State Of Service Roadshow Newcastle Opening Address

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

Acknowledgements omitted

It is my great pleasure to be with you for the State of the Service Roadshow in Newcastle. Today we have representatives from no less than 28 Australian Public Service agencies here with us. I extend a warm welcome to you all.

Over the course of these State of the Service roadshows, I have been sharing my passion for Australian history. I have been delving a little into the experiences of our earliest Commonwealth public servants.

And, as it happens, the first Public Service Commissioner, DC McLachlan was greatly vexed about a situation in my home state of Western Australia. Imagine, this was in the early years after Federation.

DC McLachlan noted in his first report to Parliament under the Public Service Act 1902 (p.44) that:

“… much inconvenience has been experienced in securing Telegraph Messengers in Western Australia, due, in part, to the fact that boys in that State have no difficulty in securing private employment at higher remuneration than the amount paid by the Commonwealth”.

Given telegraph messengers made up around 80 per cent of all Commonwealth public service workers at that time, this was a significant workforce issue. The shortage was compounded by a requirement for telegraph messengers to retire at the age of 18, unless they could pass examinations to gain other positions.

Happily, some did pass those rigorous examinations, which were held not only in capital cities but also in hundreds of country centres. They were presided over by ‘reputable citizens’. These included medical practitioners and head teachers when Commonwealth officials could not be present.

And, as a result of those outreach efforts, many senior public servants through to the 1980s could claim they began their careers in the Service as telegraph messengers.

APS workforce – National and Newcastle

So what does our APS workforce look like today?

In the most recent State of the Service Report, tabled in Parliament in November, we recorded 170,332 ongoing and non-ongoing Australian public servants.

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

Around 3.5 per cent of staff are First Nations and 23.9 per cent of staff were born outside Australia.

We aren’t retiring our staff at 18 anymore. But I was interested to learn that – after many years heading in the other direction – the average age of Australian public servants has been declining since 2022. The latest APS data from 2023 has the average age at 43.1 years.

Here in Newcastle:

  • more than 8 in 10 (86 per cent) of you work for three agencies – Services Australia, the Australian Taxation Office and the National Disability Insurance Agency;
  • around 4 in 10 (40.1 per cent) work in service delivery and around 2 in 10 (19.3 per cent) work in compliance and regulation;
  • around 1 in 10 (10.8 per cent) of you are baby boomers, 5 in 10 (48.8 per cent) are Gen X’ers, and 4 in 10 are Gen Y (38.1 per cent) and Gen Z (2.3 per cent).

APS workplaces

The Albanese government is determined that the APS will be a model employer and a great place to work. For everyone.

The successful implementation of our new approach to workplace relations is reducing fragmentation of pay and conditions across the Service.

It is introducing an APS-wide approach to flexible work, significant improvements to parental leave and improved conditions for First Nations and culturally and linguistically diverse staff.

And we continue to learn more about how we can better engage with and support specific employee cohorts within the APS.

For the first time in 2023, the APS Employee Census included a question measuring neurodivergence. And 7.7 per cent of respondents advised that they do consider themselves to be neurodivergent.

An APS-wide Neurodiversity Community of Practice is assisting people at all levels to discuss their experiences and share resources, in addition to agency-led programs.

The percentage of employees who advise they have an ongoing disability through the APS Employee Census has grown each year since 2020, and is currently at 10.9 per cent.

Recent measures in support of staff with disability includes new guidance for disability contact officers in agencies. And searchability on APS Jobs has been improved – so staff can better locate positions with flexible work arrangements that suit their needs.

APS capability, now and into the future

Some of you may be aware that, on coming to office, we commissioned an APS Audit of Employment to estimate 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.

To continue to attract the people we need, a new APS Employee Value Proposition has been launched on APS Jobs, together with stories of current APS staff. This communicates the top reasons why employees enjoy working with us, and what you can achieve with an APS career.

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

Australian Government Consulting is up and running – to offer high quality in-house management consulting services while also strengthening internal APS capabilities.

And the first combined Data and Digital Government Strategy has been released. It offers a vision for simple, secure and connected public services, underpinned by 5 important missions to achieve this by 2030.


The first Commissioner DC McLachlan was faced with the daunting task of establishing the Australian Public Service in the early years after Federation. He had an eye to the state of the service overall, as well as to specific challenges facing the regions. He knew that it was important to recruit good people from around Australia, and went to great lengths to do so.

We know this too.

And we are doing this in our own ways. This is why we established the APS Academy campus here at the University of Newcastle, to connect entry-level data and digital professionals with the Service. A pathway to join more than 60 per cent of APS staff based outside of Canberra.

And, wherever you work in Australia, you contribute to the critical partnership between the Australian Government and the APS, in service of the Australian people.

Thank you very much.

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