I was impressed by Dr Gordon de Brouwer as the first thing he said to a small group who met at Martin place this afternoon was ‘please call me Gordon.”
This is the way Vaclav Havel and John Hatton would start any small group discussions bringing everyone to the same egalitarian level …
After all, at its heart, the Australian Public Service Commission is about people. The people who work in the Australian Public Service around the nation – in policy, programs and service delivery – proudly demonstrating their spirit of service each day and the people of this nation who the APS serves.
And Sarah and Gordon requested Frank and Fearless discussion with stress on Chatham House rules …
Networking is not about just connecting people. It’s about connecting people with people, people with ideas, and people with opportunities.
Discussion points covered variety of topics from small and large organisations. This kind of gatherings go long way to break down silos
“My vision over the next five years will be to deliver a world-leading service, an APS that is a great place to work with rewarding careers for our people, and an unwavering focus on integrity and capability,” the APS commissioner said.
An interview with Dr Gordon de Brouwer PSM
Without the HR profession, there won’t be a reform
Dr Gordon de Brouwer PSM was appointed as Secretary for Public Sector Reform in 2022. He has over 35 years’ experience in public policy, including as Secretary of the Department of the Environment and Energy and senior roles in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Treasury, ANU and the Reserve Bank of Australia. In 2019, he was a panel member of the Thodey Review, the Independent Review of the APS.
This made him a natural choice to head up the government’s ambitious new APS reform program which will build on the principles of the Thodey Review and aims to put people and businesses at the centre of everything.
At the heart of the reform are four themes, aiming to achieve an APS that:
- embodies integrity in everything it does
- puts people and business at the centre of policy and services
- is a model employer, and
- has the capability to do its job well.
We met with Dr de Brouwer to discuss how the reform program will strengthen the public sector, and the important role the HR profession will play. He explains, “When the new government came in, they knew they wanted to draw on the Thodey Review, they had election commitments, and they wanted to be ambitious. They said, we want to be ambitious about this, we want to be comprehensive, and we want to see a step change in the service.”
Thank you for speaking with us today, Dr de Brouwer. It’s been roughly six months since your appointment and you have a substantial agenda to work through, how do you plan on approaching it?
The first step is acknowledging the program will be a challenge and likely take a decade to achieve. Last year, the government articulated what its priorities are around the reform and this year we begin delivering on the elements of those four priorities.
Those elements might start off as high-level policies, before we move to the next level of standards, partnerships, and evaluation practices. Each action we achieve together will influence and lead to the next.
While the themes have been identified, the goal is to work with HR staff to develop and implement each quality deeply into the APS.
We recognise how much the profession matters; each individual HR staff member is going to play a role in ensuring the reform is delivered and reaches directly into the working lives of every public servant. We need to ensure staff feel the reform is not something foreign or external to them. It sounds like there's a lot to do, and it can be a bit daunting, but each step follows in sequence.
Integrity, people, performance capability, being a model employer, it seems HR is at the heart of each of the four themes. How do you see the Reform Office drawing on the HR professional stream to achieve your goals?
Put simply, without the HR profession, there won’t be a reform. The work HR professionals perform, and their function, is incredibly valuable in achieving each priority.
Integrity was the first theme Minister Katy Gallagher spoke of in her speech. We will need our HR teams to explain to the wider APS the meaning behind stewardship, what it means for every public servant and how it can help them do their job better.
People and business are at the centre of everything we do, so we need to examine how we currently engage with the public, businesses, community groups, and universities and look to how we want to engage with them.
We want to position the APS as a model employer, which looks beyond simply meeting diversity targets and a shift in mindset. For example, we have processes in place to increase First Nations people in the service, but we need to increase this across the board, including at senior levels. There is work underway, led by HR professionals, on bringing standards and conditions together across the service.
Finally, we need to ensure we’re not just building capability but also reviewing and evaluating it as we progress.
You mentioned stewardship, can you describe what you think the role of stewardship looks like for a HR professional in the APS?
When you apply the concept of stewardship to HR professionals in the APS, the focus is on people and providing them with a service. To be effective, you don’t just need a good HR policy or functional recruitment policies or the ability to implement a performance management process. You need an overall system that works.
You need a system that delivers the outcomes you set out to achieve and exhibits the behaviours that you expect of people who work in the public sector, qualities like integrity, respect, impartiality, professionalism.
HR staff aren't just delivering a function, they're responsible for that function working well and developing ideas or suggestions to improve it. Ultimately, HR professionals are the stewards of the HR system and responsible for its delivery and success.
It’s nice to hear the concept model employer being used for the APS, how would you describe the terminology for the HR profession and what does it mean to be a model employer?
The Minister wants the public sector to be a leader as an employer, for us to be proud to be public servants, and to have the best workplaces in the country.
The reality is, it’s a competitive market and we need to attract good people to work in the public service. It’s a difficult job so we need a strong value proposition to attract people. This is especially important as appetites and views of work change, and what younger people want is also changing. We need to evolve into a contemporary modern workplace.
APS HR staff will play a leading role in shifting the overall mindset, how we present our workplaces as a leader and how to be proud of it.
Finally, we asked Dr de Brouwer how he felt about working with HR professionals.
I’m honoured and delighted to be able to engage with the HR workforce and I look forward to the opportunity to hear more from the profession about what it sees as areas for priority and what we can do to support you in your work.