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APSC News December/January 2015: fostering a flexible, efficient, high performing APS

In this special holiday edition, we bring you updates on the State of the Service report and the Commission’s current initiatives to strengthen workforce planning, explore new approaches to workforce management and improve performance management. We also report on the recent APS Disability Champions network meeting, the ‘Willing to Work’ inquiry and the issue of employees commenting publicly on matters of public policy.

We wish you a restful and safe Christmas. We will continue to bring you the latest news in the New Year.

State of the Service report

On Monday 30 November 2015, the eighteenth State of the Service report was tabled in Parliament. Show more

It is a more condensed report than in previous years. Since August, we have published findings in a series of seventeen posts on the State of the Service website. This has generated nearly 25,000 page views on the State of the Service website and we have reached over 27,000 people via Twitter.

Key findings include:

- The Australian Public Service (APS) continues to be high-performing, resilient and effective.

- Employee engagement levels across the APS have remained high. This is important because an engaged workforce is likely to be more productive.

- Two thirds of employees report a sense of personal accomplishment in doing their work and over 80% of employees report clearly understanding their responsibilities and duties.

- Over the past 10 years, the number of non-ongoing employees in the APS has steadily increased. This change is consistent with the goal of achieving a more agile and responsive workforce.

We will seek your views on the handling of the State of the Service information. A short online survey on the State of the Service website will appear soon. Your feedback will assist in planning our approach for 2016. It will help ensure that our reporting is relevant to a broad range of stakeholders.

Any queries about the State of the Service report can be sent to stateoftheservice [at] apsc.gov.au  Hide content

APS Disability Champions

The APS Disability Champions Network is an informal group of senior executives from more than 40 agencies. Show more

It is one of the more important networks in the APS. The Network meets quarterly, and provides a forum to share best practice and drive change in disability employment. Chris Moraitis, Secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department, leads the group.

Two initiatives considered by the group at its November 2015 meeting are of interest. The first is Heads Up, https://www.headsup.org.au/, a program run by beyondblue to promote mentally healthy workplaces. It was funded by the Department of Health and has been adopted by a large number of Australian companies. It is a highly commended program and is available to the APS free of charge. Its website contains practical guidance and tools to help organisations, managers and employees create mentally healthy, safe and productive workplaces. Georgie Harman, CEO of beyondblue, would be happy to work with any agencies interested in using this resource.

Procurement from businesses that employ people with disability is another area agencies may wish to explore. Sole sourcing through these agencies is made possible by an exemption to the Commonwealth Procurement Rules. Advice on how this works can be sought through the procurementagencyadvice [at] finance.gov.au (Procurement Policy area of the Department of Finance). mgarnett [at] koomarri.asn.au (Koomarri) and jay.channells [at] enabledemployment.com (Enabled Employment) are two agencies that specialise in sourcing and placing employees with disability. They can provide access to different markets and skills, and would be happy to work with any interested agencies.
For further information about the APS Disability Champions network, please contact Penny Ngui at Penny.Ngui [at] apsc.gov.au.  Hide content

Amendments to the Australian Public Service Commissioner’s Directions—red tape removed

Four amendments have been made to the Australian Public Service Commissioner’s Directions 2013 to remove unnecessary detail, streamline content and reduce red tape. Show more

This is the second group of amendments in a phased approach to simplification ending in June 2016. The changes are effective from 30 November 2015.

One of the amendments removes the requirement to obtain the Commissioner’s approval of incentives to retire payments for SES employees under section 37 of the Public Service Act 1999. This decision to offer an incentive will now rest with Agency Heads. The Commission has released guidance to assist agency heads administer these payments.

Information on the other changes can be found in Circular 2015/7 or by contacting the Staffing Policy team at staffingpolicy [at] apsc.gov.au.
  Hide content

Performance management: improving the experience

The Commission is keen to work with APS managers on developing tools that will better support them to have constructive performance conversations and provide feedback to staff. Show more

We’re looking for managers with a range of performance management experience—from managing underperformance through to managing top performers, and everything in between—who are willing to share their ideas and contribute to this important piece of work. If this sounds like you, please contact kate.dobson [at] apsc.gov.au.

Despite what many people think, ‘performance management’ doesn’t just mean managing underperformance. In fact, when done well, performance management should inspire, encourage and give all employees the tools that they need to perform at their very best. Good performance management benefits everyone. It improves employee engagement and organisational culture, and lifts productivity.

But what is good performance management? Research tells us that, while performance management systems are important for accountability, it’s the quality of manager-employee performance conversations that’s the real key to good performance outcomes. Constructive and frequent performance discussions and fair and accurate feedback have a measurable impact on employee performance.

For more information on the range of performance management initiatives being taken forward, please contact Alana Walsh on alana.walsh [at] apsc.gov.au.">alana.walsh [at] apsc.gov.au.  Hide content

Commenting publicly on matters of public policy

The Commission receives queries from time to time about the ability of Australian Public Service employees to participate in political activities and, in particular, to comment publicly on matters of public policy. Show more

The Commission’s guidance on this question asks employees not to do, or say, anything that might cause a reasonable person to question their ability to serve the government of the day impartially. Impartiality is a core value of the Australian Public Service. At the same time, employees have a right to a private life.

The tension between the duties of an employee and their rights as private citizens has been considered in several cases. In the Banerji case (Banerji v Bowles [2013] FCCA 1052), the Federal Court observed, in deciding a procedural matter, that employees do not have an unfettered right of freedom of political communication.

The recent Federal Court decision in the Gaynor case may also be relevant to this issue. Mr Gaynor was dismissed from the Army Reserve as a consequence of a series of statements that he made on social media criticising a number of aspects of current Army policies and practices. That dismissal was set aside by the Federal Court on the basis that it found that the implied Constitutional right of freedom of political communication applied.

This is an evolving area of the law that attracts considerable attention. The Commission regularly reviews the implications of cases for its guidance.   Hide content

The Centre for Leadership and Learning

The Centre for Leadership and Learning offers programs that cater for all levels of APS employees. In 2016, there will be a range of challenging new and existing programs. Show more

SES and EL2 leadership development programs

A range of leadership development programs are available for SES Band 1-3 and EL2 employees that will help build their leadership capacity to:

- make progress on complex challenges

- build organisational effectiveness

- work across organisational boundaries

- deliver effective outcomes

- contribute positively to the culture of the APS.

For more information about the programs or to discuss your learning and development needs, please contact Nina McKeon on (02) 6202 3827 or email centreforleadershipandlearning [at] apsc.gov.au.

General development programs

The Calendar of Development Programs for the first half of 2016 has been released. Programs in February include:

- Building relationships and engagement – 9 February

Develop your ability to create open, collaborative work environments in teams and with stakeholders.

- Essential writing for APS 5-6 levels – 11 February

Develop your knowledge of effective writing and learn to write clear, well-argued and comprehensive documents according to APS requirements.

- Presentation skills – 12 February

Examine the learning techniques that equip you with the skills and confidence to deliver good presentations to workplace colleagues or external clients.

- Conflict resolution for managers – 18-19 February

Learn how to identify and address early signs of conflict, gain knowledge of different behaviours and use of effective interpersonal communication skills, and develop strategies to ease the impact of change.

NEW - Introduction to cabinet processes and submissions?now taking expressions of interest

This compelling and interactive workshop will build your understanding of the central role of Cabinet and develop your skills to support it.

For more information about these programs or to discuss your learning and development needs, please contact either Elyse Olsen or Phoebe Glover on (02) 6202 3522 or email nationalcalendarteam [at] apsc.gov.au.

APS Graduate Development Program

In 2016, the Commission will launch a new APS Graduate Development Program (GDP) available for all graduates in the APS. This program focuses on developing graduates as public servants and helps to build essential skills. Graduates will complete a series of core skills development workshops, self-directed learning tasks, on the job learning activities, coaching and a major group project. Upon successful completion of the GDP, graduates will have the opportunity to pursue further study through the Australian National University, the University of Canberra and the Centre for Public Administration.   Hide content


  • ‘Willing to Work’ inquiry

    In April 2015, the Attorney-General, Senator the Hon. George Brandis, asked the Age and Disability Discrimination Commissioner, the Hon. Susan Ryan AO, to conduct an inquiry into employment discrimination on the basis of age and disability. The ‘Willing to Work’ inquiry examines barriers to employment for these groups. It will recommend actions to be taken to address employment discrimination. The inquiry will report on its findings and recommendations in July 2016.

    Both employers and individuals have been invited to make submissions. The Commission has made a submission concerning these matters in the Australian Public Service. The Commission’s submission will be available on the Australian Human Rights Commission website in due course.

Last reviewed: 
29 March 2018