A single senior public servant took home a tidy $1.2 million total rewards package last year after a $616,339 performance bonus almost doubled the executive's base salary, while another got just $15.
The latest Australian Public Service Commission remuneration report shows while the number of performance bonuses continued to fall in 2018, the value of bonuses paid out actually rose on average.
Despite the number of performance bonuses falling 14 per cent from 2017 to 2018, some 15,633 public servants - or about 11 per cent of the service - received at least some sort of performance bonus, and the report shows a wide disparity between payments within the same bands.
It shows the top bonus paid to an executive band two in 2018 was $431,455 compared with another who got a bonus of just $125, while the median bonus was $2292 last year.
While some bonuses are paid for top public service work, often the biggest are paid so the service can access specialist skills, such as financial experts for the Future Fund, whose skills would demand top dollar in the private sector.
When the Coalition came to power in 2013, it promised to link public servants' bonuses to the level of red and green tape they cut. While the policy is understood to officially remain in place, the proposal largely failed to be delivered given concerns when it came to how to implement and measure it.
Former public service commissioner and ANU Professor of Public Policy Andrew Podger said he understood it had been more than a decade since departmental secretaries came to the view the system needed to be changed, but they had been unable to reform it.
The issue was also considered in former Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Terry Moran's 2010 review of the service, which backed moving away from bonuses.
The current review of the public service led by David Thodey also proposed a move to more equitable pay arrangements in its interim report, as well as the reporting of key management personnel's pay and bonuses - a change that could bring the public service closer to Australian Securities Exchange reporting standards.
But beyond those few measures, Professor Podger said he believed the Thodey review's recommendations were cast more as a hope than the actual setting out of detailed specifics as to how to go about it, given the years of inaction.
The commission's report also showed the gender pay gap across the public service fell marginally again in 2018, with the gap now less than 1 per cent across most classification levels and the difference in average remuneration for men and women falling to 7.8 per cent, largely due to more senior female appointments.
A spokeswoman for the Australian Public Service Commission said the maximum bonus paid to a single SES3 executive was not indicative of the majority of SES3 remuneration packages, as was backed by the much lower median figure.
She said enterprise bargaining had been conducted at the agency level since the late 1990s, which had led to differences in conditions and pay across agencies.
"It is an agency head's responsibility to manage terms and conditions in their workplace, subject to government policy," she said.
The spokeswoman also said the commission did not release details related to specific people or agencies collected for the remuneration report.
For executive band one, one executive received a $165,742 performance bonus while another received just $95, and the median bonus at that band was $1139.
The senior executive band three employee who took home a $1.2 million total rewards package received a $616,339 performance bonus, the biggest across the public service last year, a figure which also does not include allowances or base salary.
At the APS six level, the size of bonuses paid to employees diverged more than any other classification level, from one staffer who received just $15 in 2018 to the highest bonus of $110,801, with a median payment of $912.