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NSW Public Sector reforms: out with Directors-General, in with Secretaries

by Judy Hurditch •
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On 24 February 2014, the Government Sector Employment Act 2013 (GSE Act) will replace the Public Sector Employment and Management Act 2002 with intended improvements in the way in which public services are delivered to the community by flattening agency organisational structures and bringing decision makers closer to service delivery. 

A spokesperson for the NSW Public Service Commission confirmed to Intermedium that on the day that the legislation comes into force, the title of Director-General will be replaced by the title of Secretary to denote the head of a Department.

The removal of this dated terminology is symbolic of other reforms that will flow from this legislation, which is the result of the O’Farrell government’s determination to modernise the NSW public sector as part of its NSW Plan ‘Towards 2021’.  The stated aim of the GSE Act is to ’provide a foundation for an innovative, professional and accountable public sector’. 

Chief among its expected key impacts is a reduction in senior executive management layers, currently amongst the most deep in the country. 

For non-executive employees, the GSE Act will take effect immediately upon commencement on 24 February 2014.  However, senior executive reforms across the Public Service will be completed over a three year period, to February 2017.

Transitional regulations will be made to ensure that there is no disruption to employment arrangements or services as the public services moves from the previous Act to the new. 

Under the GSE Act, the NSW Government aims to create employment arrangements which ‘facilitate high performance, excellent customer service delivery and rewarding careers’, according to Public Service Commissioner Graham Head.  Head has summarised the impacts of the GSE in his Foreword to an explanatory brochure which outlines the key features of the GSE Act.

Unlike the PSEM Act which it replaces, the GSE Act covers the Teaching Service, the NSW Police Force, the NSW Health Service, the Transport Service of NSW and ‘any other service of the Crown and any other bodies as prescribed (for example State owned corporations)’. 

In so doing, it establishes the Public Service as the general service within the government sector and Intermedium views this is likely to mean a reduction in the ‘silo’ mentality that was a by-product of employment in the previous Services.

Heads of Public Service agencies (ie Secretaries) will have employer functions and responsibilities under the Act, which is intended to ensure transparent governance and employment arrangements for the Public Service.

According to various Public Service Commission documents, the GSE Act will provide a ‘framework for modern recruitment methods and workforce development and management, performance management and workforce diversity’ and will ‘modernise employment arrangements which apply to executive and non-executive employees of the Public Service.’

Public Service senior executives will have a common employment and development framework and there will be ‘greater flexibility in the assignment of executives to roles, with an emphasis on capabilities, performance, development and mobility’.

Intermedium expects a consequence of such intended flexibility may mean far greater mobility of senior ICT personnel across the reformed service.

Non-executive employees will no longer be appointed to a fixed position, but rather to a classification of work with assignment to a role.  Reassignment to other roles as priorities, resources, or an employee’s development needs change is expected to be much more readily achievable.

Government Sector Employment Rules (GSE Rules) with the force of law are also being introduced under the GSE Act.

The Public Service Commissioner will make the Rules. Workforce management practices will be outlined in the Rules to ensure “consistency, merit and fairness in employment and workforce management, and integrity and accountability in leadership” Public Service Commissioner Graham Head states in the Foreword to the explanatory brochure.

“The GSE Act entrenches the merit principle in all aspects of workforce management; strengthens ethical behaviour and accountability; establishes capability as the basis for rigorous workforce planning, performance management and career development; and promotes a professional, flexible and mobile workforce where employees are given the opportunity to develop well-rounded work experiences” Head concludes.

The Hierarchy

The Public Service of New South Wales is established under Part 4 of the GSE Act.

Under the GSE Act, the NSW Premier is the employer of the Secretary of a Department and also the employer of the head of a separate Public Service agency (Part 3, Schedule 1 GSE Act), unless otherwise specified in Schedule 1 of the GSE Act.

The Secretary of a Department is the employer of:

  • The Public Service Senior Executives and other employees of the Department;
  • The head of each Public Service executive agency related to the Department. (There are some exceptions to this).
  • All public service senior executives assigned to roles in each Public Service agency related to the Department.

The head of a Public Service executive agency related to a Department holds the employer functions for all non-executive employees in that agency.

The head of a separate Public Service agency holds the employer functions in relation to all employees, both executive and non-executive, within their agency.

Public Service employees will be employed in ‘Departments’; in ‘Public Service executive agencies related to Departments’, or in ‘separate Public Service agencies’. These various bodies are shortly to be listed in Schedule 1 to the GSE Act by an administrative arrangements order.

More information on the changes can be found on the PSC reform webpage.

The GSE Act can be found at

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For more information, please contact the Editor (02) 9955 9896.

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  • NSW
  • Labour Hire
  • Finance & Services
  • Government Sector Employment Act 2013 (GSE)
  • GSE Act
  • NSW Health Service
  • NSW Plan 'Towards 2021'
  • NSW Police Force
  • NSW Public Service Comission
  • Transport Service of NSW