More than 150,000 federal public servants face the biggest upheaval in their workplace in decades under a plan embraced by the Coalition government on Thursday.
Much of the industrial landscape familiar to generations of Commonwealth employees will be swept away if the blueprint for "contestability" and "unlocking potential" in the public service is fully implemented.
The idea of public service "jobs for life" would be consigned to the history books under the blueprint for reform, Unlocking potential – APS workforce contestability review, published on Thursday.
The report's author, Sandra McPhee, has called for a radical overhaul of the APS classification system, the merit regime, job security, and hiring and firing practices, arguing that many of these familiar features of public service working life belong in the past and are holding the service back.
Many of the changes proposed by Ms McPhee, a director of Fairfax Media, would require changes to the Public Service Act, the legislation underpinning most aspects of industrial relations in APS workplaces.
Public service minister Michaelia Cash enthusiastically embraced the report on Thursday, but her office would not say if the government would commit to the legislative changes needed to put its recommendations into action, in the event of a Coalition election victory.
But in the meantime, Ms McPhee said, work has been under way for several months on "cultural change" to "modernise" the service with departmental deputy secretaries gathering to plan "long-term and effective change".
The report calls for major legislative changes to allow even more temporary jobs in the service, to make hiring and firing easier, properly define the concept of "merit" simplify the APS classification system and reform the appeals system for management decisions.
Ms McPhee wants big changes to the all-important classification system, arguing it impedes the career progress of public servants identified as "talented" by their departmental hierarchy.
"In most circumstances, movement to the next level is only through promotion to a new position following a competitive selection process," Ms McPhee wrote.
"It is unclear how this rigid system supports a flexible workforce or enables employees to be recognised and rewarded for their individual skills, contribution and performance."
The merit protection system, with its right-to-review of management decisions, is also in Ms McPhee's sights.
"The right to review promotion decisions adds to the time it takes to fill vacancies at the APS 2-6 levels," she wrote.
"It also perpetuates an overly risk-averse approach, with practitioners setting in place complex processes 'in case of review'.
"A modified approach to merit should be developed in circumstances where an employee has already established their credentials as the best person for the job, including through a talent program."
The businesswoman also wants to see a cultural shift in the public service, so that an employee being shown the door when their services are no longer required, would simply be a routine part of office life.
"The APS needs a cultural shift so that roles are not viewed as static," Ms McPhee wrote.
"As the operating environment changes, the skills required for a particular job also change. No single job is for life, and in circumstances where an employee no longer meets the needs of a particular role, separation should be viewed as part of the normal employment cycle."
Senator Cash described Ms McPhee's report as a "refreshingly honest and robust account of workforce management in the APS and clear goals for the coming years", and said "the key areas of change identified in the review could not be overstated".
"This review provides us with the evidence base the APS needs to support the culture shift required to enable a high performing APS and to drive lasting change."