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Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee
Australian Public Service Commission

Australian Public Service Commission


CHAIR: Welcome. Ms Foster, Thank you for your patience. I apologise: we have not got much time to scrutinise your area of expertise, but do you wish to make an opening statement?

Ms Foster : No thank you, Senator.

Senator MOORE: Thank you so much and I do apologise to the office of the Public Service Commission that you have got the very last gig. It is one of those things, and thank you for waiting. You may have heard the question I was asking before you came to the table—the document that came out about gender equity and equality in the Public Service. I am interested to know what the role of the Public Service Commission was in developing that paper and then what the ongoing role of the commission is going to be with the valuable expectations of how things will operate.

I refer you to a paper from the 1970s which I have just reread on exactly the same title. If you actually go through the historical records, you will find that there was a really interesting paper written in the 1970s about gender equity in the Public Service—and I was not there, Chair. I saw that smile—I just saw that. What is happening with that paper?

Ms Foster : When Senator Cash was appointed as Minister for Women and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, we spoke to her about the development of a gender equality strategy, and we had been starting to formulate some ideas around what that might be. At the same time, the Office for Women was working on a broader strategy around workforce participation, and they came to see us to say they would like there to be an element on the APS. We said, 'We're already developing that.' As Ms McSorley said, we worked very closely together to then develop the document that Minister Cash released last week. The document, because it is an APS-wide strategy, is really done under the auspices of the Australian Public Service Commission, drawing on expertise not only from the Office for Women but in fact across the public sector. There are a number of APS agencies who are doing really innovative, forward-leaning work in the gender space, and I can talk about that if you like. But also we spent a considerable time talking to and working with the really leading-edge private sector approaches, because I think, even though, in the broad, the statistics in the private sector do not compare with the sorts of advances we have made and the position we are in in the public sector, some of the initiatives they are trialling are really terrific. A lot of those, as you know, were advanced through the Male Champions of Change.

Senator MOORE: Have you got in place a model of how you are going to effectively pull things together? The fact that you have got this overarching plan now is great, and it will actually bring the work that I know has been happening in some agencies together so they can share best practice, which is what it is all about. Do you have a model for how you are going to take that forward?

Ms Foster : We have two primary vehicles for taking that forward. The first is that the secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Dr Parkinson, has established what he has called an equality and diversity subcommittee of the secretaries board but in fact—

Senator MOORE: I shudder to think what the acronym of that is, but anyway!

Ms Foster : We have not gone there yet.

Senator MOORE: No. I do not think so.

Ms Foster : But he has actually said that all secretaries will participate in that. Its primary focus will be to drive the strategies—

Senator MOORE: Does he have the ability to direct? Under the devolution of the Public Service, I thought that you can strongly encourage them—the expectation should be there—but you cannot direct secretaries to attend, can you?

Ms Foster : That is an interesting point. The secretaries have all agreed that they will attend the equality and diversity subcommittee, and their primary focus will be to drive the strategy. They also considered and endorsed the strategy before it was finalised and launched by the minister. That is one mechanism that we will use to drive it forward. The other is that Ms Fisher and her team, in collaboration with the Office for Women, have been developing an implementation guide to sit underneath the strategy. That is a web based document. It is where we put examples of best practice for agencies to share and learn from, where we put tool kits for people to use. That is a resource which not only will we update but agencies will contribute to.

Senator MOORE: Is there are any funding to that?

Ms Foster : We have produced the strategy and the guide within our existing resources. Many of the initiatives that are in the strategy can be done by agencies within their existing resources. For example, there is an emphasis on unconscious bias training. That is something which many agencies are already doing and that they can find the capacity to do within their resources. As with many of the things we do in the APSC, because we are a very small organisation with a very small budget, we try and leverage the capacity and resources of the whole of the public sector to contribute in kind, as it were.

Senator MOORE: I am interested in the way this is going to operate in the future. It is very new. By the next estimates, whatever happens, it would be interesting to get an update of that.

Ms Foster : Absolutely.

Senator MOORE: Is there any reason Mr Lloyd is not here? I would have loved to ask him those questions.

Ms Foster : He had leave planned for this period, before estimates dates were changed.

Senator MOORE: Were we advised of that? Normally, when the heads of department are not available, we get advice.

CHAIR: I am unaware of any advice to that effect, but that does not mean that we have not been advised. It may have been me being remiss.

Senator MOORE: It is usually standard practice.

Ms Foster : Sorry; that may have been an oversight on our part.

CHAIR: It also may be that the program was only finalised yesterday.

Senator MOORE: And we were not really meant to be here this week at all, were we, Chair?

CHAIR: Circumstances, Senator Moore.

Senator MOORE: I had a lot of questions around redundancies, because in the budget we had on Tuesday night a significant number of structural changes were anticipated in a number of agencies with increased efficiency dividends. Particularly with the Department of Human Services and also with the NDIS, numbers were on record on Tuesday night. Can you run us through what role the Public Service Commission has? Where you are having significant structural changes in the APS and lots of staff will be displaced, does the Public Service Commission still have a role in coordination, support, possible internal transfers and those kinds of things?

Ms Foster : The overall numbers at the APS are remaining at about the same levels as last year.

Senator MOORE: Overall numbers of permanents or overall numbers of all staff?

Ms Foster : Overall numbers of all staff.

Senator MOORE: Is that currently or into the future?

Ms Foster : From this current year to next year, the numbers are maintained.

Senator MOORE: Is that taking into account the decisions in the budget?

Ms Foster : That is correct.

Senator MOORE: It is in my documents that we have proposed changes in the Department of Human Services. I am just trying to find the data.

CHAIR: While you are finding that, I think Senator McAllister has a question.

Senator McALLISTER: I have a follow-up about the circumstances of Mr Lloyd's leave. Is it recreational leave?

Ms Foster : It is. He is overseas.

Senator McALLISTER: So he will be returning at some point?

Ms Foster : Yes, he will be.

Senator McALLISTER: He is not on gardening leave? He is not in Melbourne?

Senator Cash: No.

Ms Foster : He is on recreation leave. I was not saying where he was out of privacy reasons.

Senator McALLISTER: No, you must not tell us where he is. It seems a busy time to take leave. Does he not have a role in providing advice around caretaker provisions in the public service? Is this not a time when he would ordinarily be expected to be here?

Ms Foster : His leave had been planned for some months. It is a three-week period of leave. My recollection is that he was already away when the budget and estimates timings were changed. It was not a choice he made once those changes happened.

Senator MOORE: This question may well go on notice. In the very early days after the budget we had information that the Department of Human Services is potentially losing 800 jobs and the NDIA is potentially losing 7,000 jobs over the next few years. With those potential losses clearly identified in the budget papers, and the statement that there is going to be no prospective changes in the numbers of the public service, I am interested in seeing the data about the counterbalance. Where are the increases in jobs?

Ms Foster : For 2016-17, the NDIA actually has an increase of 646 ASL, the Department of Health has an increase of 483, the Department of Human Services has a decrease of 810 and the Australian Tax Office has an increase of 539 as a result of new measures to combat multinational tax avoidance.

CHAIR: I thank Ms Foster and officers for their attendance this evening. I presume this committee will be different, going forward, so may I thank the deputy chair, Senator McAllister, for your cooperation in your time here, the secretariat for your invaluable assistance, Hansard, the minister and everybody else.

Committee adjourned at 23:00