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Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd sends public servants to private sector

Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd is reforming the Commonwealth bureaucracy by formulating a plan to send elite executives to private companies such as Woolworths and McDonald's and introducing private sector-style talent spotting.

Mr Lloyd — described by union detractors as a right-wing ideologue — came into the job eight months ago saying he wanted to reduce the burdens the bureaucracy placed on businesses and now wants public servants to see how hard it is to make a profit. 

The Australian Public Service Commission was working on a program to send senior public service executives on secondments with private companies that are members of the Business Council of Australia. 

It was not publicly known which companies the first senior executives would go to during their temporary transfers but the BCA's list of member companies included Woolworths, McDonald's Australia, British American Tobacco Australasia, Energy Australia and Bluescope Steel. 

In January Mr Lloyd said one of the biggest challenges for the public service was to ensure it was "at pains to understand" how government regulations could  affect businesses and the community.

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"Make sure [regulations] are appropriate and not too oppressive," he said at the time. 

The trial program aimed "to promote more effective engagement with the business sector".

"This cross-[Australian Public Service] initiative will complement programs already in train in individual agencies such as the Treasury and the Department of Industry and Science," the APSC said in its July newsletter. 

"The secondments are an opportunity for senior public servants to gain insights into the pressures shaping Australian business. The aim of the program is to ensure that senior executives have a deeper understanding of business operations and challenges.

"This should strengthen the expertise of officials and the capacity to deliver programs and services more effectively."

If the trial is successful, agencies will be able to nominate senior executive service staff for the next round.

As part of Mr Lloyd's reforms to bring private company thinking to the bureaucracy, the APSC has introduced a new talent management guide because it was "a business strategy used widely in the private sector and increasingly being adopted in the public sector".

"It involves identifying employees who are able to make a greater contribution by taking on more complex roles, and then providing targeted development and support so that these individuals can be deployed into challenging, business-critical roles," the newsletter said.

 "This guide complements the intensive talent development programs run over recent years by the APSC for SES employees.

"Agencies will be able to use the guide internally. It includes practical tools to bring some rigour and consistency to approaches across the APS."

As a former Victorian Red Tape Commissioner, Mr Lloyd has called on the public service to cut back paperwork in his new job by simplifying how quickly secretaries can recruit and reducing the need for department heads to personally sign off on all overseas travel. 

Mr Lloyd has said much of the criticism of his background came from people in the union movement. He has a history of staring down some of the most powerful construction unions in the country as a former Australian Building and Construction Commissioner — a controversial position started under the Howard government and abolished under Julia Gillard.

From 2005 to 2010 he waged war on unlawful industrial action and coercion by building unions, which said the commissioner's powers were far too broad because it could summon workers to attend interviews or face jail.