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Five-year terms for top public servants

Departmental secretaries will have their terms extended to a minimum five years, with a possible extension of another five, under legislation expected to be passed by Parliament on Thursday.

The Public Service Amendment Bill strengthens governance arrangements for the federal public service leadership, including reforms that strengthen the independence of secretaries and provide a clear statement of their role and the performance expected of them.

The bill also introduces a clearer, shorter statement of the public service values, reinforcing the importance of a positive culture and environment for a high-performing public service.

Secretaries will be appointed initially for five years, or for a shorter period if the person requests it.

They can be re-appointed to the

same post, or a different department. The bill strengthens the apolitical nature of the APS by restoring the arrangement that operated under the Public Service Act 1922 whereby the appointment, and termination of appointment, of departmental secretaries is a matter for the Governor-General.

The government says this restores the gold-standard arrangement that supported the integrity and consistency of Australia's public sector for generations. The present act says appointment and termination is a matter for the Prime Minister.

The change is symbolic and does not hinder a Prime Minister shuffling the upper echelons. It will not unduly constrain the sacking of non-performing secretaries.

The legislation provides for a Prime Minister to draw on the talents and experience of former secretaries for special projects or tasks.

The legislation creates the Secretaries Board, which includes the commissioner, and replaces the Management Advisory Committee.

Public Service Minister Gary Gray believes the legislation provides Australia with a public service that is modern, agile and responsive, leading to a more efficient and effective use of federal resources.

Community and Public Sector Union national secretary Nadine Flood said the union welcomed any measures that ensured the service remained free and independent. ''We are pleased to note this bill has received bipartisan support and it goes a long way to fixing some long-standing issues in the PS Act.''

"However, the key challenges facing many public servants right now are increasing workloads, decreasing funding and the looming threat of 20,000 job losses if the Coalition gets into power."

11 comments

  • "It will not unduly constrain the sacking of non-performing secretaries". Does that mean that they need to continue to 'cover-up' for messes in their own departments so it appears as though they are "performing"? Well on paper at least.

    Commenter
    Felix
    Location
    ACT
    Date and time
    February 07, 2013, 8:23AM
    • Can the incompetent ones still be removed? (Not that they ever are)

      Commenter
      Drivel
      Date and time
      February 07, 2013, 8:32AM
      • So many of them are catastrophically incompetent, five years is at least four years too many.

        Commenter
        enno
        Location
        sydney
        Date and time
        February 07, 2013, 9:10AM
        • Maybe the Bill could require some demonstrable private sector management expertise?

          Commenter
          Economist
          Date and time
          February 07, 2013, 9:54AM
          • I hope they all get sacked when the Gillard zoo gets tossed at the election! Those positions should be held for a three year term - max!

            Commenter
            Iranian Space Monkey
            Date and time
            February 07, 2013, 10:13AM
            • Should perhaps there be no term, just a requirement of competency?
              Re: Economist: Sadly, there are many who have come from the private sector and they are just as incompetent.

              Commenter
              Drivel
              Date and time
              February 07, 2013, 10:33AM
            • Drivel, you are quite right, that's a much better idea.

              Commenter
              Iranian Space Monkey
              Date and time
              February 07, 2013, 11:04AM
          • Many of the expensive programs the taxpayer funds, eg Building the Education Revolution, pink batts, suffer cost blow outs due to the poor implementation plans of bureaucrats. Make senior bureaucrats more responsible for any cost bowouts,........don't just shift them sideways.

            Commenter
            Tony ACT
            Date and time
            February 07, 2013, 10:19AM
            • The things you just listed are the carnage left by just one PM&C bureaucrat!

              Commenter
              Economist
              Date and time
              February 07, 2013, 11:01AM
            • Actually the things you have listed were either stuffed up by the States (BER) or by political requirements that they be implemented months and months before they were ready to start (pink batts).

              Its true that many APS people are not good contract managers. Which might be caused by:

              - failure to train
              - failure to pay market wages for good contract managers
              - failure to spend money resourcing the implementation teams
              - failure to build on expertise rather than transferring people into other roles every 12 months

              Commenter
              asdf
              Date and time
              February 07, 2013, 11:21AM

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