Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd on the attack: launches into underperformers, red tape and leak
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Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd on the attack: launches into underperformers, red tape and leak

Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd has signalled war against sickies, underperformers and red tape across the federal bureaucracy and will launch an investigation into the leaking of information from his office.

Mr Lloyd lived up to his reputation in some quarters as a hardline workplace reformer in a frank speech on Wednesday morning, in which he talked about public servants taking days off work after getting drunk to highlight the need for managers to stop taxpayers' money being wasted.

Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd has championed the highly politicised construction watchdog.

Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd has championed the highly politicised construction watchdog.Credit:Jay Cronan

"There are all these anecdotal stories about people in Canberra taking hangover days, then they share a flat with someone who takes a carer's day to look after them," Mr Lloyd said.

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He urged bosses to ask public servants more questions about why staff were taking sick leave as a way to reduce the concerning level of unscheduled absences and said managers could sometimes be part of the problem.

"If a manager has a lot of [unscheduled absence] days then so do their staff," Mr Lloyd said.

Unscheduled absence rates across all Australian Public Service agencies increased in 2013-14 to 12 days per employee, up from 11.6 days the previous year, with sick leave accounting for most of the absences.

Previous reports have shown managers were afraid of being labelled as bullies if they tackled the problem.

He said swaths of paperwork weighing down managers when dealing with lazy workers should be cut and not put into enterprise bargaining agreements. His comment comes as the government's enterprise bargaining stalemate with public servants drags on.

"One agency I'm told has a 20-page part in their agreement covering management of performance – that's ridiculous," he said.

"That should be dealt with in your personnel policy."

When it came to red tape across the bureaucracy, he said he was "at a loss as to how small to medium agencies cope with this" and conceded his own organisation was one of the culprits.

Mr Lloyd said the board of departmental secretaries had recently decided to lessen the paperwork that agencies foisted on each other.

Meanwhile, the commission had cut the amount of paperwork departments needed to hire someone from outside the APS from six pages to no more than two.

The commission would also examine slashing its internal paperwork burden.

"The annual report we [the commission] publish lists requirements we have to report on – that goes for three pages and that's unacceptable," Mr Lloyd said.

Mr Lloyd, a former Victorian red tape commissioner, said federal bureaucrats could learn from state public servants about how to get work done "on the smell of an oily rag".

He said public servants should not be afraid to give hard advice and that ministers should not "run for the hills when things go wrong".

He gave the example of a West Australian minister who once took the heat in the media following calls for a senior public servant to be sacked when a simple mistake was made under pressure.

My Lloyd also said the leaking of information held by the commission and published in The Canberra Times earlier this week would be investigated because the commission could not be complacent about "flagrant" and breaches of the code of conduct.

On Monday, The Canberra Times reported that Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Employment Minister Eric Abetz ignored the commission's warnings that the data they used to justify the government's backflip on military pay was incorrect.

The commission advised ministers' offices at least twice that data used to bolster their argument – that diggers' pay was "catching up" with that of public servants – did not support the claim.

"[Leaking] lets down people who are conscientious and do the right thing," Mr Lloyd said.

"If you know someone who has leaked anything you'll never trust them."

He said the investigation "might not turn up anything, we'll have to wait and see".

Phillip Thomson is a Public Service Reporter at The Canberra Times.