House debates

Tuesday, 1 August 2023


Public Service Amendment Bill 2023; Consideration in Detail

4:38 pm

Photo of Dai LeDai Le (Fowler, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I move amendments (1) and (2) as circulated in my name:

(1) Schedule 1, page 3 (after line 16), after item 2, insert:

2A Paragraph 10A(1)(g)

Repeal the paragraph, substitute:

(g) recognises and promotes the diversity of the Australian community and fosters a diverse perspective in the workplace.

(2) Schedule 1, page 5 (after line 8), after item 5, insert:

5A Section 18

Repeal the section, substitute:

18 Promotion of employment equity

An Agency Head must:

(a) establish a workplace diversity program:

(i) to allow for the proactive development of individuals of diverse backgrounds; and

(ii) to assist in giving effect to the APS Employment Principles; and

(b) promote diverse and inclusive recruitment within the Agency to give effect to the APS Employment Principles.

The Australian Public Service is a privileged profession within Australian society, and there is an expectation that it is carried out with both diligence and competency—and now, with the introduction of this bill, the added value of stewardship. However, the sector is not able to wholly meet Australians' expectations if the workplace does not foster the diverse and multicultural needs.

Australia's culturally diverse population is drawn from more than 300 ancestries and is visible in everyday life. Yet, as soon as one views the leadership circles of many institutions, including the Australian Public Service, this rich tapestry of cultures and ethnicities of representation suddenly disappears. The deep-set circle of networks, entrenched views on leadership styles and structures of traditional Australian institutions have created many systemic barriers for diverse voices, lived experiences and perspectives to be heard and included. This is a significant loss of opportunity, because there is a wealth of experience and knowledge from CALD talent that remains untapped.

A Public Service that has a diversified workplace will enable greater representation, diverse perspectives to problem-solving and solutions, an increase in expertise and a collaborative environment. As stated in David Thodey's report, the APS requires a whole of service diversity and inclusion strategy to ensure that talents are well utilised and harnessed to serve the Australian public. Particularly, the APS would benefit from taking advantage of individuals from various corners of life and perspectives.

It is disappointing that the government has rejected my amendment to make it law, and the APS must act on implementing the necessary changes that would enable a diverse and robust APS. In rejecting the amendment, the government will miss the opportunity to really reform the APS with the contribution of a member, like myself, who has lived experience and speaks from a perspective that's often lacking at the decision-making level, as well as incorporating Thodey's recommendation 25 on diversity and inclusion.

The Public Service Act touches base on the recognition of diverse communities within the APS workplace. The language of this notion of recognising diverse communities is quite condescending. This, in itself, shows how important it is to include the amendment that I propose. CALD communities do not need just to be recognised. We know our value, our contribution and the impact we have on the economy and society overall. If the government had accepted my amendments, it wouldn't just need to have recognised us but, rather, it could have implemented and put into action policies that can strengthen the employment principle based on diversity.

The proposed amendment to paragraph 10A of the Public Service Amendment Bill would ensure that a career based Public Service is one that acknowledges and promotes the diversity of the Australian community and creates an environment where diverse ideas and lived experiences are valued. This is in line with Thodey's recommendation that the APS should address the need for greater representation of diverse groups and perspectives. By having such a direct APS employment principle, encouraging diversity of views and experiences, the APS would have the confidence that their voice has power and can be utilised to address diverse Australian communities' needs and expectations.

The proposed amendment to section 18 will place a positive obligation on agency heads to ensure that a workplace diversity program is established, to allow for proactive development of individuals of diverse backgrounds and promote diverse recruitment within the agency, to give effect to the APS employment principles. Ultimately, highlighting the benefits and value-added proposition of a diverse and inclusive workforce will ensure that the APS can deliver for the needs of our wider community.

4:43 pm

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (New England, National Party, Shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

For the benefit of the House, I want to briefly speak to the consideration-in-detail stage of this debate. The opposition thanks the work of the crossbench and the member for Fowler, who has just spoken, on the amendments that have been circulated.

The opposition will not be in a position to support the amendments moved but intends to consider these matters when the bill is before the Senate. We will be reserving our own position on this bill, noting that we have some concerns with how the bill is drafted and will seek assurances and changes from the government prior to giving final support. Noting this, we will be supporting the passage of the bill so that it can be considered by the Senate.

4:44 pm

Photo of Patrick GormanPatrick Gorman (Perth, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I, too, want to thank the member for Fowler for engaging in this discussion around how we make sure that we have the very best Public Service delivering for the very best country in the world. I inform members of the House that the act already states, in section 10A:

(1) The APS is a career based public service that:

…   …   …

(g) recognises the diversity of the Australian community and fosters diversity in the workplace.

So we already have something in the act that goes to the matters which the member is rightly advocating for in terms of recognising that diversity in our Public Service is a strength and something which we can strengthen further. This amendment bill would replace a substantially similar section of the act with other words, and, as I noted, the current act already recognises and fosters diversity in the workplace.

One of the key pillars of the government's ongoing APS reform agenda is for the Australian public sector to be a model employer. I think we all know that that expectation is something which every minister of the Albanese government takes very seriously in terms of the conversations we have with our departments and in terms of the responsibilities we have through the Australian Public Service Commission and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

There is already significant work underway—commissioned by the Minister for the Public Service and being led by the Australian Public Service Commission—to promote further diversity in the Australian Public Service. This includes the work that is already underway to develop an APS Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Employment Strategy. The CALD employment strategy is something which will ensure we harness the full talents of this nation, as the member for Fowler spoke about. There is huge benefit in doing so. We recognise that, and that is why we've commenced that work. We're consulting widely in the development of the CALD Employment Strategy—including across the Australian Public Service and other jurisdictions and with the Australian Human Rights Commission, community groups and academic and subject-matter experts—because we want to get this right.

The result of this work will come to government in the coming months and we will consider it closely. Therefore, it is the view of the government that these amendments are not necessary to ensure that the government is promoting diversity in the Public Service. We share the value of recognising that diversity in the Public Service is something which many in this place champion, and we know it will get us the best results—again, not just for the Public Service but for the community which it serves.

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The question before the chair is that the amendments moved by the honourable member for Fowler be agreed to.

4:56 pm

Photo of Sophie ScampsSophie Scamps (Mackellar, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

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.

5:00 pm

Photo of Patrick GormanPatrick Gorman (Perth, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to thank the member for Mackellar for her engagement throughout this process of the bill progressing through the House and her commitment to building that robust Australian Public Service, which is regarded by all Australians and internationally as one where those values of integrity are key. Going to why the government is not going to support these amendments, I will firstly note that the bill that we have in front of us today. The Public Service Amendment Bill 2023, is part of an ambitious and enduring APS reform agenda. This bill in large part reflects a range of ideas and policy initiatives outlined by the Minister for the Public Service in October 2022 and has been consulted on widely. But it is just one part of our APS reform agenda.

The proposed amendment to repeal the value of 'ethical' and add new values of integrity doesn't, in the government's view, substantially change the meaning of the existing value. The existing value of 'ethical' requires that 'the APS demonstrates leadership, is trustworthy, and acts with integrity in all that it does'. So, the commitment to integrity is already there in the existing act, and, as I said before, we do expect that our Public Service is seen as one where integrity is key to everything it does. Furthermore, we see that the new value of 'excellence' is well represented by the values of being committed to service and respectful—that is: 'The APS is professional, objective, innovative and efficient and works collaboratively to achieve the best results for the Australian community and the government.' So, again, we see that these matters are already addressed.

Going to the questions around the proposed appointment of the Australian Public Service Commissioner, we believe that this is far too highly prescriptive for appointing a very important role that we in this place look to for leadership of the Public Service and that public servants themselves look for in leadership. But we do think that to be that prescriptive about the forming of an independent selection panel, so prescriptive of who could be the chair in saying that it must be a former judge and requiring that in some cases a former judge is the only person who could be appointed as chair, when you are looking for people who have broad understanding, knowledge and experience of the Australian Public Service—its history, the good parts of its culture and what it is seeking to do for the future—may result in unintended consequences.

Then we get to the questions around the proposed appointment of an agency secretary. We believe this is too fundamental a change in the process. It would require a far broader consultation, not just with other members of parliament but with many of those who require those secretaries to be their leaders in these Public Service organisations. What this amendment would do, for the information of members of the House, is repeal existing subsections 58(6) to 58(8) and replace them with the new provisions. The amendment would require the APS commissioner to have sole responsibility to prepare a report and would remove a range of consultation mechanisms that are already there. And I think one of the things we see when it comes to getting good advice to government from the public sector is that consultation and different points of view are a good thing. We don't believe that the case for that fundamental change has been made. It is a substantive decision and one that we think would need quite wideranging consultation.

I do note that the Thodey review recommends that this should be a joint function of the APS commissioner and the secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, so it would be going against that recommendation. And we believe that it's appropriate that the secretary of the lead coordinating agency—that is, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet—is involved in that very important appointment process for a secretary of a department. Thank you.

5:04 pm

Photo of Kylea TinkKylea Tink (North Sydney, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise in support of the proposed amendments moved by the member for Mackellar. What we've seen consistently from the member for Mackellar is a commitment to improving transparency, integrity and accountability in the ways in which appointments are made by governments, be it this government, any past government or a government into the future. There is no doubt that we keep being asked by the government to trust that their processes will be different, that there is a piece of legislation coming which will ultimately deal with appointments, but that piece of legislation is yet to be tabled.

I thank the member for Mackellar for continuing this fight and I urge the government, if they are not accepting these amendments today, to please actually prioritise the tabling of the legislation that they keep telling us is coming. Show us the ways in which you are bringing integrity, transparency and accountability back into the appointments process, because we are still not seeing that from this government. There is significant lack of information around how people who are taking charge of inquiries are being appointed and significant lack of information around how senior public servants are getting moved between departments. It's clear that while the intention may be there, the practice still very much in place is 'jobs for mates'.

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The question before the chair is that the amendment moved by the honourable member for Mackellar be agreed to.

5:14 pm

Photo of Allegra SpenderAllegra Spender (Wentworth, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I move amendments (1) to (6) as circulated in my name together:

(1) Schedule 1, item 2, page 3 (after line 16), after subsection 10(6), insert:


(7) The APS fosters and upholds integrity through honesty, ethical behaviour and the highest standards of professional conduct, where APS employees act in the public interest, maintain impartiality and avoid conflicts of interest.


(8) The APS fosters a culture in which recruitment, selection and promotion decisions are based on a fair and objective assessment of an individual's skills, qualifications, experience and abilities.


(9) The APS embodies a commitment to conducting government affairs in a manner that allows public scrutiny and fosters public trust by sharing information, engaging with the Australian community and promoting a culture of collaboration and inclusiveness.

(2) Schedule 1, item 3, page 4 (line 21), omit "not".

(3) Schedule 1, item 3, page 4 (line 22), omit "not".

(4) Schedule 1, page 9 (after line 20), after item 10, insert:

10A After Part 9


Part 9A—Other matters relating to Agency Heads

70 Requirements for Agency Head appointments

(1) An individual must not be appointed as an Agency Head on or after the commencement of this section unless:

(a) the Agency Minister for the Agency has made a declaration under subsection (2) in relation to the appointment of the individual; and

(b) the period within which the declaration may be disallowed under section 42 of the Legislation Act 2003 has ended; and

(c) the declaration has not been disallowed.

(2) The Agency Minister for an Agency may, by legislative instrument, declare that an individual has been selected for appointment as the Agency Head of the Agency.

(3) A declaration under subsection (2) must include the following:

(a) details of when, and the manner in which, the appointment was advertised;

(b) details of the selection process that was undertaken;

(c) the number of applicants who were considered at each stage of the selection process;

(d) the reasons that were determinative in selecting the individual for the appointment, as compared to other applicants.

(4) This section applies despite anything in this Act or any other Act.

(5) Schedule 1, item 12, page 11 (after line 7), at the end of section 78B, add:

Applicat ion to Parliamentary Service employee census

(9) If a survey of Parliamentary Service employees (within the meaning of the Parliamentary Service Act 1999), that is equivalent to the Australian Public Service Employee Census, is conducted in a financial year, this section applies in relation to the survey as if:

(a) a reference to an Agency were a reference to a Department of the Parliament established under that Act; and

(b) a reference to the Agency Head of an Agency were a reference to the Secretary of a Department within the meaning of that Act; and

(c) a reference to the Commissioner were a reference to the Parliamentary Service Commissioner appointed under that Act; and

(d) a reference to census results were a reference to the survey results.

(6) Schedule 1, item 12, page 11 (after line 7), after section 78B, insert:

78C Response to Independent Review of the Australian Public Service

(1) The Public Service Minister must prepare a written statement that sets out:

(a) a response to each recommendation made in the final report of the Independent Review of the Australian Public Service, published in December 2019; and

(b) timelines for implementation of each recommendation.

(2) The Public Service Minister must cause a copy of the written statement to be tabled in each House of the Parliament by no later than the last sitting day of that House in 2023.

The motivation behind these amendments is to strengthen what is a pretty weak bill. The government railed against the undermining of the Public Service's independence and integrity during their time in opposition. A slew of inquiries and investigations have exposed the extent of damage: inappropriate appointments to the AAT; secret ministries; the abuse of integrity law and independence through robodebt; and now serious questions around corruption in the Department of Home Affairs. Exposing the failures of the past, especially the failures of your opponents, is fine politics but the point of good government is to do better. This is the Albanese government's opportunity to build a strong, independent Public Service offering frank and fearless advice. We need a complete transformation, but this bill fails to deliver that.

The amendments I propose make a number of changes which would significantly enhance this bill, as well as enhance our Public Service. First, they would introduce integrity, merit and openness as values of the Australian Public Service. Second, they would make the APS purpose statement disallowable. As drafted in the bill, the purpose statement will be prepared by senior public servants and bind the Public Service, but with no oversight by the government or by parliament. If the government does not wish to oversee this, it must fall to parliament to do so. Third, the amendments would improve transparency and parliamentary oversight of executive appointments by requiring the minister to table a statement clearly setting out its recruitment process. This provision would also make appointments disallowable by the parliament, a power which I expect would be sparingly used but that would create a powerful incentive for the government to make appointments based on merit rather than on jobs for mates. Fourth, it would expand to the parliamentary departments the transparency provisions relating to the APS census. Finally, they would compel the minister to publish a comprehensive response to the Thodey review by the end of this year. The Thodey report has laid out a powerful vision for reform of the Public Service. If this government is serious about reform, it needs to act on its recommendations.

I believe these amendments should be uncontroversial. They strengthen the independence, effectiveness and transparency of our Public Service—objectives the government claims to be committed to achieving. I hope the government will reconsider their position and support these changes. Everyone in this place should support merit, integrity and openness in the Public Service. They are what Australians want and are one reason why the people of Wentworth sent me to this place. It's time the government backed up its fine words with actions.

5:18 pm

Photo of Patrick GormanPatrick Gorman (Perth, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

While I share the member for Wentworth's passion for ensuring Australia has the best quality Public Service anywhere in the world, I would have to respectfully disagree with the description of this bill as 'weak.' This bill gets things done, some of which have been waiting to happen since we received the Thodey report back in 2019. I also note that we can't dismiss the important processes that are started when you do things such as a royal commission, as was characterised just then. You do those deep royal commissions so that you can get the answers that only a royal commission can give to government around the sorts of improvements that we need. As the Prime Minister, the Minister for the Public Service, the Minister for Human Services and others have said, we are committed to reviewing that report, giving it due regard and, if necessary, legislating a response to that report. But I note that we brought this piece of legislation into the parliament prior to receiving that report. Some people in this place might think they can predict what was going to be in a royal commission report. We had to wait to receive that report to respond to it.

On the specific proposals in these amendments, it is important that we recognise that this bill is one part of an ongoing APS reform agenda, an agenda that has been developed over the last year. The consultation that has happened included some 11,000 people engaging. When we go back to 2019 for the Thodey review, I think there were 400 consultation sessions that were part of that review. We've had deep engagement when it comes to speaking with members of the Public Service, past and present. We've had engagement in this forum and other parliamentary forums. I do want to thank not just those who have engaged in the consultation but all of the public servants who engaged in this process. We had deep engagement with the Public Service in developing this piece of legislation.

What we are concerned about in particular with these amendments is that, while they are both detailed in nature and propose quite dramatic change, they haven't gone through that same process of consultation. There is a concern from the government that, when it comes to changes to the appointments of agency heads, including secretary appointments and making them disallowable instruments, that would head us in Australia more towards a system where you have political contestability over who those appointments are. I would hate to think that you get to a point where, to cut a deal in the Senate, you are changing who is the secretary of a department to appease someone's political interests. It would be the sort of thing—and we've seen this in other countries—where you see appointments overpoliticised because they become effectively subject to Senate confirmation hearings. You would see, potentially, appointments held hostage in the Senate and departments going without secretaries for months and months after they've been announced by the government.

When it comes to the other issues around changing and adding further values for the Australian Public Service, we believe that much of what the member has rightfully identified as the sorts of guidance that you'd want to give to public servants is already captured. The existing APS value of 'ethical', which I referred to before, is:

The APS demonstrates leadership, is trustworthy and acts with integrity, in all that it does.

We already have a section in the act as it stands today that states:

The APS is a career-based public service that:

…   …   …

(c) makes decisions relating to engagement and promotion that are based on merit…

That is already there. The existing APS value of 'accountable' states:

The APS is open and accountable to the Australian community under the law and within the framework of Ministerial responsibility.

We believe that these appropriately capture and send the right message to the Public Service. I note that it's an obligation on every public servant to uphold those values. I think there's also an obligation on all of us when we engage with public servants to uphold those values. So, while I really do welcome the deep engagements we've had from a range of members on this bill, the government won't be supporting these amendments.

5:23 pm

Photo of Allegra SpenderAllegra Spender (Wentworth, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you to the minister for the engagement on this bill. I just want to respond to a couple of points that you've raised. Firstly, on the question of the disallowable nature of the transparency of appointments, we consulted with the minister's office regarding these amendments, and, had you agreed to say, 'We'll pass this amendment without the disallowable piece,' frankly, we would have absolutely put it forward, but there was no engagement in terms of options for this to be removed in terms of being considered at all.

Secondly, you raise an issue around the disallowability. I thought very hard about this because I don't want to see the politicisation of appointments as you might see in countries like the US. However, if you look at the US, for example, the appointments that get most politicised are often political appointments, and deliberately so. They become very politicised. These are public sector appointments. These appointments should never be politicised. Part of the point of making it disallowable is to stop appointments being politicised, because if an appointment was very significantly politicised then you would expect it to be disallowed. I think what we are looking for is actually for the public sector to be less politicised than it currently is. Certainly, the history of appointments shows that there's actually an increasing politicisation of public sector appointments. That is partly what we are trying to address in this bill.

I note your points about the values of openness, merit and integrity. I note also that these are themes that were strongly in the Thodey review, and that is why I have drawn them out. I take your point about whether they're covered or not, but I think these are quite fundamental values that are worth drawing out. Certainly, we're very supported by, I think, the extensive consultation that the Thodey review addressed.

Finally, on the point of the Thodey review, I support, and I've certainly heard from other colleagues that they support, increased integrity in the public service. We support that investment and we're passionate about it, but we don't want to see a bill that doesn't go far enough while still not understanding where the government is going to go in relation to the Thodey review. That was why an amendment was put forward to say, 'Get a full view of the Thodey review.' We want to understand the government's direction of travel on this to a greater extent because the integrity our public service is critical to this country.

5:25 pm

Photo of Patrick GormanPatrick Gorman (Perth, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

A value that the member for Wentworth and I share that is very deeply held is the value of consulting and listening to people and making sure that we respond to those consultations. I want to very briefly note that the consultations on this bill involved 1,500 responses, received through consultation between 24 March and 28 April. We had public servants at all levels respond. We took a really deliberate decision as a government to make sure that we didn't just get feedback from those who are often involved in the development of government policy. We reached out across the service—people at all levels within the service.

When it comes to, particularly, the consultation on the new value of stewardship that we're inserting in this bill, we wanted to talk about what that meant in practice. I was really encouraged to see some of the reports we got back around what stewardship would mean for public servants in terms of recognising that long-term obligation they have. As I've said before, our public service is an institution, and we should treat it as such.

I want to note the other actions the government has taken when it comes to those broader questions of integrity measures. The government has established the National Anti-Corruption Commission. It's been in operation for a month today and something that many people in this place should be rightly proud that they have helped bring to life. We have announced an independent review of public-sector board appointments and processes. We have established the APS Integrity Taskforce. We've had some work led by the Australian Public Service Commissioner to establish a range of measures to strengthen behaviours and outcomes-based performance management within the public sector.

5:27 pm

Photo of Zoe DanielZoe Daniel (Goldstein, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll speak briefly in support of the member for Wentworth. With respect to the minister's comments, one point I will make is that we are once again being asked to trust the government on future intentions. We stand here not as individuals; we stand here as representatives of communities that have lost trust. They have lost trust in leadership, they have lost trust in government and, in many ways—particularly in light of robodebt and other things—have unfortunately lost trust in the public service.

In the reflections that you've heard today from the crossbench on this bill is a concern that once again we're seeing a cart-before-the-horse approach. I respect the minister's inclination to accept many of the recommendations of the Thodey review, but only part of that review is reflected within this bill. There will now be a process, of course, in the other place. I hope to see some of the concerns that have been brought by the crossbench reflected in amendments to the legislation before it lands in finality.

I finish by saying that the government puts bills on the table, I think, for debate and improvement by this place. The crossbench seeks to contribute to that, and all of us have made contributions in various ways. Reflecting on the comments made by my colleagues today, I consider the fact that, if the government had accepted the member for Mackellar's amendment, it might not have been necessary to accept the member for Wentworth's amendment because, if the jobs-for-mates issue were resolved with increased integrity, accountability, oversight and transparency, the necessity for further amendment might not have been needed. I finish by thanking the minister for the engagement and look forward to the further development of this legislation to improve it in the other place.

5:30 pm

Photo of Sophie ScampsSophie Scamps (Mackellar, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I just wanted to reiterate: thank you very much to the government for consulting with us on this. Integrity is a major issue for many of us on the crossbench. It was one of the most important issues at the last election. We thank the government for their moves on this. Yes, we do have a National Anti-Corruption Commission, yet it is only a first step. It investigates corruption after it has happened. What we are calling for is greater integrity to be built into all the different aspects of our political system and our democracy.

Unfortunately, the inquiry into board appointments does not go nearly far enough. What we're calling for is an independent selection process that is open, transparent and everyone can understand and have trust in for these most important Commonwealth appointments. The Public Service Commissioner is one of those vitally important appointments that is absolutely crucial to the integrity of our political system, so we would urge the government to look further into these, to look at how we can make these appointment processes far more independent and transparent. Thank you.

Question negatived.

Bill agreed to.