint for the reform of Australian Government administration
released yesterday by the Terry Moran-led "Advisory Group on Reform of Australian Government Administration" will have significant medium and longer-term consequences for public servants.
The most immediate consequences will probably be in relation to workplace issues. Public service pay and conditions and workplace relations advice will become the responsibility of the APSC rather than DEEWR. The growing diversity of same-level pay and conditions between agencies will be halted and reversed, addressing what the group saw as a major impediment to mobility across the service. This really can only mean a medium-term salary catch-up by departments currently at the lower end of the pay scales, presumably beginning with the next bargaining round. The document also commits to including unions in the process of moving toward a more unified model of employment bargaining across the APS.
There'll also be a streamlining of the current, notoriously complex public service recruitment process, making hiring easier (the blueprint includes a list of public service recruitment myths, such as the need for interviews and three-member panels). While the blueprint doesn't mention the issue, the "streamlining" will hopefully also reduce the remarkable diversity of recruitment arrangements between departments, with some having relatively sane, simple processes and others (health is a notorious example) almost Kafkaesque in their complexity. The performance management framework will also be strengthened to make the process of addressing under-performance and removing under-performers easier.
The blueprint also commits to overhauling the Outcome framework -- although, sadly not in the direction many would hope of providing a clearer structure for expenditure (not to mention a meaningful concept of Parliamentary approval, in the wake of the Roxon/Combet
High Court case). Instead, Outcomes will for the first time extend across portfolios, particularly in areas such as indigenous affairs, which should make some pre-Budget negotiations interesting.
The blueprint also commits to reducing internal red tape. Moran is particularly strong on this and spoke yesterday of "decluttering" life in the public service -- removing the "massive, petty regulation" that has incrementally been loaded onto departments with the aim of protecting oversight agencies. Moran said that the sheer scale of it was outside his experience before returning to the APS, and it had gone too far. Keep an eye on that commitment, because there will be plenty of internal resistance to breaking down the paper-shuffling.
Right at the end of the blueprint, the final proposal is one for small agencies to find ways of improving the efficiency of their corporate functions by obtaining them from parent departments. This is the consequence of the additional, Rudd government efficiency dividend imposed on agencies last year that hit small agencies disproportionately given their small cost bases and higher per-unit corporate costs. It means departments will have to sit down with their smaller agencies to try to establish arrangements for sharing admin functions such as payroll and maybe HR. This will require cost allocations and service-level agreements between providers and recipient agencies, and most likely, redundancies or job-shifting in and between small agencies within portfolios.
Moran also emphasised the importance of the agency capability reviews, an idea introduced by Sir Gus O'Donnell, cabinet secretary to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, designed to regularly assess whether departments were developing the sort of strategic capacity in policy development and implementation targeted by the blueprint. The review will also address whether departments were building the talent necessary to operate at the necessary level, and will be every five years.
And if you're an ambitious EL2 or acting Band 1, the blueprint isn't necessarily good news: there'll be a freeze on SES numbers pending an assessment of the size and role of the SES.