8 February 2013

The Australian Parliament passed the Public Service Amendment Act yesterday. There are some aspects in common with the changes that will be made to the Federal Public Service and the proposals in the State Sector and Public Finance Amendment Bill to improve aspects of the New Zealand Public Service. (Public submissions on that Bill closed yesterday.)

On a commencement date yet to be announced, the Australian legislation will;
• revise governance arrangements for Australian Public Service leadership, and strengthen the independence of Secretaries
• provide a clearer, shorter statement of the Australian Public Service Values
• state more clearly the role of the Australian Public Service Commissioner as a central authority for the development and stewardship of the Australian Public Service
• amend the Merit Protection Commissioner’s review functions, the Australian Public Service Code of Conduct and the handling of misconduct, and
• improve aspects of the Public Service Act to address a number of operational matters that have arisen since the last major changes in 1999.

The Australian legislation has a focus on culture. The Values, Code of Conduct, and the Employment Principles are codified through the new law. By comparison, the New Zealand proposals have an outcome focus, facilitating Better Public Services and cooperation across government. Several expressions for example “stewardship” find their way into the amending legislation in both countries.

In what is a memorable (but corny?) acronym the Australians now list their five values (reduced from 15) as ICARE – Impartial, Committed to service, Accountable, Respectful, Ethical. But, perhaps something to do with being Australian, the actual order in the statute is CEARI.

The four headings under which the 18 standards of integrity and conduct for the New Zealand State Services are grouped seem to have been largely forgotten (and no revitalisation is evident in the amending legislation). They were deliberately not referred to as values to avoid any confusion with Department-specific values already in place in much of the Public Service. Interestingly a short-lived notion when the code was being developed in 2006 was to have an acronym Integrity FIRST – reflecting the obligations to be Fair, Impartial, Responsible, Selfless and Trustworthy. However the then State Services Commissioner considered this to be more crass than clever. Selfless was dropped and the standards were grouped about being Fair, Impartial Responsible and Trustworthy.

The Employment Principles restate that the Australian Public Service is an impartial, fair, diverse, merit based, career service.