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Monday, 20 August 2012
Page: 9162


Mr GRAY (BrandSpecial Minister of State and Minister for the Public Service and Integrity) (18:41): I thank members for their contribution to the debate on the Public Service Amendment Bill 2012. I thank the members for Mackellar, Cowan, Hasluck, Bradfield, Wright, Throsby, Canberra, Fremantle and Fraser. I thank you all for your contributions.

Today is the third anniversary of my father's funeral. I mention that purely because it allows me to tell a story of the Australian Public Service. It allows me to tell a story of the day my father died, which was just three years ago. The day following my father's death, my mother and I went to visit Centrelink. We went to visit Centrelink because mum had to rearrange her pension. I thought it was an interesting exercise accompanying mum and showing her all the love, care and support that she would expect her son to provide. But I was also interested in watching the performance of Centrelink on that day, when they had to deal with a grieving, frail 78-year-old who had lost her husband of 51 years.

When mum arrived with me at Centrelink she was sad and teary but she had things that she needed to do, documents to fill in. The people at Centrelink were simply fantastic. They supported mum. She needed to be supported. They provided her with the comfort that she needed and they provided her with the care and consideration that she needed. It made me proud. It made me proud as a parliamentarian, it made me proud as a son and it made me proud of the way in which that service was delivered by our Public Service.

We are in Canberra, the capital of the Australian Public Service. If that event happened at Woden it would be pretty good. If it happened at Parramatta we would be pretty pleased. If it happened in Sydney or in the Perth CBD we would be pleased. But it happened in Whyalla, 400 kilometres north of Adelaide. It showed me what care, consideration and capability our Public Service could provide when it cradled my mum at her time of need.

Centrelink is a fantastic organisation put together 15 years ago by a government not only seeking efficiencies but also seeking to ensure that it delivered services with care, consideration, compassion and precision—and, my word, does it work well.

This bill does make important amendments to the Public Service Act 1999. The government has accepted all of the recommendations made by the advisory group on reform of Australian government administration. The group's report, Ahead of the game: a blueprint for the reform of Australian government administration, outlined a comprehensive reform agenda to position the Australian Public Service to better serve the Australian government and the Australian community. It is a reform agenda that requires the modernisation of significant aspects of the Public Service Act, bringing it into line with contemporary and foreseeable needs.

The amendments in the bill strengthen the governance of the Public Service. The amendments in the bill strengthen the independence of the Public Service. The Australian Public Service is fundamental to the success of our country and our society. Our high-performing public sector is like a golden thread running through our history, building our nation while binding our nation together. The commitment and expertise of our Public Service directly affects the lives of all Australians.

The bill clarifies the roles and responsibilities of secretaries to better reflect established practice and it strengthens the independence of secretaries. This bill restores a gold standard. The appointment and termination of departmental secretaries will return to the integrity and consistency of our public sector that has been supported for generations. The 1922 act provided that all appointments as permanent head—that is, secretary in today's terms—were made by the Governor-General. From the late 1940s, Prime Ministers Chifley and Menzies saw the chairman of the Public Service Board advise the Prime Minister of the day on suitable candidates who could be recommended to the Governor-General for appointment. That system fostered a cadre of leaders who helped successive Australian governments transform our Public Service and build a nation. It was these leaders whose contribution created the modern Australian Public Service that was able, in the words of former Prime Minister Robert Gordon Menzies, to 'supply honest advice and to carry out honest and fair administration for whatever government or minister it may serve'—leaders such as Sir Robert Garran, the Solicitor-General and father of our Constitution; and Sir Arthur Tang, who laid the foundations for the Department of Foreign Affairs and helped build a modern Australian defence organisation. He cultivated leaders such as the great Western Australian, Dr Herbert 'Nugget' Coombs, the former Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, who helped rebuild World War II Australia and committed our Public Service to work towards full employment.

Most nations created in the past 100 years have not been successful liberal democracies. Indeed, very few nations created since 1900 have enjoyed anything like Australia's success. I am fond of saying no other nation has enjoyed our nation's degree of success since our states came together to create the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901. A quality public sector leadership has helped us in our mission and it has ensured our success. So it is preferable to restore the situation where the Governor-General is responsible for appointing departmental secretaries, acting on the advice of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister would receive a report from the secretary of the Prime Minister's department before making a recommendation in this regard. That report must be prepared after consulting the Public Service Commissioner and, for appointments, the relevant minister. This would strengthen the independence of secretaries. The revised formulation makes clear the roles and responsibilities of secretaries and the relationship between secretaries and ministers. Together these changes provide for continuity of leadership and strengthen the integrity and transparency of the appointment process.

This bill establishes the Secretaries Board with a clear mandate for the stewardship of the APS. Likewise, the bill revises the roles and responsibilities of the senior executive service, making clear that its role includes promoting cooperation in the delivery of outcomes across portfolio boundaries. The functions of the Australian Public Service Commissioner will be modernised to recognise the commissioner as the central authority for Australian Public Service workforce development and reform, an authority that will take a leading role in ensuring that the service has the organisational and workforce capability to meet current and future needs. Together these amendments will strengthen the management and leadership of the Australian Public Service. It is the senior leadership of the Australian Public Service that is critical to driving the changes needed to enable the service to meet its challenges both now and in the future. This will also ensure that the expectations of both the government and our citizens are met.

The bill also establishes a more succinct set of APS values, which continue to reflect enduring principles of public administration that go to the heart of the Westminster model of government. The values and employment principles together define the character of the APS and guide the way in which it conducts its activities and serves our community and the government. They continue to articulate the culture and operating ethos of the Australian Public Service and underscore its professionalism.

The bill also contains a number of other operational amendments aimed at more effective management of the Australian Public Service. These amendments are informed by the experience of the operation of the act over the last 12 years. I note that the shadow minister, the member for Mackellar, will move an amendment to the government's bill. The government will accept this amendment in the spirit in which it is made and in the interests of achieving meaningful reform supported across this parliament. It is important that the Public Service legislation supports a service that is fit for purpose. This bill provides for a streamlined contemporary employment framework that will allow greater agility and responsiveness from the APS to our community and to the government. It will facilitate greater efficiency and more effective use of Commonwealth resources.

The bill will also accelerate the cultural shift towards operating more effectively as a unified Australian Public Service, a 166,000-strong service that is accountable to ministers, equipped to deliver the government's priorities and responsive to the complex needs of our Australian community.

One of the most fantastic and enjoyable things a minister for the Public Service can do is engage with our graduate program. I have heard speakers in this debate today refer to the importance of that graduate program. Around the world, we see governments engaged in slashing and cutting budgets, and on occasions that has meant that graduate programs have been compromised in those public services. I can state unequivocally that the value of a graduate program is not simply that it allows our Public Service to continue to recruit the very best; it also keeps our Public Service always with a youthful bent, with a capacity to look attractive to the young people it needs to recruit into its future leadership cohort. If any members are interested in our fantastic Australian Public Service graduate program, I as Minister for the Public Service and Integrity will be very happy to ensure that they are able to engage with that program and to see the quality of our graduates and the leadership that they will bring to our Public Service in the future. Ours is a Public Service that is working in the interests of all Australians, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks of the year. As I am fond of saying: every hour of every day of every week, a public servant is looking out for us. I thank them for that. And I thank the opposition for their support of this bill. I commend the bill to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.