21 September 2012
Australia has one of the best public administrations in the world and it does not deserve the ill-informed and inaccurate criticisms made by the Business Council of Australia, the Minister for the Public Service and Integrity, Gary Gray, said today.
“Yesterday, the council’s chief executive sought to make scapegoats of dedicated public servants with inaccurate and unfair comments,” Mr Gray said.
“The truth is that Australia has a world-class public service of integrityi*.”
Yesterday Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott claimed that the independence of the Australian Public Service is being undermined by a lack of tenure of departmental secretaries and called for fewer ministerial staff.
“Ms Westacott will be pleased to learn that the House of Representatives, with bipartisan support, recently passed legislation that requires the appointment and termination of departmental secretaries by the Governor-General, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, restoring the operation of the Act to the manner that delivered great public servants like Nugget Coombs and Sir Arthur Tange,” Mr Gray said.
“Under these amendments, secretaries are to be employed for a term of five years unless they request otherwise.”
Mr Gray said a Code of Conduct for Ministerial Staff was introduced in July 2008 by Labor which acknowledges “that ministerial staff do not have the power to direct APS employees in their own right and that APS employees are not subject to their direction.”
It further recognises “that executive decisions are the preserve of Ministers and public servants and not ministerial staff acting in their own right.”ii
He said the current Government employed 50 fewer ministerial staff than the Howard Government did in 2007.
“I was also struck by Ms Westacott’s call for a more focussed and productive public sector and the need to avoid a ‘bust and boom’ approach.
“It’s something I’ve been advocating for some time.
“A little research will demonstrate that under the former Coalition government, the size of the Australian Public Service blew out by more than 35,000 positions from 2001 to 2007. At the same time, the Senior Executive Service grew 50 per cent – from 1625 to 2429.
“Since coming to power, Labor has capped the Senior Executive Service and the growth of the public sector has been held at less than the growth of the population.”
Mr Gray also made the following points:
Mr Gray said the Gillard Labor Government’s approach to public sector management had been to do the hard yards and identify efficiencies in non-staffing areas.
Labor had made savings of more than $13 billion in the public sector since coming to power in 2007. For example, it had cut wasteful spending on travel by $240 million; saved $2 billion through better ICT management; and introduced efficiencies in Commonwealth property management to save $1.2 billion.
The savings had allowed Labor to deliver on priority areas like the National Disability Insurance Scheme, public health and important measures like paid parental leave, aged care reform, mental health reform and the biggest pension increases in history.
i* How does the APS measure up ethically? Available data indicates that Australia performs well. For example, according to the World Bank’s Governance Matters rankings of 2009, Australia ranked in the 97th percentile for the Government Effectiveness indicator. This indicator measures the quality of public services, the capacity of the civil service and its independence from political pressure, and the quality of policy formulation. Only 3% of countries scored better. Australia ranked equally with Canada, and performed better than the UK (94), the United States (93) and New Zealand (95). Countries with higher rankings included Singapore (100), Denmark (100), Sweden (99), Switzerland (99), Finland (98) and Norway (98).
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