Let me begin by quoting Part 3, section 10 of the Public Service Act 1999 which has the heading APS Values (APS = Australian Public Service):
Committed to service
(1) The APS is professional, objective, innovative and efficient, and works collaboratively to achieve the best results for the Australian community and the Government.
(2) The APS demonstrates leadership, is trustworthy, and acts with integrity, in all that it does.
(3) The APS respects all people, including their rights and their heritage.
(4) The APS is open and accountable to the Australian community under the law and within the framework of Ministerial responsibility.
(5) The APS is apolitical and provides the Government with advice that is frank, honest, timely and based on the best available evidence.
Number 5 is the interesting one: the APS is apolitical. For those unfamiliar with the term, our friends at Wikipedia provide a succinct explanation:
Being apolitical can also refer to situations in which people take an unbiased position in regard to political matters. The Collins Dictionary defines apolitical as “politically neutral; without political attitudes, content, or bias”.
And that is exactly how the Australian Public Service is. And this defines the code of conduct demanded of an employee of the APS. It looks like all that is about to change:
Workers at [the Department of] Industry were told on September 20 – 12 days after their secretary Don Russell was sacked by the Abbott Government on its first day in office – to quit if they didn’t want to implement the new government’s agenda.
In other words, let the politicising begin.
It’s nothing new from a Coalition Government. From the time John Howard won office in 1996 one of his first actions was to turn the Public Service into a political ally. (Read more here about his swift move and a more recent reflection of it here). But Howard’s response was more transparent; openly replacing department heads with ones that could best be described as Howard loyalists. The latest move since Abbott took office lacks transparency. It’s sneaky. It goes against the grain of the Act.
What the hell is going on? The Public Service is apolitical. Let’s keep it that way. We don’t want the Public Service turned into an arm of the Liberal Party.
But the Government obviously has other ideas.