State Of Service Roadshow Canberra – Opening Address

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

It is my great pleasure to be with you for the State of the Service Roadshow in Canberra. Last week, we launched the roadshow in Perth. We had representatives from over 58 Australian Public Service agencies.

Today, staff from at least 79 agencies are joining us. And a special welcome to those joining us online across the country.

The forerunners to our current State of the Service Report stretch all the way back to Federation. Public Service Commissioner, Mr Duncan Clark or DC McLachlan was appointed in May 1902 and served until his retirement in May 1916.

DC McLachlan’s reports have been described as ‘startlingly frank’ accounts of life in the early public service. They cover many of the things we are still concerned with today – how to attract and retain talented staff, conditions of employment and integrity matters.

He set the benchmark for performance in his very first report, writing that

“the Commonwealth Public Service must not be looked upon as an asylum for the indolent or incompetent. Each officer will be expected to show evidence of a strenuous official life, to work diligently and conscientiously and legitimately earn the salary he receives”.

DC McLachlan need not have fretted. Because, overwhelmingly, the officers of the Australian Public Service have been committed and professional.

The Service has supported governments to tackle the unique and recurring challenges our country has faced.

From wars and economic downturns to pandemics and environmental crises.

From early experiments with electronic data processing in the late 1950s to considering the risks and rewards of artificial intelligence in our time.

And as the world has changed course or sped up, the Australian Public Service has adjusted and quickened its step.

The Australian Public Service – looking within

Now to the state of our Service. What do we see when we look within?

We see an APS workforce which is greatly changed since the Federation era. Where people who were once excluded are now critical to the Service.

A Service which is much richer for the skills and experiences of women, First Nations, Culturally and Linguistically Diverse staff and people with disability.

We see Service-wide bargaining delivering solutions to workforce pressures and reforms to APS terms and conditions of employment. Including an APS-wide approach to flexible work, significant improvements to parental leave and improved conditions for First Nations and culturally diverse staff.

We see agencies working hard to build the capabilities they need now and into the future. Using strategic workforce planning to assess and address skills gaps.

Reducing reliance on consultants and contractors and bringing people we need into the Service. Supporting continuous learning, uplifting capability across the service.

Participating in reviews to consider progress towards better outcomes. And collaborating across agencies, including on projects funded by the Capability Reinvestment Fund.

There is a renewed focus on strengthening leadership and integrity across the Service.

System-wide improvements are underway to support a pro-integrity culture at all levels.

Performance management of senior executives across the Service now accords equal weighting to outcomes and behaviours. This sends a strong message that how things are done is important to what we can achieve. And we see staff with a strong sense of purpose.

In the 2023 APS Employee Census, more than 9 in 10 (92 per cent) agreed that they understand how their role contributes to achieving an outcome for the Australian public.

And we see a strong commitment to APS Net Zero by 2030.

With a strategy which sets out practical actions to reduce emissions from government operations.

And the reinstatement of public reporting of government emissions for the first time in 10 years.

The Australian Public Service – looking beyond

And when we look beyond the Service?

What is the Australian Public Service doing to look over the horizon?

To connect with partners in other sectors and with those it serves?

Measuring What Matters is Australia’s first national wellbeing framework. It tracks 50 indicators of how we are faring across five domains – health, security, sustainability, cohesion and prosperity.

This supports continuing discussions of the type of society Australians want to live in and how this can be achieved.

Long-term insights briefings are being used to examine specific policy challenges that may affect Australia in the medium and long term. The first of these was on how artificial intelligence might affect public trust in the delivery of public services.

These briefings strengthen policy development and planning by helping the APS understand community views, evidence and the implications of issues.

The Service is also looking at how mainstream services can be delivered more flexibly. And how place-based approaches can complement universal safety nets.

Through APS Reform, the government is committed to building a stronger Australian Public Service. One that delivers better outcomes for the community, acts as a model employer and contributes to a fairer and more inclusive Australia.


I will return now to ghosts of Commissioners past.

If DC McLachlan was with us now, what do you think he would make of our modern Australian Public Service?

I think he would find that there is much to admire, but also more to do.

After all, this is the Commissioner who said in his 1906 report that:

“we live in deeds, not years; in thoughts, not breaths”.

It was this culture of action and ideas that was embedded in the public service in its earliest days. This idea is just as strong today.

It is in that spirit which I think each of you for your public service.

And thank you for the work you do to deliver for The Australian people.

Thank you very much.

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