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Public Sector Informant : PSI - October
CPM Reviews has a team of skilled and experienced staff and all have extensive managerial and industrial experience in the APS. We can provide timely, cost effective, efficient and professional services in difficult to manage conduct and ethics areas. Providing ethical and professional reviews of employment decisions and actions to the public sector. INDEPENDENT -- PROFESSIONAL -- CONFIDENTIAL CPM Reviews also offers a range of services that complement its employment review activities. Our staff can assist agencies with undertaking inquiries into complaints and allegations of misconduct, including whistleblowing reports. CPM Reviews is headed by Jeff Lamond, a former Merit Protection Commissioner. We have the expertise to assist with the application of merit through participation in selection practices; and providing advice on the management of employee selection. 02 61630500 email@example.com www.cpmreviews.com.au CPM Reviews offers national coverage across Australia [OCTOBER 2010] 6 THE PUBLIC SECTOR INFORMANT [INTEGRITY:PADDY GOURLEY] Sadly for the pundits, most mandarins Appointments The APS is not nearly as politicised as commentators tend to describe it If the Auditor-General's comments on briefings on the 'green loans' program are anything to go by, policy advising in some quarters may suffer from a more innocent problem: incompetence. Selection panel? The Hawke government's first ministry, which, despite at least one myth, did not vet applicants for deputy Possum-stirring allegations about politicisation are a standard fare in commen- tary on the Australian Public Service. Usually, these allegations are not well supported by evidence. Those from politicians are often greased with hypocrisy. For example, it's a bit rich for the deputy Opposition leader, Julie Bishop, to make fretful com- ments about ''jobs for the boys'' under the Rudd government when she was a member of a Coalition govern- ment that stacked statutory authority boards with its ideological pals (remember Dr Ron Brunton, Dr Keith Windschuttle and Dr Janet Albre- chtsen on the ABC board). The latest possum stirring, how- ever, comes from a reputable source: former senior Commonwealth offic- ial and NSW auditor-general Tony Harris, who now writes engaging, well-informed columns in the Aust- ralian Financial Review. On Sept- ember 21, Harris wrote, ''Changes to the Commonwealth's senior staffing arrangements in 1984 maintained Public Service Board responsibility for all SES decisions 'properly inde- pendent from any ministerial direc- tion', to quote the relevant minister. But two years later, propriety had been abandoned: the Hawke govern- ment decided, notwithstanding law, that cabinet should scrutinise all proposed appointments to deputy secretary positions before they were formalised, and ministers tried to impose candidates on departments.'' While it's true that in 1984 the Public Service Board was required to approve appointments and promo- tions to the senior executive service, primary responsibility rested with department and agency heads. The board could only refuse recommen- dations from departments if it thought a candidate was unsuitable, proper process had not been followed or it wanted to transfer a surplus officer into the vacancy. In practice, depart- mental recommendations were invariably accepted, if after some mutually advantageous discussions. It's also true, if understandably not well documented, that ministers have tried to ''impose candidates on departments''. They always have and they always will. In some cases they may have succeeded, but these are likely to be few and far between as the system has been and remains so heavily stacked against improper ministerial influence that heads of departments, even those with weaker backbones, should be able firmly to resist it. Ministers can always be told, ''Look, if you want try to force a person on me, it's likely that the public service commissioner will trip us up and then you'll have the deputy leader of the Opposition staring you into some sort of hypnotic state. Do you really want all that?'' It's perhaps more common for ministers to want to get rid of officials they don't like or who they suspect of being less than whole- heartedly behind the government of the day. Again, the system contains considerable protections against such improper influence, though it is more vulnerable where appointments are for fixed periods. In a small number of instances, officers have been unfairly put to the sword. Harris's claim that the Hawke government decided to have cabinet ''scrutinise'' all deputy secretary promotions and appointments is controversial and to the best knowledge of this column has not been made before. Checks were made with a range of senior officials serving at the time in the cabinet and gov- ernment divisions in the Department of the Prime Min- ister and Cabinet, in the SES staffing function in the Public Service Board, in the offices of the prime minister and the minister for the public ser- vice, and in a line department. None have any recollection of such a decision or the oper- ation of any related pro- cedure. In short, checks with those in a position to know have left Harris alone with his memory. That is not to say he's not right but, at the moment, only those brave enough to bet against the odds would place a wager in favour of his recol- lection. How could such a contentious decision or pro- cedure remain hidden for 25 years? If it had been put into effect, how could the Public Service Board have approved deputy secretary promotions and appointments in the face of such political interference in proper process? There would have been an explosion of indignation in the board (it was an organisation much given to indignation, usually well justified, too). There was no such explosion and the board kept ticking off deputy secretary recommendations from departments on the basis of legislated criteria. Harris is right to point to the dangers of politicisation in the public service, however, the prospects of adequate protections will be better if the diagnosis of the threats is accu- rate. Harris says that if the O'Farrell Opposition gets up in forthcoming NSW election and does what it says it will with senior public servants in that state, then ''the Commonwealth might have to rethink its attitudes towards its SES''. While Harris makes no specific suggestions, the Commonwealth suffers from nothing like the weaknesses in senior person- nel practices and policy in the NSW Public Service and it is doubtful if many useful lessons will be learned from that state other than bad ones. The Commonwealth needs to treat its problems on their own merits. Politicisation can take a number of forms, for example: Political interference in appoint- ments, promotions or dismissals. Restricting advice to ministers to that which is known they will like or, at the other extreme, that which will be disliked and unacceptable. Covert behaviour by officials involving leaking official information to the media or opposition politicians, or otherwise playing the ''statesman in disguise''. Decisions about the appointment and tenure of departmental secretaries in the APS are by their nature political; that is to say, they are made by the prime minister. These decisions are supported by advice from the PM&C secretary and the Rudd government has bolstered this process by requiring the public service commissioner also to be involved in preparing that advice. It would be better if that requirement were to be included in legislation, for administrative arrangements can eas- ily be brushed aside, as shown by the Rudd government's not having its mining tax advertisements examined by the committee it set up to vet such propaganda. But the Rudd govern- ment can take credit for abolishing ministerially determined perform- ance pay for secretaries, and it was much more assiduous about finding suitable alternative employment for secretaries leaving their posts than was its predecessor. Protection against undesirable politicisation at the secretary level could be improved by: Removing fixed-period appoint- ments unless they were desired by individuals. Restoring the power of the Remuneration Tribunal to fix pay for secretaries rather than having that done by the prime minister on the secret advice of the tribunal, which is a bad bit of governance practice. So far as the SES is concerned, its role and basic structure have remain- ed almost unchanged for 50 years, though related personnel manage- ment practices have altered and the numbers of staff at these levels now far exceed rational requirements. While the selection of SES staff remains the prime responsibility of agency heads: The public service commissioner has a representative on each selection advisory committee. That representative must certify to the commissioner that the selection exercise complied with all legal requirements. All documents relevant to the selection must be provided to the commissioner and his endorsement of his representative's certification must be obtained before any appointment or promotion can be made. If an agency head wants to dismiss an SES officer, the commissioner must certify that all legal require- ments have been met and that the termination is in the public interest. These protections are substantial and though ministerial attempts to twist arms can take place, agency heads have ample grounds on which
PSI - September