Five-year terms for top public servants

Departmental secretaries will have their terms extended to a minimum five years, with a possible extension of another five, under legislation expected to be passed by Parliament on Thursday.

The Public Service Amendment Bill strengthens governance arrangements for the federal public service leadership, including reforms that strengthen the independence of secretaries and provide a clear statement of their role and the performance expected of them.

The bill also introduces a clearer, shorter statement of the public service values, reinforcing the importance of a positive culture and environment for a high-performing public service.

Secretaries will be appointed initially for five years, or for a shorter period if the person requests it.

They can be re-appointed to the

same post, or a different department. The bill strengthens the apolitical nature of the APS by restoring the arrangement that operated under the Public Service Act 1922 whereby the appointment, and termination of appointment, of departmental secretaries is a matter for the Governor-General.

The government says this restores the gold-standard arrangement that supported the integrity and consistency of Australia's public sector for generations. The present act says appointment and termination is a matter for the Prime Minister.

The change is symbolic and does not hinder a Prime Minister shuffling the upper echelons. It will not unduly constrain the sacking of non-performing secretaries.

The legislation provides for a Prime Minister to draw on the talents and experience of former secretaries for special projects or tasks.

The legislation creates the Secretaries Board, which includes the commissioner, and replaces the Management Advisory Committee.

Public Service Minister Gary Gray believes the legislation provides Australia with a public service that is modern, agile and responsive, leading to a more efficient and effective use of federal resources.

Community and Public Sector Union national secretary Nadine Flood said the union welcomed any measures that ensured the service remained free and independent. ''We are pleased to note this bill has received bipartisan support and it goes a long way to fixing some long-standing issues in the PS Act.''

"However, the key challenges facing many public servants right now are increasing workloads, decreasing funding and the looming threat of 20,000 job losses if the Coalition gets into power."

This story Five-year terms for top public servants first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.