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A history in three acts

Please note - this is an archived publication.

A PDF version of this publication is available from the Print on demand page.


I am pleased to provide the Foreword to this publication on the Public Service Act 1999— a history in three Acts. While the focus at first—or indeed second—glance may seem both dry and arcane, attractive only to the most committed of students of public administration, it is in fact a most informative and enjoyable narrative concerning the foundations that underpin one of the nation’s most important institutions—the Australian Public Service. The easy style, the breadth of content and the useful insights have much to do with the personal experience of the author—Mr Bob Minns—who worked in the Service for nearly four decades of this APS history.

Bob’s commission afforded him substantial independence and the conclusions and commentary throughout this document remain the author’s

The purpose behind this research was to capture the history and rationale behind the changes that were enacted with the Public Service Act 1999 (the PS Act), a focus that could complement the Commission’s centenary of federation publication "Serving the Nation" published in 2001. As research and drafting progressed it became clear that the publication needed to deal with some broader themes—for the telling of the modern story lost much without an appreciation of the deeper historical context and insights into the processes, the changes in policies and the personalities that had an impact on Commonwealth public administration and the supporting legislative framework.

This publication ‘A History in Three Acts’—to continue the Shakespearean allusion— shows that, at the moment of transition, the old public service legislative framework was like an ‘an unweeded garden that goes to seed’, and perhaps had been fed with too much fertiliser. The garden has certainly been pruned and weeded, but with care for those features important to the structure and integrity of public administration. In this recounting we can see that, following long debate, the Government moved to embrace significant changes to public service legislation and did so in a manner that was decisive, innovative and which spoke to the future rather than looking to the past. The new legislation was drafted in an open and accessible way that clearly, and for the first time, articulated the expectations of public administrators at the Commonwealth level. No doubt, however, there will be further scenes, if not acts, in the future.

This book does not fit neatly into the categories of publications that are usually associated with the APS Commission, but then the new Act itself was unique and equally so was the journey that concluded with that transition. I acknowledge the contribution of the author and of all those who helped produce this book.

I commend the publication to you.

Andrew Podger
Public Service Commissioner

1 Hamlet Act 1 Scene II

Last reviewed: 
12 June 2018