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This guidance provides how to manage selection, mobility and separation matters for employees in the Senior Executive Service.

The Senior Executive Service (SES)

Introduced in 1984, the SES functions as the senior leadership group of the APS. SES employees are employed under the Public Service Act 1999 (PS Act).  Under section 35 of the PS Act, the role of the SES has evolved, as stewards of the APS, to:

  • provide APS-wide strategic leadership of the highest quality that contributes to an effective and cohesive APS
  • provide professional/specialist expertise, policy advice, program or service delivery and regulatory administration at a high level
  • promote collaboration within and between agencies to deliver outcomes across agency and portfolio boundaries
  • promote, by personal example and other appropriate means, the APS Values, Employment Principles and compliance with the Code of Conduct.

SES Cap: Must Dos

There is an approved limit set by Government on the number of SES roles that an APS agency can have. Agencies need to manage the recruitment and management of SES employees within their agreed SES Cap. 

More information on the SES Cap Facts

Recruitment:  Must Dos

Employment decisions must comply with the PS Act, Public Service Regulations 1999 (Regulations) and Australian Public Service Commissioner’s Direction 2016. These specify that all engagements and promotions in the APS are based on merit, and that selection processes must be fair and transparent.

Before considering SES recruitment, agencies must be satisfied that the position can be accommodated within the agency’s ASL (as determined by the Department of Finance) and SES Cap, and that the position is classified correctly against the SES work level standards.  

Agencies must consider any excess or potentially excess SES employees from their agency. They should also contact the APSC Staffing Policy team (02-6202 3857) to consider any excess employees from other agencies on the APS SES Redeployment Register - See ‘Redeployment Must Dos’, below. 

Agencies must also review all current merit lists for suitable SES roles and advise the APSC that this action has been taken, before proceeding to advertise.

For Band 3 SES roles, the APSC must be notified of an intention to advertise at least one month before doing so.

Non-ongoing SES employment

Where the duties of the job are required for a specified period of time—the job is non-ongoing (temporary) and has a nominated end date.

  • For SES roles, employment can be for an initial period of 18 months or less without advertising the vacancy in the Public Service Gazette (the Gazette) – see ‘Advertising ‘Must Dos’.
  • Where a vacancy is not advertised in the Gazette, employment can be extended for a total period of up to 3 years.
  • Where a vacancy has been advertised in the Gazette and a full merit selection process was undertaken, then employment for SES employees on a non-ongoing (temporary) basis can be extended for up to a total period of up to 5 years.

Advertising:  Must Dos

As a minimum, all vacancies, including for SES roles, must be brought to the attention of the community, for example through agency websites, social media and/or other media that targets the skills required.

Ongoing jobs and jobs for a period of more than 18 months must also be advertised in the Gazette on the APSjobs website. Agencies must comply with provisions in section 20 of the Directions when notifying a vacancy in the Gazette.

Agencies must also comply with requirements of the Department of Finance’s Recruitment Advertising Policy. In general, this policy prohibits advertising in major daily newspapers unless an exemption is approved by the relevant agency head.  The policy also applies when agencies use external providers or recruitment companies.

SES positions may be offered under the RecruitAbility scheme, which provides an opportunity for applicants with disability, who meet the minimum requirements of the advertised role, to progress to the next assessment stage in APS recruitment processes.

SES positions may also be offered under affirmative measures if a vacancy is identified as open only to Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people, or people living with disability.

Selection Panels:  Must Dos

Selection processes for all SES roles must include the Australian Public Service Commissioner (APS Commissioner) or a representative of the APS Commissioner as noted in the Australian Public Service Commissioner’s Directions 2016, Public Service Act 1999.

As well as inclusion of the APS Commissioner’s representative, agencies should consider the overall composition of the panel and gender balance.

Agencies must seek the APS Commissioner’s approval of the representative.

The APS Commissioner or representative must be a full participant in the selection process and must certify that the selection process complied with the PS Act and Directions.

The APS Commissioner’s representative must be fully independent and impartial in upholding merit and ensuring decisions are consistent with relevant APS Values, Employment Principles and the legislative framework. The representative brings an external perspective to assist in considering the broader range of leadership capabilities needed at the APS-wide SES level, rather than focusing only on the requirements of the particular role being filled.

APS Commissioner’s representatives must be an APS employee substantively above the classification level of the advertised vacancy, and be from outside the advertising agency’s portfolio. 

Consider the SES Recruitment Templates before advertising or contact the APSC for further information.

Care must be taken to avoid any real or perceived conflict of interest, bias (negative or positive), patronage or favouritism. If a selection panel member has a working or personal relationship with an applicant that could give rise to a perceived or real conflict of interest, it must be declared to the Chair selection panel, or to the delegate of the selection process if it involves the Chair. A decision can then be made on whether that panel member should stand aside from the whole selection process, or from consideration of the particular candidate.

Selection Outcomes: Must Dos

Selection panels provide recommendations to the Delegate.  Potential decisions might be made by the Delegate based on the selection panel’s recommendation to:

  • engage a person from outside the APS on an ongoing basis or for a specified term of up to five years
  • promote an existing APS employee where a successful applicant is an existing employee at a lower level than that being filled
  • move an existing SES employee, either on a permanent or temporary  basis
  • not take any employment action, due to changed operational needs or where the field of applicants has not resulted in a suitable candidate.

Delegates are not bound by recommendations of a selection panel but decisions must be justified having regard to merit and the requirements of the PS Act.

Consider the SES Recruitment Fact Sheet to help guide the selection outcome process.

Engage from outside the APS

Where a preferred applicant is external to the APS, the outcome is an engagement under section 22 of the PS Act.  The person can be engaged as an ongoing SES employee or as a non-ongoing SES employee for a specified term of up to five years (only three years if the original vacancy was not advertised in the Gazette).

Any conditions to be imposed (e.g. probation) must be specified before the employee is engaged; they cannot be imposed afterwards.

Agencies should include in an employee’s contract/determination when engaged for a specified term, suitable provision covering compensation in the event of early termination. 


The decision to promote an SES employee takes effect four weeks after the decision has been notified in the Gazette – See ‘Gazette notifications’, or a date (sooner than four weeks) agreed by the relevant parties. New duties are assigned by the agency head under Section 25 of the PS Act.

Where the successful applicant for promotion is an employee in another APS agency, the gaining agency head must enter into an agreement with the employee to move, under section 26 of the PS Act. The new agency head will then assign duties under section 25 of the PS Act.

Permanent Moves

Agency heads can move existing SES employees within their agency permanently, at any time, at the same classification level (section 25 of the PS Act).

Agency heads can offer SES employees, in writing, the opportunity to permanently transfer between agencies, at level, without the need for a full merit selection process (section 26 of the PS Act).  Such opportunities should be discussed with the losing agency before making an offer to an employee. However, for a permanent move, the specific agreement of the losing agency head is not required.

The date of effect for such a move is four weeks after the employee informs the losing agency head in writing, or a date agreed by the relevant parties.

Temporary Moves

Agency heads can move existing SES employees within their agency for a temporary period, at any time, at the same classification level (section 25 of the PS Act).

Agency heads can offer SES employees, in writing, the opportunity to transfer between agencies for a fixed period, without the need for a full merit selection process (section 26 of the PS Act).  Such opportunities should be discussed with the losing agency before making an offer to an employee.

For a temporary move, the specific agreement of the losing agency head is required. If a temporary move is not agreed by the losing agency head, then the gaining agency head and the employee must agree that the employee will remain with the gaining agency at the end of the fixed term.

The date of effect for such a move is four weeks after the employee informs the losing agency head in writing, or a date agreed by the relevant parties.

Note the need to include in the SES Cap numbers all SES roles that are filled for three months or more, whether or not performed by the same employee.  It is reported as an active SES role against an agency’s SES Cap.

Gazette notifications: Must Dos

You must notify the following outcomes of SES selection processes in the Public Service Gazette within three months of decisions being made:

  • promotions of ongoing APS employees
  • engagement of ongoing Parliamentary Service employees as ongoing APS employees at a higher classification than the person’s current classification as a Parliamentary Service employee.

Remuneration:  Must Dos

SES remuneration, terms and conditions can be determined by agency heads under section 24 of the PS Act, in a common law contract or in an enterprise agreement.  Decisions must be made in accordance with government policy outlined in the Workplace Bargaining Policy and the APS Executive Remuneration Management Policy.  

Agency heads must seek the agreement of the APS Commissioner before offering an SES (or non-SES) remuneration above the notional amount, which is set at 65% of the lowest pay point of the Secretaries classification structure, as determined by the Remuneration Tribunal.  

Redeployment:  Must Dos

The Staffing Policy team at the APSC maintains a confidential SES Redeployment Register to facilitate redeployment of SES employees identified as excess, or potentially excess, who are interested in continuing work in the APS.  The APS Redeployment Policy provides more detail. 

Agencies will be asked to complete an SES Vacancy form and the APSC will assess the requirements of the vacancy against any excess employees on the SES Redeployment Register.

In some circumstances, SES employees can be moved to duties at a lower SES classification or to a non-SES classification, either with or without their agreement.  A decision to reduce an APS employee’s classification, without the employee’s consent, must be based on one or more of the reasons set out in section 23(4) of the PS Act.

The Staffing Policy team at the APSC can be contacted on 02-6202 3857 or emailed at staffingpolicy [at] apsc.gov.au.

Separation:  Must Dos

An SES employee may resign at any time by notice in writing to the agency head.  Generally, notice periods are specified in the employment instrument.

Section 37 of the PS Act allows an agency head to offer an SES employee an incentive to retire payment.

An agency head cannot terminate the employment of an SES employee unless the APS Commissioner has issued a certificate stating that all relevant requirements of the Directions have been satisfied in respect of the proposed termination, and the APS Commissioner is of the view that termination is in the public interest (section 38 of the PS Act).

An agency head contemplating termination of an SES employee must write to the APS Commissioner detailing the circumstances of the case.
In the first instance, call the Staffing Policy team at the APSC on 02-6202 3857.

Restrictions on engaging recipients of redundancy benefits

There are restrictions on subsequent employment of people who have received a redundancy benefit (Incentive to Retire). Reference Section 48 of the Directions.

Contact the APSC at employmentpolicy [at] apsc.gov.au (subject: Employment%20Policy%20advice) (Employment Policy advice) or call the Employment Policy advice line (02) 6202 3857.

Last reviewed: 
16 July 2020