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11.1 The Public Service Act and the Public Service Commission

The Australian Public Service is the largest and most labour intensive employer in the country. Historically responsibility for recruitment, pay and conditions in the public service was centralised in the Public Service Board. However, over time, these functions were increasingly devolved to agency heads.

The Public Service Act 1999 is the principal Act governing the establishment and operation of the Australian Public Service. Its main objectives are to:

  • establish an apolitical public service that is efficient and effective in serving the government, the Parliament and the Australian public;
  • provide the legal framework for the employment, management and leadership of Australian Public Service employees;
  • define the powers, functions and responsibilities of agency heads (particularly with regards to accountabilities between agency heads and ministers), the Public Service Commissioner and the Merit Protection Commissioner; and
  • establish the rights and obligations of Australian Public Service employees.

The Australian Public Service Commission has statutory responsibilities for leading and shaping the Australian Public Service. It falls within the Prime Minister and Cabinet Portfolio and receives funding of $110 million and employs some 250 staff.

Unlike the former Public Service Board, the Australian Public Service Commission does not have a role to maintain centralised control over human resources, with agency heads receiving full managerial authority and responsibility under the Public Service Act.

There are different views on the appropriate role for the Australian Public Service Commission in a devolved public service. It has increasingly focussed on fee for service training delivery and the development of broad guidance for agencies on human resources matters.

The Commission of Audit will examine the ongoing role of the Australian Public Service Commission in greater detail as part of its considerations in its Phase Two Report.