Launch Of State Of Service Roadshows

Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister, Assistant Minister for the Public Service

It is my great pleasure to launch the State of the Service Roadshows here in Western Australia.

This is first time this event has taken place in Perth.

Better late than never.

Today we have representatives from no less than 58 Australian Public Service agencies here with us.

And a special welcome to those joining us online across the country.

Today we reflect on the past, the present and the future of the Australian Public Service.

We have come a long way.

Imagine this was a gathering of all Australian public servants a few years after Federation, 120 years ago:

  • 89 per cent of you would be working for the Postmaster-General, mostly delivering telegraph messages;
  • 9 per cent of you would be working for Trade and Customs; and
  • The remaining 2 per cent would be working for the other five departments – Attorney-General’s, Defence, Home Affairs, External Affairs and The Treasury.

It is hard to overstate the importance of the contribution of the early Commonwealth public servants to the establishment of the new Australian Government.

The very first federal public servant was Robert Garran.

He was appointed Secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department in 1901.

Robert served in that role until his retirement in 1932, a record which is unlikely to be broken.

He was a trusted adviser to 11 attorneys-general and to 16 governments.

Robert Garran said of his early days:

I was both head and tail of my Department…

My first duty on 1st January was to write down in longhand the first number of the Commonwealth Gazette and send myself down to the Government Printer with it.

The next big job was to arrange the elections for the first Federal Parliament.

Dr Harry Wollaston, who was born in Mokine, here in Western Australia, was the first head of the Department of Trade and Customs.

His big job was to bring together six colonial customs departments.

Each with different rules, practices and varying enthusiasm for the federal structure.

Thankfully, Dr Harry also ensured that vital funds from the first nation-wide tariff landed safely in the coffers of the new Commonwealth.

And, according to the Evening Standard newspaper, he had another useful skill.

He could ‘see smuggled opium through a stone wall, or concealed behind a bank of preserved ginger.’

Job descriptions these days rarely mention these skills.

In 1904, the Service had 11,661 permanent staff.

Now in 2024, the most recent State of the Service Report recorded 170,332 Australian public servants.

In stark contrast to the early years, around 60 per cent of Australian Public Service staff are now women.

The original 7 Australian government departments of the Federation era have grown to the 104 agencies you serve in now.

And over that same time period, Australia’s population has grown from some 4 million to 27 million.

Put simply, there is more public to serve.

And here in Western Australia:

  • nearly 6 in 10 (57.5 per cent) of you work for three agencies – Services Australia, Home Affairs and the Australian Taxation Office;
  • around 4 in 10 (41.6 per cent) work in service delivery and around 2 in 10 (20.8 per cent) work in compliance and regulation; and
  • over a third of APS staff (34.4 per cent) were born outside Australia, the highest proportion anywhere in the country.

Embracing diversity in the APS is not optional.

Australia’s social and demographic changes have made us a stronger nation.

Now, it is more important than ever for our ways of working to be inclusive.

The community expects to see itself in the Australian Public Service.

Our staff expect opportunities to contribute, and to progress in their career.

The annual State of the Service Report draws together our strategies in support of specific cohorts in the Australian Public Service.

It promotes the employer and employee-led initiatives which are shaping better experiences and opportunities for people in the APS.

For example, the SES 100 initiative is currently working to boost representation of First Nations people at senior leadership levels in the Australian Public Service.

The development of the new CALD – Culturally and Linguistically Diverse – Employment Strategy is about listening and understanding.

The APS is working to reduce gender pay gap and report publicly on progress by releasing 2023 APS Gender Pay Gap data for every agency with 100 or more employees.

Then taking action to foster a workplace which celebrates diversity, encourages continuous learning and ensures safety and fairness.

And we are building powerful networks in and across agencies; the Pride Network, the Public Sector Neurodiversity Community of Practice and the Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) Network.

The new approach to workplace relations, backed by our Government, reaches into every corner of the Australian Public Service.

Outcomes from the recent APS-wide bargaining process will reduce fragmentation of pay and conditions across the Service.

And, while we are talking about this, allow me to acknowledge the efforts of Kimberley Seats – Assistant Director at the Australian Bureau of Statistics based here in Perth – who helped develop the new base salary structure.

Her work contributes directly to lifting salaries for around 8,000 APS colleagues, as new enterprise agreements are voted up and approved by the Fair Work Commission.

Thank you Kimberley.

The Albanese Government is determined to restore the APS and position it for the future.

We are open about the reforms we are making to the Service.

Reforms that are needed and are delivering results.

Over the past year, we have taken important steps to strengthen APS integrity and transparency.

A new National Anti-Corruption Commission commenced operations on 1 July 2023, fulfilling an election commitment by the Albanese Government.

Improved protection for public sector whistle-blowers and witnesses is in place, with further legislative reforms under consideration.

And the Government has agreed, or agreed in principle, to all 56 recommendations of the Robodebt Royal Commission – and is investing in implementing them.

I am very pleased that – even in the face of challenges – levels of employee engagement in the Australian Public Service are high.

In the 2023 APS Employee Census, around 3 in 4 APS employees expressed job satisfaction (73 per cent) and that that their work gave them a sense of accomplishment (76 per cent).

And we know there are things agencies can do to build on this.

They can actively promote an inclusive workplace culture and show they care about employee health and wellbeing.

And they can communicate well internally, and encourage and support staff to come up with better ways of doing things.

When the Albanese Government came to office, we commissioned an APS Audit of Employment.

This estimated the use of external labour across the Australian Public Service.

The audit found that, in 2021-22, there was an external labour workforce of 53,911 employees, at a cost of $20.8 billion.

In other words, the total Australian Government workforce was around 37 per cent larger than the workforce measured by public servant numbers alone.

My government is committed to rebalancing the APS to ensure it has the people and skills it needs to do its work.

By the end of 2022-23, ongoing APS employees were up by 7.3 per cent from the year before, with priority accorded to bolstering the large service agencies.

A new Strategic Commissioning Framework is giving agencies guidance on how to work towards reducing inappropriate outsourcing.

The number of agencies developing and implementing workforce plans to identify and address skills shortages is also increasing.

And we are monitoring how the core skill needs of APS employees are changing – particularly for the ongoing development of the digital and green economy.

APS professional streams are a valuable way for you to connect and support each other across the Service.

I know that more than 20,000 of you are doing this through the digital, data and HR Professions.

And good people in each and every role – that’s currently around 239 different job roles in 596 locations around Australia – make it possible to do what we do.

Many of the ways you serve today would be unrecognisable to the Postmaster-General’s telegraph messengers.

Very few of you who peddle along the bumpy suburban lanes and dusty country tracks of early twentieth century Australia.

But, just like those telegraph messengers, you are part of your community and you serve your community.

You deliver things that Australians need.

Like my great grandmother Lucy, who was a proud public servant.

She worked at the Australian Taxation Office just down the road, here in Perth.

For decades she helped collect revenue and support war widows like herself get the support they needed.

Like my friend Ali Vaughan, working at the Department of Health.

Or like those of you who work in the teams featured in our last State of the Service Report.

Supporting our farmers and rural communities through the dry times.

Responding to the floods in the Kimberley.

Saving and improving lives through the quality of our national blood supplies.

Or working to prevent criminal transactions through our financial systems.

The professions of the Australian Public Service have changed dramatically over the last 120 years.

Your willingness to serve your fellow Australians in good times and bad remains a constant.

Thank you.

/Public Release. View in full here.