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Capability review: Attorney-General's Department

In 2011, the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) commenced a program of systematic reviews to assess capability in key agencies and identify opportunities to raise the institutional capability of the Australian Public Service as a whole.

The methodology used by the APSC to conduct these reviews has been gradually refined to more closely reflect the Australian context in which the review program is being conducted.

On the occasion of this review, I would like to thank the department for its professional and enthusiastic participation. All staff who participated in interviews and workshops were generous with their time and displayed great passion for their work.

I would also like to thank John Ombler, the chair of the review team, other senior members of the team, Penny Armytage and Jan Mason, and my own team from the APSC who supported and advised them. This review has demonstrated the advantages of bringing together a team of this calibre.


Stephen Sedgwick AO
Australian Public Service Commissioner


As per its scope, this review examines the capability and future needs of the Attorney-General’s Department (AGD). This report does not comment on the relevance of the department’s role in the Attorney-General’s portfolio or the Australian Public Service (APS). The information that follows provides additional context about the environment in which the department operates, these factors have not been assessed by the review team.

Recent changes to the Attorney-General’s portfolio

Over time, the Attorney-General’s portfolio has gone through a number of changes. Most recently, machinery-of-government changes that included the addition of the arts function and the move of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service out of the Attorney-General’s portfolio into the Immigration portfolio.

With the integration of the arts function, the Attorney-General’s portfolio expanded to include an additional:

  • 12 portfolio agencies (1,704 employees)
  • $7.9 billion in assets, with $7.8 billion in non-financial assets
  • arts policy function.

As part of the integration, seven of the smaller arts agencies will progressively start to use AGD’s back-office corporate services to leverage the economies of scale provided by the larger department.

The move of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service out of the Attorney-General’s portfolio has resulted in some operational national security capability and $834 million in assets no longer being managed by the portfolio.

National Commission of Audit recommendations on legal services

One National Commission of Audit recommendation1 proposed the integration of some legal advice functions into AGD:

… consolidate the Australian Government Solicitor’s Office of General Counsel into the Attorney-General’s Department and undertake a review to establish options for the wind-up of the remainder of the entity, including possible sale of the entity’s client book.

If the Government chooses to implement this recommendation, there will be significant change in legal advice capability within the Attorney-General’s portfolio. This will require careful management.

The evolving Australian Public Service environment

The APS continues to experience change, including:

  • continuing requirements to deliver within constrained resources
  • increasing effects of globalisation and international legal issues on domestic policy setting
  • greater public engagement in, and media discourse on, policy debate
  • more policy sources within and outside the APS which increases the contestability of policy advice
  • continued emphasis by Government and the APS on whole-of-government approaches.

1 About the review

A Capability Review is a forward-looking, whole-of-agency review that assesses an agency’s ability to meet future objectives and challenges. It is conducted in accordance with the Australian Public Service Commissioner’s statutory function to review any matter relating to the Australian Public Service under paragraph 41(2)(j) of the Public Service Act 1999.

This review focuses on leadership, strategy and delivery capabilities in the Attorney-General’s Department (AGD). It highlights the department’s internal management strengths and improvement opportunities using the model set out in Figure 1. A set of 39 questions is used to guide the assessment of each of the 10 elements of the model covered by this report.

Capability Reviews are designed to be relatively short and take a high-level view of the operations of a department or agency. The report is primarily informed by interviews with senior leaders and external stakeholders, though also considers the views of staff who attend a series of workshops and round-table discussions. External stakeholders interviewed include relevant ministerial staff, central agencies, state and territory organisations, peak bodies, interest groups and private sector companies.

This review considered more than 115 documents, conducted 11 internal workshops with more than 75 staff, 50 individual internal interviews and 80 external interviews.

1  National Commission of Audit, Recommendation 15, part A. www.ncoa.gov.au/report/phase-two/part-c/4-1-rationalisation.html

Last reviewed: 
29 May 2018