Western Australia has a long, proud history of public service underpinned by a strong framework of public administration and accountability. The Public Service Act 1904 established the role of Public Service Commissioner as head of the service responsible for ‘ensuring the establishment and continuance of a proper standard of efficiency and economy’. Even before that, the Public Service Act 1900 covered public administration concepts including the composition of the service, the creation and abolition of departments and conduct of officers.
The inaugural Commissioner, Mr Martin Edward Jull, was noted as an admirable choice for the position given his proven administrative capacity, personal integrity and wide experience—he was a long-time public servant in the Department of Works. In 1905/06 he became responsible for ‘the biggest reform yet attempted in this State’, the reorganisation of the entire public service, commencement of the formidable task of classification and provision of guidelines for the service and establishment of machinery for recruiting, training and promotion.
In reflecting on his first 14 months as Commissioner, Jull declared that, ‘selection by examination … combined with reasonable security of tenure is the safest method in the long run of building up an efficient and honest permanent civil service. The incentive being to serve the country apart from any particular party’ (Tauman, 1983).
Much has changed in the 113 years since Jull took office, but the issues he faced such as budgetary pressures, the drive for efficiency, employment free of influence, the integrity of public officers and public sector reform remain relevant today. However, I am encouraged that the core principles of public administration and integrity in public service in this State endure.
Following the March State General Election the public sector commenced what is arguably one of the most wide-ranging public sector change processes in recent history.
The journey so far has shown that we have an agile and resilient workforce committed to implementing the Government’s agenda as efficiently and effectively as possible. Nevertheless, these events significantly shaped the work of the public sector during the year, and have influenced the nature of my seventh State of the sectors report.
I am fortunate to hold an independent statutory office that allows me to consult and collaborate with authorities across the State. In reflecting on my interactions with them over the past year, I found myself considering their challenges in the context of current pressures, and assessing how they have responded given the core principles of public service. Acting in the public interest and sustaining public trust being the cornerstone of these principles.
Public trust is the concept of trust created, built and maintained for the promotion of public welfare, not for the benefit of certain individuals. Public trust in Western Australian public authorities can be directly influenced by the way public officers go about their daily business of delivering services to the community. The community’s trust in public authorities is never more important than during periods of significant renewal and change.
In particular, the community needs reassurance services will continue to be delivered efficiently, effectively and with a high degree of integrity. This can only be achieved with an engaged, productive and diverse workforce, working diligently within a strongly governed environment underpinned by integrity.
Through analysis of data the Commission collects across the year and my regular interactions with authorities, I am satisfied our workforce is engaged, and diverse; that public administration and management is robust; and generally, decision making is being undertaken ethically. This suggests there is a strong foundation for trust in our public authorities.
While trust takes time to establish and build, it can be quickly lost and difficult to regain. This report explores some of the opportunities and challenges authorities have, and will continue to face as our sectors’ renew and change. Organisational performance and conduct of individuals will be determined in large part by culture, governance, capability and the frameworks for decision making.
Oversight and integrity agencies, such as the Commission, contribute to the perception of trust by assuring Parliament and the community that public sector standards are being met.
During the reporting year, integrity agencies commenced numerous conduct-related inquiries concerning Western Australian authorities and public officers. Reporting these cases is often in the public interest. Tabling reports in Parliament, and related coverage through the media, serve to highlight how small issues can become systemic, but also how authorities can prevent similar issues occurring in the future. This is the important balance we must meet as both compliance and prevention agents. Through our prevention and education work, I will continue to assist authorities to have the necessary arrangements in place to promote integrity, manage conduct-related matters effectively and notify misconduct if required.
Taking a systematic and considered approach to managing change is imperative to enduring renewal and sustaining public trust. I believe there are four key elements for successfully navigating change: culture; governance; capability, and in particular leadership capability; and appropriate decision-making frameworks.
We have seen significant change in public sector leadership as the sector works to implement the Government’s policies to reduce departments by 40 per cent and the Senior Executive Service by 20 per cent. We have moved quickly to confirm the leadership of the public sector, acknowledging that certainty in this area has positive and immediate benefits to the confidence of the workforce and the community.
The loss of long-serving and knowledgeable public sector leaders presents a range of opportunities and challenges related to the workforce. The sector has to consider the capability of officers in positions of trust, middle managers and the talent pipeline to ensure seamless service delivery to the community. Continuing to invest in the development of leaders of the future including graduates, trainees and people from all diversity groups, is in my view of paramount importance in times of change.
Communication, systems, procurement, data and information protection, and record keeping also present risks needing to be managed in times of change. Dealing appropriately with, and responsively to, all of these factors contribute to public trust and community confidence in public authorities. Leaders need to ‘keep their eye on the ball’ to ensure ethical organisations with engaged employees continue to deliver high-quality outcomes for the community.
I expect the next year will present all sectors with ongoing challenges—some foreseen, others not. Public officers should be open to the prospects and opportunities change may bring. Engaged and committed public officers who are at the frontline of our interface with the community have the ability to engender public trust, which is in all of our interests.
Page last updated 19 October 2017