Tuesday, 1 August 2023
Public Service Amendment Bill 2023; Consideration in Detail
by leave—I move amendment (3) as circulated in my name:
(3) Schedule 1, page 8 (after line 25), after item 8, insert:
8A Section 45
Before "The Commissioner", insert "(1)".
8B At the end of section 45
Requirements for appointments
(2) Before recommending to the Governor-General on or after the commencement of this subsection that a person be appointed as the Commissioner, the Prime Minister must:
(a) ensure that the person was selected as the result of a process that includes:
(i) public advertising of selection criteria for the position; and
(ii) assessment of applications against the selection criteria by an independent panel consisting of at least 3 members and chaired by a former judge; and
(iii) shortlisting of at least 3 persons for the appointment who are certified, in writing, by the panel to meet all of the selection criteria; and
(b) ensure that the person appointed is one of the shortlisted candidates.
(3) Within 7 days after an appointment is made, the Prime Minister must cause a copy of the written certification (referred to in subparagraph (2)(a)(iii)) for the person appointed to be:
(a) tabled in each House of the Parliament; or
(b) if a House is not sitting—presented to the Presiding Officer of that House for circulation to the members of that House.
(4) In this section:
former judge means:
(a) a former Justice of the High Court; or
(b) a former judge of the Federal Court of Australia; or
(c) a former judge of the Supreme Court of a State or Territory.
8C Subsections 58(6) to (8)
Repeal the subsections, substitute:
Requirements for appointments
(6) Before recommending to the Governor-General on or after the commencement of this subsection that a person be appointed as the Secretary of a Department, the Prime Minister must have regard to a report:
(a) prepared by the Commissioner; and
(b) describing a selection process conducted by the Commissioner for the appointment.
(7) The selection process conducted by the Commissioner must include:
(a) publishing the selection criteria for the appointment; and
(b) widely consulting for candidates (using professional executive-search expertise as appropriate); and
(c) rigorously considering candidates against the selection criteria; and
(d) preparing a ranked shortlist of at least 3 candidates to provide to the Prime Minister.
(8) If under subsection (1) a person is appointed who is not on the shortlist referred to in paragraph (7)(d), the Prime Minister must:
(a) prepare a report naming the person, and giving reasons why the person has the appropriate qualifications, skills and experience to be appointed; and
(b) cause a copy of that report to be tabled in each House of the Parliament within 7 sitting days of that House after the day the person is appointed under subsection (1).
I commend the government for starting the process of giving effect to the recommendations of the 2019 Independent Review of the Australian Public Service, the Thodey review. The Thodey review was a significant piece of work resulting in a report with wide-ranging proposals for how the Public Service could be enhanced and improved. Given the shocking revelations of the Royal Commission into the Robodebt Scheme, these changes could not come at a better time. With the Public Service Amendment Bill 2023 we have an opportunity to rebuild and strengthen the independence and integrity of the service, but we need to get it right. So today I rise to propose an amendment to improve this bill.
In amendment (3) the changes I propose aim to strengthen the appointment process for departmental secretaries and the Australian Public Service Commissioner. These are modest amendments designed to foster greater integrity within the operation of the Public Service by creating a more independent and transparent appointment process for these important roles. I have previously tabled in this place a private member's bill which would introduce an independent selection process for major Commonwealth public appointments, my 'ending jobs for mates' bill.
The amendments I'm proposing today to the appointment process of the departmental secretaries and Public Service Commissioner draw upon that gold standard model for Commonwealth appointments. However, these amendments also acknowledge the close working relationship that is required between a departmental secretary and a minister, a relationship of trust and confidence, so they allow for a higher level of ministerial discretion than for the other major Commonwealth public appointments. The amendments in relation to the appointment of the departmental secretaries are also similar and consistent with what was recommended in the Thodey review.
In short, these amendments dictate that, when a department secretary is to be appointed, the Public Service Commissioner would be required to conduct a robust selection process, including publishing selection criteria for the appointment, widely consulting for candidates, rigorously considering candidates against the selection criteria and preparing a shortlist of at least three candidates for the Prime Minister to consider. If the Prime Minister decides to select somebody for the position who is not on the shortlist, they must table a report within seven sitting days of the appointment naming the person and providing reasons why that person has the appropriate qualifications, skills and experience for the role.
For the appointment of the Public Service Commissioner, the so-called 'guardian of an impartial Australian Public Service', as described by Thodey, there are a couple of additional requirements: that the independent panel be chaired by a former judge, and that the Prime Minister consult with the Leader of the Opposition on the appointment. This is in recognition that the Australian Public Service Commissioner is a unique role and reinforces to the Australian public the independence and impartiality of both the commissioner and the Australian Public Service.