Public Service Commissioner Stephen Sedgwick. Photo: Katherine Griffiths
Two of the public service's most powerful figures are locked in a ''fundamental conflict'' over sweeping changes to the bureaucracy's disciplinary regime.
Finance Department Secretary David Tune and Public Service Commissioner Stephen Sedgwick are battling for control of the codes that govern the conduct of 160,000 federal bureaucrats and their management of public money and a Parliamentary Committee heard on Thursday that peace seems a distant prospect.
David Tune, Secretary of Department of Finance. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Finance's sweeping new Public Governance Performance and Accountability Act (PGPA) is a complete overhaul of rules that manage $400 billion of Commonwealth spending each year and the reforms come with strict codes of conduct for the 300,000 officials with access to the public purse.
But there are already extensive rules for the 160,000 public servants who work under the Public Service Act and Mr Sedgwick, the ultimate enforcer of the act, is defending his turf against the planned takeover by finance.
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Caught in the middle of the stoush are 160,000 workers in departments and agencies who could find themselves confronted by a bewildering new legal regime, and confused about basic facts such as which code they should follow.
Mr Sedgwick told Parliament's Joint Standing Committee of Public Accounts and Audit that he was worried public servants would have to serve two codes from July 1 when the PGPA comes into force.
''Last year I noted my concern that the PGPA had the potential to create confusion in the minds of APS employees about their responsibilities,'' Mr Sedgwick wrote in his submission.
''The dual coverage of two acts, with each of them setting out alternative statements seeking to regulate the behaviour and professional standards in the APS, adds complexity and the potential for confusion,'' for employees.
Mr Sedgwick said he had a ''straightforward solution'' - simply redraft the Finance Department's Act so that public servants are exempt from some clauses, cutting out duplication and confusion.
But Finance is digging in for a stalemate with the department's powerful secretary, Mr Tune, telling a hearing of the committee on Thursday that the conflicting positions could not be reconciled.
''The issue around the Public Service Commission is possibly one of two principles in conflict that can't be reconciled,'' Mr Tune said.
''The Public Service Commissioner takes the view that the rules around conduct in the PGPA should be identical to those in the Public Service Act.
''It's an issue we need to watch with the public service, whether there's going to be two sets of rules and cause people to be confused.
''My personal view is that I don't think it will, but if it does it does, I think it's something we can look at in the light of experience.''
Mr Tune told the MPs and Senators that he and his department were not for turning in their determinations to have all Commonwealth officials bound by the same rules.
''At the end of the day, we've got a pretty fundamental conflict about what we're trying to do with this piece of legislation,'' he said.