The Opposition has labelled the government response to the Thodey review of the public sector as “weak” and “inadequate”, with key recommendations like the scrapping of the staffing cap rejected.
The review found that “substantive changes” are needed to address current issues in the APS and a “deep cultural change” is needed to prepare it for the future. It found the sector to be “ill-prepared to grasp the opportunities of the future” due to long-running under-investment in people, capital and digital capability.
In its response, the government agreed in full to 15 recommendations, agreed in part to 20, noted two and rejected three outright.
The Secretaries Board has now been tasked with undertaking a “rapid planning phase” at the start of next year, with $15.1 million in funding.
This response is “totally inadequate”, shadow minister for the public service Katy Gallagher said.
“The government’s response is weak and non-committal – fully agreeing to just 15 of the 40 recommendations and providing a miserly $15.1 million to ‘initiate’ reform,” Senator Gallagher said.
“The work of the APS matters and it deserves better leadership from the executive government of the day. There is no doubt that there are challenges ahead for the APS but the government’s response today indicates that it will do very little to prepare for those challenges.
“Scott Morrison doesn’t get the APS, he doesn’t respect the APS or its workforce and he clearly doesn’t understand its important role in delivering services to Australians.”
A key issue Labor and the Community and Public Sector Union have been campaigning on is for the abolishment of the Average Staffing Level cap.
The Thodey review also recommended that this cap be removed once the APS has demonstrated its workforce planning capability in a strategy.
“All agency heads should be accountable for managing their workforce and delivering government priorities within allocated budgets, not for adhering to a cap. Removing the caps will force agency heads to take decisions on staffing resources, whether APS employees, contractors or consultants, based on capability needs, the most efficient use of resources, return on investment, best use of skills and other sensible criteria,” the report said.
But the government rejected this in its response.
“The government will continue to manage the size of the APS through the Average Staffing Level rule, and support flexible application of the cap to deliver priorities,” it said.
“The government notes the recommendation that it abolish the ASL rule in light of outcomes arising from the APS Workforce Strategy; it considers the ASL rule is working effectively and will keep its application under consideration in light of workforce needs and the government’s priority to deliver budget repair.”
The response “rejected the government’s own report”, CPSU national secretary Melissa Donnelly said.
“The government received this report months ago but flaunted its disregard for it just last week by slashing departments and creating mega-departments. These changes are a timely reminder as to why common pay and conditions are needed,” Ms Donnelly said.
“The Morrison government is not serious about bargaining with the public service, and what we have seen today is the Prime Minister reject his own report’s finding that the APS need better conditions.
“A good government would lift the ASL cap and invest in the services Australians need. But Scott Morrison continues to disregard expert findings and chase short-term budget wins instead of delivering on his election promises.”
Cuts to the public sector have caused “enormous damage to the capacity of the Commonwealth to deliver policy and essential services”, and funding for the Secretaries Board won’t address this, Ms Donnelly said.
“All we have seen from the government today is $15.1 million for the Secretaries Board. That won’t go any way to increasing access to services. It won’t answer the millions of unanswered calls to Centrelink, or help the community get to the bottom of their illegal robodebt, and it won’t help us meet our climate targets,” she said.