An independent review of the public service has mooted a shift towards common pay levels across the bureaucracy, greater power for department heads and an overhaul of the Public Service Commission.
Review chairman David Thodey released his interim report on Tuesday, which has dozens of recommendations about pay, recruitment, structure and training, built around the goal of a "trusted, united" bureaucracy.
Mr Thodey called for a public service that brought "great confidence in its role and contributions", saying he had seen a "groundswell of change" among public servants.
The review, the largest since the Coombs royal commission in 1974-76, has proposed changing the relationship between ministers' offices and the Australian Public Service, bringing ministers closer to the advice of their bureaucrats.
Senior public servants could be offered new positions within ministerial offices, and a higher proportion of staff within these offices could have public sector experience, it suggested.
Mr Thodey said the important role of ministers' advisers should be recognised formally.
Relationships between ministerial offices and the APS needed strengthening, the report said.
It also recommended that ministers and their staff be trained in how to get the best out of the public service.
The report signalled it would look at ways to create greater transparency for any proposed sackings of secretaries, while retaining the prime minister’s role to make recommendations to the Governor-General about appointments.
While the review suggested a move towards common pay and conditions across the service, Mr Thodey said this would be a migration rather than a "flick of the switch".
He called for greater transparency in the bureaucracy and flagged he could recommend a comeback for regular Public Service Commission-led reviews of whether agencies were capable of their tasks.
"Stronger partnerships must be predicated on being open and accountable," Mr Thodey said.
Among proposals were changes to government decision-making on departmental funding, aligning budgets with government priorities and allowing investment in long-term projects.
The APS's leaders – the secretaries board – would be strengthened. The board would have a prominent role in improving the quality of performance reporting across the service.
The role of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary and the public service commissioner also came into the review's focus. It recommended clarifying the responsibilities of the APS's two most senior staff.
PM&C;'s secretary would be the "head of service" while the commissioner would become the "head of people", responsible for appointing and managing the performance of the most senior bureaucrats.
"These roles and their responsibilities should be very clearly understood and the mandate they have," Mr Thodey said.
Funding and in-house expertise would let a "revamped" APS Commission fully deliver on its tasks, the report said.
Mr Thodey also signalled the review would look more at the APS's ability to contract work out to businesses, while the report said there was significant room to improve procurement across the bureaucracy. The review panel would consider how the APS could reflect high standards of ethics and integrity in its external contracting, including protocols for former public servants.
The report noted it was "striking that many of the issues and suggested solutions are evergreen", suggesting that while there was a richness of ideas about what needed to happen, "making it happen is a very different matter".
"Many people involved in developing and implementing past reviews are justifiably proud of the changes achieved. But they also reflect with some frustration that many solutions and innovations have not been fully delivered or the intent fully realised," it said.
The report said there would therefore be recommendations on how change happened, as well as what was required. It also noted the need for the government to champion and support the public service, saying without that "the opportunity for genuine, lasting transformation will be lost".
"We recognise that some – though not all – of the current proposals entail cost. Some reprioritisation and more strategic use of current resources is certainly conceivable. But government will ultimately have decisions to make once our final report is provided, balancing the importance of investing in the future of the APS against many other priorities," the report said.
"The long-term benefits of adequately resourcing APS transformation will be profound for the nation as a whole. An enduring funding mechanism to support these reforms over the coming years is therefore highly desirable."
The final report is expected in mid-2019, when the prime minister is due to receive its findings.
You can download a copy of the full interim report here.