Streamlining the workforce

In this section:

Looking back over the last decade, public sector FTE grew, but at a rate slower than the State’s population growth. Over this time, 10 new departments were established, with the number of public sector agencies in the order of 80. This is significantly higher than in other Australian jurisdictions who have moved to create a smaller number of ‘super departments’ in recent years.

At the conclusion of the resources boom in 2013, the growth rate of the Western Australian population slowed and commodity prices began to fall. As a consequence, financial constraint was exercised in the public sector. The period saw the implementation of a number of workforce management policies including Machinery of Government (MOG) changes, ‘recruitment freezes’, voluntary severance schemes, an FTE ceiling and a wages cap.

As a result of these policies, FTE had been slowly trending downward. With the relaxing of workforce management policies in more recent years, public sector agencies replenished FTE–particularly in front-line services in the education, health and corrective services sectors–to meet a growing demand for services. Consequently, there was increase in FTE in the past financial year.

The Government’s public sector pre-election platform focused on decreasing the size and increasing the efficiency of the public sector to repair the State’s worsening budget position. The new Government moved quickly to implement its significant change agenda after being elected in March 2017. It announced a range of measures aimed at streamlining the public sector to drive efficiency and effectiveness.

‘…success is possible when changes are well planned and properly implemented, where a strong rationale for the changes can be made, and where staff can be positively engaged in making them happen.’

London School of Economics: Public Policy and UK Institute for Government, 2010, MOG changes from 1979 to 2009

Major initiatives include the Service Priority Review, Sustainable Health Review, establishment of Directors General working groups, a highly complex and wide-ranging MOG agenda, and most recently a Voluntary Targeted Separation Scheme, earmarking 3000 voluntary redundancies for the public sector.

Employee insights

Efficiency and effectiveness

  • 81% agree their work group use work time and resources efficiently
  • 81% agree they feel empowered to do their job effectively


  • 77% agree their workgroup was encouraged to come up with new and better ways of doing things
  • 72% agree their workgroup implemented new approaches in the previous 12 months


  • 83% agree their work group works well with other areas of the organisation
Customer service
  • 88% agree their work group is committed to providing excellent customer service

Our analysis

There appears to be positive perceptions and intent around being efficient and effective at an individual and team level. Leaders will need to consider how to drive a collective lift in the workforces’ ability to continuously build these capabilities and practice them in order to achieve Government’s desired whole-of-sector outcomes.

Change in Western Australian population, public sector FTE, and composition of the public sector, June 2008 to June 2017

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Machinery of Government

The Commission has a role in facilitating the Government’s MOG agenda under the PSM Act. The MOG changes centre around a 40 per cent reduction in public sector agencies, from 41 to 25 ‘super departments’. The Government states, ‘The changes…are the first step in driving cultural change and delivering multi-million-dollar cost savings across government to assist with much-needed budget repair. This significant reform is aimed at creating collaborative departments focused on whole-of-Government objectives and delivering services in the most efficient way, including using new technology’ (Government of Western Australia, 2017).

For many years it has been suggested the imperative for the public sector will be ‘to do more with less’. The current renewal seeks to consolidate this through both structural changes to the public sector workforce and changes to the way the sector operates.

The Government’s proposed whole-of-sector KPIs linked to Directors General and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) remuneration, aim to encourage collaboration on key community issues and deliver better services. The Service Priority Review is currently considering the new framework which will cause the Commission to ‘reimagine’ existing CEO performance agreement processes in line with any recommendations.

While MOG changes took effect on 1 July 2017, there is still considerable work to be undertaken to fully realise and implement the renewal agenda, including legislative, structural and workforce changes.

The Machinery of Government reforms aim to

reduce red tape to deliver services in a more efficient and effective way

create collaborative departments focused on whole-of-government objectives

initiate new opportunities for the public sector to drive long-term change


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Senior leadership

In line with election commitments, the Government also implemented policy to reduce the Senior Executive Service (SES) by 20 per cent. The SES is a cohort of senior leaders, including many Directors General and CEOs, with specific management or policy responsibilities. When MOG changes were announced there were 521 members of the SES, requiring the reduction of 104 SES members to meet the policy commitment.

The MOG changes and policy to reduce the SES numbers resulted in immediate changes to the 

Tier 1 leadership profile of the public sector. Existing Tier 1 leaders were given directions to act as heads of the new departments from the implementation date of 1 July. As a consequence a number of experienced, long-serving Tier 1 leaders were displaced. 

The Commission moved quickly to confirm the permanent leadership of the sector, commencing a quarantined recruitment process on 3 July, acknowledging certainty and transparency in this area fosters the trust of the workforce and the community. The Premier announced the permanent Tier 1 leaders of the new departments on 30 August.

The recruitment, development, performance management and exit of senior leaders in the public sector remains a priority for the Commission and for the sector more broadly. 

As leadership is aspirational for many public officers, leadership roles must be valued and be seen as valuable in developing strong sectors and communities. Developing consistency in the sectors’ approach to managing senior leaders capability in particular, will play a significant role in ensuring effective stewardship of the sectors into the future.

As the renewal agenda continues, Government will commence a second phase of changes relating to public sector agencies not already impacted by MOG. This may impact on the Tier 1 leadership profile of the sector.

Machinery of Government: SES by numbers in 2017

28 February 1 July 15 September




members of the SES

members of the SES

members of the SES







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Flatter structures

With fewer people in the SES and other senior leadership positions across the sector, the medium-to-long term strategy will be around redefining and flattening organisational structures.

Flat structures are typically intended to break down barriers and improve ‘lateral’ communication and networking across different parts and elements of the organisation (Baker, 2007). Over the longer term, public sector agencies will be required to consider how to break down organisational silos in an effort to streamline processes, reduce duplication, more effectively share information and data and ultimately deliver better services to the community. It is anticipated this will take some time to fully achieve.

Employee insights
Change management
  • 54% agree their organisation manages change well
  • 61% agree senior leaders keep them informed about changes to the organisation
  • 60% agree senior leaders provide effective leadership in their organisation 

Women in leadership

A consequence of major structural reform is the potential for a diminishing diversity profile—especially around women in leadership. Among the public sector agencies impacted by MOG, there were 13 female Tier 1 leaders prior to the changes taking effect, compared with only six after. 

Survey results show that public authorities are working towards achieving gender equality at all classification levels. Authorities noted establishing working groups and committees to promote and facilitate women in non-traditional and leadership roles, targeted recruitment of female graduates in traditionally male-dominated occupations and the implementation of whole-of-authority gender equality strategies and initiatives.

Only 16 per cent noted they had set and achieved targets around increasing the representation of women in their workforces with almost 40 per cent citing not advertising many jobs over the last 12 months as a barrier to setting and achieving targets.

Our analysis

Employees in senior roles (those earning $150 000 and above) overwhelming agree with these statements, where mid-level employees (those earning between $85 000 and $149 999) were most likely to disagree with them.

Females in supervisory roles, employees aged 24 to 35 and 65 and above were more likely to agree their organisation manages change well and senior managers keep them informed about change.


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Page last updated 19 October 2017