John Lloyd was appointed by Tony Abbott as public services commissioner for a five-year term in December 2014. Lloyd was formerly Australian Building and Construction Commissioner (ABCC). Before that he held senior public service roles in the Victorian and Commonwealth and WA governments. He has also been a director at the Institute of Public Affairs.
Peter Wilson AM (FCPHR): What was the ABCC job like and what were some of the investigations you undertook that received a lot of media attention?
John Lloyd: I had the challenge of setting up a new regulator, which was daunting because the building industry has been subjected to many reviews, royal commission reports and special bodies over the years without a great deal of impact. Because we had strong powers and assembled a good, robust team, we did affect the industry’s conduct. It improved markedly. Industrial disputes dropped to the lowest on record. Importantly, contractors told us that more jobs were completed on time and within budget. I think contractors and employees felt there was someone who was going to stand up to the unions and ensure a more lawful approach was taken on building sites.
PW: How would you describe the state of leadership and culture in the public sector?
JL: The Australian public service has a good reputation and I see a lot of excellent, highly qualified, skilled people. We have the challenge to ensure we develop the skills and attributes of the people coming through. It’s important that we provide better leadership development.
Overall, with an aging population and aging workforce, you get a feeling that some people who are mediocre and aren’t going to move on are blocking the young people coming through. We need to be mindful that people are performance managed appropriately, assessed on performance and potential, and developed. That if they’re not performing to the standards we want, there’s a constructive but fair and accurate discussion with them.
Also, we’d like to draw from a broader gene pool to try to inject more private sector talent into the public sector. That’s hard because private sector people don’t often see it as an attractive career opportunity. But there are things happening in government with restructures, combining departments with digital transformation coming, a number of exciting projects, where hopefully we can draw in private sector expertise to assist in driving that change.
PW: In HR we are trying to lift the standard of the profession through certification of HR professionals. Like practising accountants, they will have a different status in the profession. What’s your view on this?
JL: I think HR managers in the public sector spend too much time on transactional issues and not enough on strategy, workforce planning, enterprise bargaining strategies, ageing workforce strategies and performance management issues. We’re minded to look at initiatives to lift the HR managers onto that strategic planning role [so they] spend most of their time on that. Digital transformation gives the opportunity to take out a lot of the transaction responsibilities, but also we’ve got to equip HR with the capability.
PW: What are the trends in the mental, physical and occupational health and fitness of workers? The statistics show, for example, that 20 per cent of adults of working age have some form of mental illness.
JL: There has been a lift in workers’ compensation premiums. A lot of that has been due to the incidence of mental illness and the longer latency that tends to have – compared to strains and sprains. The government introduced a bill to amend the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act, 1988, which addresses the narrowness of the provisions that exclude ‘reasonable administrative action’ as grounds for restricting access to compensation. The proposed provisions would serve to prevent compensation claims from being used to impede genuine and reasonable management action such as performance appraisal, counselling or failure to obtain a promotion or transfer.
PW: In five years’ time, what do you hope would be the hallmarks of your contribution in this role?
JL: I hope to have created a more flexible public sector, particularly facilitating more flexible workplace arrangements.
Also, to have a culture where leaders see beyond their own area of work and really engage with other departments in stewardship of the public service to make it operate better across the range of departments.
And to have digital reform embedded in the public service and how we think, and that we have a workforce capable of dealing with that. I also hope that the APS retains its excellent reputation for integrity and ethical conduct.
In August, John Lloyd will be speaking at the Public Sector HR Symposium, which is part of the AHRI National Convention. Registration closes Thursday 13 August.
This article is an edited version. The full article was first published in the July 2015 issue of HRMonthly magazine as ‘No turning back’. AHRI members receive HRMonthly 11 times per year as part of their membership. Find out more about AHRI membership here.