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Monday, 20 August 2012
Page: 9149

Ms PARKE (Fremantle) (17:47): I rise to speak in support of the government's Public Service Amendment Bill. The bill is significant in that it is part of the government's ongoing program of measures to strengthen the integrity and professionalism of the Australian Public Service—a cause to which this government and preceding Labor governments have made major contributions over the past four decades. The bill represents part of the government's response to the report, Ahead of the game: Blueprint for the reform of Australian government administration, prepared by the advisory group on Reform of Australian Government Administration. In particular, the bill captures the blueprint 's recommendation that APS values be revised and restated as a 'smaller set of core values that are meaningful, memorable, and effective in driving change'. This recommendation was based on extensive consultation by the advisory group among APS staff and the wider community. It is this focus on 'core values' which I wish to concentrate on in my remarks today.

On 8 May 2010, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that the government had accepted all of the recommendations in the blueprint report, and said in particular:

We are committed to building an Australian Public Service with a culture of independence, excellence and innovation—in policy advice and service delivery.

From my personal experience as a UN official, in which capacity I was closely involved with the creation of the UN Ethics Office, and from my current role as Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, I am well aware of the need for strong organisational efforts to give meaning to ethics codes and standards. Anyone who has worked in any organisation will know from experience, or from common sense, that merely publishing a code of conduct will not, of itself, entrench ethical practice. As management guru Chester Barnard observed as long ago as 1928, competent and committed leadership in managing the values of the organisation is an essential function of the executive in any enterprise.

Former Australian Public Service Commissioner Andrew Podger made much the same point in his State of the Service report for 2004, when he observed that the APS values needed to be strengthened by institutionalising them in the day-to-day practices and procedures of departments. This is necessarily a task for the leadership which the bill addresses directly.

According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the OECD, the core values of a public service are the basis for judgement about what is proper and improper in serving the public interest:

Values, stated in public documents (such as legislation), shape citizens' expectations about the mission and activities of public sector organisations. There is also a growing recognition that public servants are not solely motivated by financial rewards for performance, and that public service values play a role in promoting the performance and integrity of government.

It is appropriate, therefore, that part 1 of schedule 1 to this bill provides new and enhanced roles and responsibilities for APS departmental secretaries, particularly in relation to their stewardship of the Australian Public Service's professional values. The bill strengthens secretaries' accountability to ministers in performing their roles and discharging their responsibilities. The bill's changes enhance both the independence of the processes for appointment and termination of departmental secretaries and the continuity of departmental leadership by countering perceptions that secretaries' terms in office may be tied to the electoral cycle.

It is perhaps not surprising that the many complex challenges facing the Australian Public Service today attract less public attention than those other major issues which engage most Australians. What is happening in the One Day International? Who is winning in the NRL or the AFL? Will Black Caviar run away from the field again? Or who is on next week's Q&A? This is perhaps inevitable, but it may just reflect the fact that, as a community, we tend to take 'good governance' for granted. And as a community, Australians should be entitled to take good governance for granted. But good governance does not just happen, and it is not just the responsibility of governments: it takes vision, effort, commitment, resources and a supportive community. Whether the task is delivering better education and health care, or better access to justice, or better use of public funds, or better resistance to corruption, better defence, better policy advice to government, or any of a thousand other 'goods', the capacity and willingness of the public service to deliver its part of the 'good governance' package remains crucial to public trust in government.

The bill therefore reflects many of the changes in Australian public administration which have occurred over recent decades. The shift away from central control to a more flexible operating environment, while retaining a principles based approach to decision making and a strong focus on core values, is the key to understanding the bill's objectives.

In responding to the blueprint report's recommendation that the 15 APS values from the 1999 act be revised to 'a smaller set of core values that are meaningful, memorable and effective in driving change', the bill addresses longstanding concerns about the Howard government's amendments to the Public Service Act 1999, which were intended to legislate the APS Values and Code of Conduct, primarily so they could be used for disciplinary purposes. Many critics at the time observed that the proposed formulation of the APS values was vague, ill-defined and conceptually incoherent.

In commenting on the proposed changes, the Joint Committee of Public Accounts commented:

… the expectations imposed on employees by the APS Values must be clear. In view of the potential seriousness of allegations of failure to uphold the Values, which could result in termination of employment in the APS, it is vital that they be easily interpreted.

Five years later, Commissioner Podger reported that much still needed to be done to embed ethics and values in practice. The State of the Service report for 2010-11 reiterates that message. Values and ethical practices cannot simply be stipulated. They must be built into the way an APS organisation manages and selects staff. They must be the basis of all internal and external communications and dealings—especially with ministers. They must be modelled at the top and at all senior levels and they must be the subject of careful monitoring and continuing professional development education.

The restatement of APS values in the bill is a critical part of meeting the blueprint report's recommendations. The core values themselves have been reduced from 15 to five in number: impartial, committed to service, accountable, respectful, and ethical—forming the acronym ICARE. Interpretation of the new values in the specific contexts of individual APS workplaces is to be a primary function of the Public Service Commissioner, working with departmental secretaries. All APS employees are to be bound by the code and are required to uphold the APS values. Agency heads and members of the SES are also bound by the code, and will have an additional responsibility to promote adherence to the APS values.

Integrity and ethics in the Australian Public Service have been longstanding concerns of Australian Labor governments, from 1976, when the Whitlam government established the Coombs Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration, to today. This government's particular contribution to the task have been significant. On coming into office in 2007, we enacted the 2007 Standards of Ministerial Ethics, which, among other things, endorses the professional independence and integrity of the Australian Public Service as a public, non-partisan resource. We initiated a parliamentary process to develop the forthcoming parliamentary members' code, which will complement the Standards of Ministerial Ethics. We initiated a parliamentary process for a comprehensive review of whistleblower protection measures in Australia and overseas. And, on the basis of the committee's report, we are developing draft legislation, which I sincerely hope will come before the House in the near future. As part of the government's commitment to accountability and integrity, we established the new statutory office of Information Commissioner and appointed a former Commonwealth Ombudsman, Professor John McMillan, as commissioner, to ensure transparency in APS and government decision making.

This government commissioned the review and report by the advisory group on Reform of Australian Government Administration. The report Ahead of the game: blueprint for the reform of Australian government administration made wide-ranging recommendations concerning the future management and structure of the Australian Public Service, all of which were accepted by the government. The bill now before the House is evidence of the government's commitment to ensuring that the blueprint's recommended changes are made, both in legislation and in the daily practice of the Australian Public Service at all levels.

The Australian Public Service is a unique enterprise and a uniquely valuable one in a democratic society. We have seen for some time, public services everywhere being subjected to higher levels of scrutiny and criticism, and greater expectations of efficiency, service and responsiveness to governments and the public at large. We have known for some time that merely legislating for ethics does not work. Equally important is a commitment to recognising the crucial role played by departmental secretaries, and the public service leadership generally, in ensuring a culture of integrity and public trust in our public institutions. Tone at the top—for many years the mantra of the audit profession—applies equally in this context. Setting this tone is one of the key responsibilities of the leadership in any organisation which seeks to function with integrity. I commend the bill to the House.