Implications of the Coombs Commission Report for HRM in the Public Service

International Employment Relations Association
Publication Type:
Journal Article
International Employment Relations Review, 2008, 14 (1), pp. 39 - 50
Issue Date:
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The traditional model of public sector human resource management (HRM) in Australia exhibited features that distinguished it sharply from those evident in the private sector and which gave public servants a degree of independence from the elected government. During the past thirty years, those distinctive characteristics of the public sector career service have been removed or weakened. The pressures for these reforms were evident by the 1970âs and have been identified as stemming from a range of factors including dissatisfaction with public sector bureaucracy, a desire to exert greater ministerial control over public servants and a determination to adopt private sector management approaches. Government legislative reforms and changed employment practices have been identified as undermining or even destroying the once distinctive character of public sector HRM. Yet despite the fairly considerable academic attention focussed upon these reforms and their consequences, the role played by a major government inquiry of the 1970âs in setting the stage for such reform has not been examined. It is argued in this paper that the reforms to the Australian public sector over the past decades began and were influenced by the Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration (RGAGA â the Coombs Commission) and that an analysis of the impact of government reforms upon the HRM of senior public servants should begin with the Coombs Commission. The paper examines the Coombs Recommendations and analyses their implications for the future of those defining features of an independent public service. The paper concludes that although the Commission did not recommend a radical departure from the career service model, it did argue for changes in the nature of the HRM practices relating to senior public servants that would have the impact of undermining the distinctive character of public service employment.
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