The Australian Public Service provides policy advice to the Commonwealth Government and facilitates the delivery of programs to the community. The Australian Public Service is part of the broader public sector, which includes parliamentary staff, statutory authorities, a separate public service for each of the States and Territories and local government employees. As at February 2001, some 1,427,500 Australians, 15.7% of the employed work force, worked in the public sector.
There are currently eighteen departments in the Australian Public Service. Each department is managed by a chief executive officer, or Secretary, who is responsible to the relevant Minister for the efficient, effective and ethical use of resources. The Minister, in turn, takes political responsibility for the actions of the department. Each department administers particular legislation that is specified in Administrative Arrangements. The management of financial and human resources is governed by legislation such as the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 and the Public Service Act 1999. Public servants are required to uphold the values and standards of behaviour specified in the Public Service Act 1999. These include responsiveness to the Government, high ethical standards, accountability, impartiality, merit in employment, integrity, courtesy, lawfulness, confidentiality and the proper use of resources. As well as answering to the relevant Minister, the Australian Public Service is accountable to the Australian community through a variety of mechanisms including parliamentary committees, administrative law, the Ombudsman and the Auditor-General.
Over the last two decades, the Australian Public Service has undergone substantial change, both in its internal management processes and in its methods of service delivery. Examples of management changes include the introduction of accrual budgeting in the 1999-2000 Budget, an emphasis on reaching performance targets, the costing of government ‘outputs’, the imposition of capital use charges, the devolution of responsibility to departments and more flexible employment practices. Examples of changes to service delivery include the trend towards providing information and other services on the Internet, increased contracting of service delivery to the private sector and the establishment of customer service charters.
Public resources are harnessed by the public sector to give practical effect to government policies. Traditionally, this process has been known as public administration. Increasingly, it is known as public management, reflecting the growing expectation that public sector managers will take responsibility for achieving results, as well as the increasing emphasis on efficiency.