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Australian Public Service

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Australian Public Service
Coat of Arms of Australia.svg
Australian Public Service overview
Formed1 January 1901 (1901-01-01)
HeadquartersCanberra, Australia
(39.1 per cent of staff)[1]
Employees152,430 (at June 2015)[2]
Australian Public Service executives
Key document
Minister for the Public Service
Scott Morrison

since 26 May 2019 (2019-05-26)
Australian Public Service
StyleThe Honourable
AppointerGovernor-General on the recommendation of the Prime Minister of Australia
Inaugural holderMathias Cormann
Formation28 August 2018 (2018-08-28)

The Australian Public Service (APS) is the federal civil service of the Commonwealth of Australia responsible for the public administration, public policy, and public services of the departments and executive and statutory agencies of the Government of Australia.[3] The Australian Public Service was established at the Federation of Australia in 1901 as the Commonwealth Public Service and modelled on the Westminster system and United Kingdom's Civil Service. The establishment and operation of the Australian Public Service is governed by the Public Service Act 1999 of the Parliament of Australia as an "apolitical public service that is efficient and effective in serving the Government, the Parliament and the Australian public".[4] The conduct of Australian public servants is also governed by a Code of Conduct and guided by the APS Values set by the Australian Public Service Commission.[5]

As such, the employees and officers of the Australian Public Service are obliged to serve the government of the day with integrity and provide "frank and fearless advice" on questions of public policy, from national security to fiscal policy to social security, across machinery of government arrangements.[6] Indeed, the Australian Public Service plays a major part in Australian life by providing "cradle to grave" services with a degree of shared responsibility with the State and Territory governments.[7] The Australian Public Service as an entity does not include the broader Commonwealth public sector including the Australian Defence Force, Commonwealth companies such as NBN Co Limited or the Australian Rail Track Corporation, or Commonwealth corporate entities such as the Australian National University or the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.[8] The Australian Public Service does not include the civil services of the State and Territory governments.

Public servants are ultimately responsible to the Parliament of Australia via their respective portfolio Minister. The Australian Public Service Commission is responsible for promoting the values of the public service, evaluating performance and compliance, and facilitating the development of people and institutional capabilities.[9] The Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet is the most senior public servant and plays a leadership role as the chair of the intergovernmental Secretaries Board made up of all Commonwealth departmental secretaries.[10] The Australian National Audit Office, the Department of Finance, the Department of the Treasury, and the Attorney-General's Department also have whole-of-government oversight and management responsibilities.

As at June 2015, the Australian Public Service comprises some 152,430 officers alongside a further 90,000 people employed in the broader Commonwealth public sector.[11] Accordingly, the Australian Public Service is one of the largest employers in Australia.[12]


The Australian public service was established at Federation of Australia on 1 January 1901. The departments established on that date were Attorney-General’s, Defence, External Affairs, Home Affairs, Trade and Customs, Postmaster-General's, and Treasury.[20]

The first public service appointments were made under section 67 of the Constitution of Australia, an arrangement that remained in place until the Commonwealth Public Service Act 1902 commenced on 1 January 1903,[20] at which time there were 11,374 officials employed under the Act.[20]

The Commonwealth Public Service Act 1922 introduced a new legislative framework commencing in 1923,[21] and created the Public Service Board.

A section in both the 1902 and 1922 Acts stated that every female officer was deemed to have retired from the Commonwealth service upon her marriage.[22][23] In November 1966 Australia became the last democratic country to lift the legislated marriage bar which had prevented married women from holding permanent positions in the public service.[22]

In November 1996, Peter Reith issued a discussion paper, Towards a best practice Australian Public Service.[24] The paper, among other things, recommended key elements which might need to be incorporated into a new streamlined and principles-based Public Service Act.[24] After several years spent developing a new Act, the Public Service Act 1999 came into effect on 5 December 1999.[25] The new Act introduced APS Values and a Code of Conduct into the Act for the first time.[25] Public servants who breach the code of conduct can be demoted, fined, reprimanded or fired.[26]

In 2010 a comprehensive reform agenda was introduced as outlined in Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for Reform of Australian Government Administration.[27]The reforms were aimed at strengthening strategic direction, citizen engagement and staff capability across the APS.[28]

Functions and values

Geoff Gallop describes the spectrum of activities undertaken by staff in the APS as fitting into four work functions: service delivery; law making, rule making and policy development; tax collection and managing government finance; and monitoring and enforcing laws and regulations.[29]

The APS Values are set out in section 10 of the Public Service Act 1999.[30] The Values are mandatory and are intended to embody the principles of good public administration.[30]

The APS Values were most recently revised in 2013, with the aim to comprise a smaller set of core values that are meaningful, memorable and effective in driving change.[31] The values are stated in section 10 of the Public Service Act 1999 as follows:

  • Impartial: The APS is apolitical and provides the Government with advice that is frank, honest, timely and based on the best available evidence.
  • Committed to service: The APS is professional, objective, innovative and efficient, and works collaboratively to achieve the best results for the Australian community and the Government.
  • Accountable: The APS is open and accountable to the Australian community under the law and within the framework of Ministerial responsibility.
  • Respectful: The APS respects all people, including their rights and their heritage.
  • Ethical: The APS demonstrates leadership, is trustworthy, and acts with integrity, in all that it does.


Historical population
1901 11,191—    
1916 22,686+102.7%
1917 23,028+1.5%
1929 30,738+33.5%
1930 30,561−0.6%
1933 27,030−11.6%
1939 47,043+74.0%
1948 120,991+157.2%
1965 182,689+51.0%
1966 192,215+5.2%
1968 211,652+10.1%
1975 158,763−25.0%
1982 152,258−4.1%
1985 173,444+13.9%
1986 143,339−17.4%
1990 160,942+12.3%
1991 162,367+0.9%
1992 163,669+0.8%
1993 165,529+1.1%
1994 160,348−3.1%
1995 146,035−8.9%
1996 143,193−1.9%
1997 134,052−6.4%
1998 121,003−9.7%
1999 113,268−6.4%
2000 110,954−2.0%
2001 119,237+7.5%
2002 123,494+3.6%
2003 131,720+6.7%
2004 131,522−0.2%
2005 133,581+1.6%
2006 146,234+9.5%
2007 155,482+6.3%
2008 160,011+2.9%
2009 162,009+1.2%
2010 164,596+1.6%
2011 166,252+1.0%
2012 168,580+1.4%
2013 167,257−0.8%
2014 159,126−4.9%
2015 152,430−4.2%
2016 155,771+2.2%
APS staff employed by year. Figures gathered from annual State of the Service reports and historic news articles[32][33][34][35][36][37][38][39][40][41][2][42]
A Centrelink office in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales. Services Australia, which administers Centrelink services, is one of the largest APS agencies.[43]
A Centrelink office in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales. Services Australia, which administers Centrelink services, is one of the largest APS agencies.[43]

The Australian Public Service formally comprises all Australian Government departments and agencies where staff members are or can be employed under the Public Service Act 1999.[44][45][46] At June 2013, there were 167,257 APS employees,[1] down from 168,580 APS employees in June 2012.[47] The 2013 figure included 152,230 ongoing (or permanent) employees,[48] and 15,027 non-ongoing (or contract) employees.[49] Staffing in Australian Public Service agencies accounts for around half of total employment in Australian Government administration. Public servants employed by the Commonwealth Government under legislation other than the Public Service Act include Australian Defence Force personnel, government business enterprise employees, parliamentary staff, Australian Federal Police staff and public servants under other Commonwealth agency-specific legislation.[50]

In the decade to December 2012 the APS grew in numbers; there was also notable 'classification creep', in which a higher proportion of staff are employed at higher pay-grade levels.[51] Before the 2013 federal election, the Coalition promised to reduce the size of the public service by at least 12000 jobs, through natural attrition.[52] Joe Hockey told an Adelaide radio station in May 2013 that the Coalition planned for the loss of 12,000 public service jobs to be just a starting point in the first two years of a Coalition government.[53]


57.9 per cent of all APS employees are women.[54] 39.1 per cent of APS employees work in the Australian Capital Territory.[1] At June 2013, the median age for ongoing APS employees was 43 years.[55] Like the Australian population, the APS workforce has been ageing rapidly since the early 1990s.[56]

At June 2013 the largest federal government agency was Services Australia with 33,658 employees, followed by the Australian Taxation Office with 24,274 employees and the Department of Defence with 22,330.[57]

In 2009 there was a ratio of one APS official for every 135 Australians, compared to 1991 ratios of 1:106.[58]

Measuring APS performance

Beginning in 2009–10 all APS entities were required to report in accordance with the Outcomes and Programs Framework, whereby programs provide the link between Australian Government decisions, activities and their actual outcomes.[59] In the Outcomes and Programs Framework, organisations identify and report against the programs that contribute to government outcomes over the budget and forward years.[60] All APS agencies contribute to Portfolio Budget Statements that inform Parliament and the public of the proposed allocation of Government outcomes.[61] Portfolio budget statements outline:

  • outcome statements, which specifically articulate the intended results, impacts or consequences of actions by the Government on the Australian community;[62]
  • programs to address outcomes, which are designed to deliver benefits, services or transfer payments to target groups; and[63]
  • resourcing information, deliverables and key performance indicators for each program.[64]

Annual reports report performance of agencies in relation to services provided.[65]

Prior to the introduction of the Outcomes and Programs Framework APS entities reported against an Outcomes and Outputs Framework, which had been introduced in 1999.[66] Reforms have been progressively introduced to the APS with the specific aim of making it more efficient, accountable and responsive to community needs since the mid-1980s.[67]

The Australian National Audit Office provides the Australian Parliament and the public with an independent assessment of selected areas of public administration in the APS, and assurance about APS financial reporting, administration and accountability.[68]

Benchmarking the APS

In November 2009 KPMG published a report benchmarking Australian Public Service performance against international public services.[69] The report found that the APS measured up well against some of the world's leading public services.[70] The report found that the APS is a high performer compared to other public services when it came to: being responsive to economic changes; being independent and values-based; and for proportions of women employed.[70] It found that the APS performed poorly in: its capability for coordinated, informed and strategic policy; its mechanisms for integrating external stakeholders into policy development and service design; and its understanding of government priorities through an overarching framework.[70]

Public opinion and criticism

The APS is often the target of public criticism. For example, in 2011 and again in 2013, the director, deregulation at the Institute of Public Affairs, Alan Moran, argued that the Australian Government was not seeking enough savings from a bloated Australian Public Service.[71][72] In October 2013, newly appointed Defence Minister David Johnston told media he had 'inherited a mess' and that he believed that in the Defence department '23,000 public servants is too heavy.'[73] The Noetic group said in 2014 that most Australian Public Service organisations could not demonstrate the benefits from large and expensive programs of work.[74]

Other commentators, including political scientist Richard Mulgan, have argued that rhetoric in 2013 about a bloated APS is ill-informed and unsustainable, if service benchmarks are to be met.[75] Rob Burgess, in a Business Spectator article in November 2012 argued that efficiency dividends imposed on the public service are actually delivering one of the world's leaner public sectors.[76]

Personnel organisation

All APS vacancies for ongoing and non-ongoing jobs for more than 12 months are notified in the APS Employment Gazette, a weekly electronic publication.[77] Public service wages were decentralised in 1997, allowing individual APS agencies to negotiate their own pay deals.[78] Individual Australian Government agency websites also advertise jobs and some jobs are advertised on external job boards, such as in newspapers.[77]

Employment classifications

The Australian Public Service (APS) career structure is hierarchical.[79] [80] The table below lists APS employment classification levels from lowest to highest.

Employment classifications in the Australian Public Service
Example position titles[A] 'Total annual reward[B]
(median 2017)[81]
Graduate Graduate Officer $74,689
APS 1 Departmental Officer $56,511
APS 2 Departmental Officer $66,091
APS 3 Departmental Officer $73,839
APS 4 Departmental Officer $82,300
APS 5 Departmental Officer $89,807
APS 6 Departmental Officer $106,046
Executive Level 1 (EL1) Assistant Manager

Assistant Section Manager

Executive Level 2 (EL2) Section Manager
Section Head
Senior Executive Service Band 1 (SES Band 1) Assistant Secretary (AS)
Branch Head
Branch Manager (BM)
Senior Executive Service Band 2 (SES Band 2) First Assistant Secretary (FAS)
Division Head

Division Manager

Senior Executive Service Band 3 (SES Band 3) Deputy Secretary (DEPSEC)
Chief Executive Officer
Departmental head Secretary[79] $673,000 (2013)[82]
A Position titles vary across APS agencies.
B Total reward includes base salary, plus benefits such as superannuation and motor vehicles plus bonuses such as performance and retention payments.


The Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) is responsible to the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service. The APSC is led by a Commissioner, who is tasked with promoting the APS Values, evaluating public service performance and compliance, and helping to build the capability of the Service.[9]

The Government also recognises a role for the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet for certain aspects of leadership of the APS.[citation needed]

See also



  1. ^ a b c State of the Service Report: 2012–13 2013, p. 143.
  2. ^ a b Australian Public Service Commission (2015), APS at a glance, Australian Government, archived from the original on 26 January 2016
  3. ^ "3 - Public sector performance and accountability". National Commission of Audit. Archived from the original on 17 August 2017. Retrieved 10 August 2017.
  4. ^ "Public Service Act 1999". Parliament of Australia. Retrieved 10 August 2017.
  5. ^ "Integrity in the APS". Australian Public Service Commission. Retrieved 10 August 2017.
  6. ^ Eccles, Chris (26 November 2015). "Chris Eccles: what is frank and fearless advice, and how to give it". The Mandarin. Retrieved 10 August 2017.
  7. ^ Whelan 2011.
  8. ^ "Governance structures in the public sector". Department of Finance. Retrieved 10 August 2017.
  9. ^ a b Australian Public Service Commission, About the Australian Public Service Commissioner, Australian Public Service Commission, archived from the original on 14 May 2013
  10. ^ "3.1 Structure of the Australian Public Service". National Commission of Audit. Archived from the original on 17 August 2017. Retrieved 10 August 2017.
  11. ^ "3.1 Structure of the Australian Public Service". National Commission of Audit. Archived from the original on 17 August 2017. Retrieved 10 August 2017.
  12. ^ "About the Australian Public Service (APS)". Australian Public Service Commission. Retrieved 10 August 2017.
  13. ^ Cunneen, Chris; Smith, Ann G. (1981), "Collins, Sir Robert Henry Muirhead (1852–1927)", Australian Dictionary of Biography, Melbourne University Press, 8, archived from the original on 16 May 2013
  14. ^ Davies, Helen M. (1983), "Hunt, Atlee Arthur (1864–1935)", Australian Dictionary of Biography, Melbourne University Press, 9, archived from the original on 19 May 2012
  15. ^ Harrison, Peter (1986), "Miller, David (1857–1934)", Australian Dictionary of Biography, Melbourne University Press, 10, archived from the original on 18 October 2012
  16. ^ Parker, R. S. (1981), "Garran, Sir Robert Randolph (1867–1957)", Australian Dictionary of Biography, Melbourne University Press, 8, archived from the original on 3 May 2013
  17. ^ McDonald, D. I. (1990), "Wollaston, Sir Harry Newton Phillips (1846–1921)", Australian Dictionary of Biography, Melbourne University Press, 12, archived from the original on 6 November 2013
  18. ^ Carnell, Ian (1988), "Scott, Sir Robert Townley (1841–1922)", Australian Dictionary of Biography, Melbourne University Press, 11, archived from the original on 6 November 2013
  19. ^ Cunneen, Chris (1979), "Allen, George Thomas (1852–1940)", Australian Dictionary of Biography, Melbourne University Press, 7, archived from the original on 6 November 2013
  20. ^ a b c A history in three acts: Evolution of the Public Service Act 1999 2004, p. 1.
  21. ^ A history in three acts: Evolution of the Public Service Act 1999 2004, pp. 19, 22.
  22. ^ a b Sawer, Marian (2004). "Women and Government in Australia". Australian Bureau of Statistics. Archived from the original on 12 May 2013.
  23. ^ Australian Public Service Commission, The Appendixes: Salary, severance benefits and miscellaneous leave, Australian Public Service Commission, archived from the original on 15 May 2013
  24. ^ a b A history in three acts: Evolution of the Public Service Act 1999 2004, p. 125.
  25. ^ a b A history in three acts: Evolution of the Public Service Act 1999 2004.
  26. ^ Mannheim, Markus (18 January 2012). "PS on notice over social media use". The Canberra Times. Fairfax Media. Archived from the original on 19 January 2012.
  27. ^ Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet 2010.
  28. ^ Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet 2010, pp. 80-81.
  29. ^ Gallop, Geoff (11 October 2007), Agile Government (PDF), archived from the original (PDF) on 8 July 2011
  30. ^ a b Australian Public Service Commission. "APS Values, Employment Principles and Code of Conduct". Australian Public Service Commission. Archived from the original on 15 May 2013. Retrieved 3 August 2013.
  31. ^ "Commission Advice 2013/04: The new APS Values and Employment Principles. Changes to the Code of Conduct". Australian Government. May 2013. Archived from the original on 11 February 2014. Retrieved 7 July 2013.
  32. ^ "Commonwealth Public Service". Western Mail. 7 June 1918.
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  35. ^ "Federal Public Service". Kalgoorlie Miner. Western Australia. 7 December 1933. p. 3.
  36. ^ "695 public servants to arrive by '71". The Canberra Times. 11 September 1968. p. 3.
  37. ^ "Total 5pc rise in public servants". The Canberra Times. 15 September 1966. p. 12.
  38. ^ Simon-Davies, Joanne (26 November 2010), How many are employed in the Commonwealth public sector?, Australian Parliament House, archived from the original on 22 February 2014
  39. ^ Waterford, Jack (10 September 1982). "Figures conflict on Public Service size". The Canberra Times. p. 3.
  40. ^ Fraser, Andrew (8 January 1987). "Public servants older, more of them women". The Canberra times. p. 1.
  41. ^ Main features: APS at a glance 2014.
  42. ^ Australian Public Service Commission, Table 5: All employees: location by base classification and employment category, 30 June 2016, Australian Government, archived from the original on 22 November 2016
  43. ^ "APS Agencies – size and function". Australian Public Service Commission. Commonwealth of Australia. Retrieved 27 September 2020.
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  47. ^ State of the Service Report: 2011–12 2012, p. 244.
  48. ^ State of the Service Report: 2012–13 2013, p. 231.
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  50. ^ Whelan 2011, pp. 13-14.
  51. ^ Mannheim, Markus (6 July 2013). "Top-heavy department will shed its executives". The Canberra Times. Fairfax Media. Archived from the original on 18 August 2013. Retrieved 18 September 2013.
  52. ^ Podger, Andrew (24 July 2013), FactCheck: do the Liberals have 'a secret plan' to axe 20,000 public service jobs?, The Conversation, archived from the original on 22 August 2013
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  55. ^ State of the Service Report: 2012–13 2013, p. 104.
  56. ^ State of the Service Report: 2011–12 2012, p. 107.
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References and further reading

External links

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