Public servants' pay bonuses are problematic, brief warns

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The Public Service Commission has warned the government that its plan to pay bonuses to senior bureaucrats is problematic.

The agency released its "blue book" – its first brief for incoming minister Eric Abetz – under freedom of information law this week.

The vast majority of the paper's contents are hidden behind black ink.

However, amid a mostly censored section on "reducing unnecessary regulation", Public Service Commissioner Stephen Sedgwick explains difficulties in rolling out the performance pay system.

The brief says the wide range of employment conditions and incentives currently offered to senior executives "provide practical challenges in implementing" the proposed bonuses.

Before the election, the Coalition said it would link top public servants' salaries to "quantified and proven reductions in red and green tape".


At the time, Liberal frontbencher Arthur Sinodinos said his party was philosophically in favour of using financial rewards to get the best from staff.

The commission's brief was given to Senator Abetz and Prime Minister Tony Abbott shortly after the election.

It advises on cutting spending, the upcoming round of public service wage negotiations and improving the bureaucracy's capability.

A section called " 'rightsizing' the Australian Public Service", which addresses the Coalition's promise to shed 12,000 jobs, is almost entirely censored.

However, the document does contain a blacked-out projection of government staffing. The commission and the Finance Department have previously said they do not prepare such forecasts.

The brief also advises on anti-corruption efforts and the reducing the amount of sick leave taken by public servants, though again the advice is mostly censored.

The commission's chief human capital officer, Ian Fitzgerald, who decided which parts of the brief to release, acknowledged "the public interest in matters concerning public sector employment policies".

However, he listed 15 factors that influenced his decision to suppress information, such as "the interest in establishing a working and trusting relation with a new minister" and "the interest in ensuring the minister is provided with a high quality full and frank written record of all the policy priorities and challenges facing a new government".

Most government departments have either refused to release their blue books or decided to charge a fee to access them.