I am delighted to deliver the Victorian state of the public sector report, my first since being appointed Victorian Public Sector Commissioner in April 2023.

It is a privilege to be the Victorian Public Sector Commissioner and lead the Victorian Public Sector Commission (VPSC). The VPSC is committed to supporting our hard-working, capable and motivated public sector employees to serve the Government of today, and be ready to serve future governments so that we can improve the lives of Victorians. This means playing a leading role in integrity, capability building, data collection and analysis, and identifying and sharing good practice.

Since my appointment, I have engaged widely with our sector’s workforce to understand its strengths and its challenges. I have met with secretaries, heads of public sector bodies, senior First Peoples leaders, emergency services personnel, and our newest graduates starting their careers.

As of June 2023, our public sector remained the state’s largest employer with more than 367,000 employees, making up about 10% of Victoria’s total labour force. These employees provide essential services including education, land management, housing, health, and transport.

The public sector also plays one of the most important roles in our democracy – serving the people of Victoria by implementing the government’s policies, decisions and programs.

I am humbled by our employees’ dedicated work and their drive to make a difference in people’s lives. More than 90% of employees surveyed through the annual People matter survey feel they can make a worthwhile contribution and achieve something important. Our workforce should feel a strong sense of pride and purpose in what they do.

While we celebrate our achievements it is always important to examine the challenges we face and to constantly strengthen our practice. The challenges facing our state are complex, and we need our sector to be the best it can be to deliver on our priorities and meet community expectations.

The Victorian state of the public sector report is an important tool in this work. The report helps the Victorian community and the sector to examine our size, strengths and weaknesses. It also provides pointers to where we need to improve or change.

The report includes workforce data and People matter survey data for the 12 months to June 2023.

I trust you will find it valuable.

An engaged public sector workforce with high levels of wellbeing delivers for Victorians

Overall, 8 in every 10 (77%) public sector employees agree that the 7 Victorian public sector values – that is, responsiveness, integrity, impartiality, accountability, respect, leadership and human rights – are well embedded within public sector organisations. There is also strong agreement that as a sector we can make a meaningful difference through our work (88%), have the skills and knowledge to do our jobs (84%), and that our direct managers demonstrate leadership and support (84%). While nearly 7 out of 10 (65%) report strong levels of workplace engagement, we would like to see this figure rise.

We have also made long-term progress on reducing negative workplace behaviours in the sector since 2016, including sexual harassment (down 6%, to 6%), bullying (down 7%, to 13%), and discrimination (down 3%, to 6%). But we are seeing a continued need for improvement, with our frontline workforce in particular, with the highest rates of bullying experienced by police and emergency services (17%) and public health care (16%) employees.

A focus of mine has been working in partnership with WorkSafe and across government to understand how we can better support the safety and wellbeing of public sector employees. We are early in our journey, but I am hopeful we will see improvement throughout my term as Commissioner.

Integrity in the spotlight

In times of change, integrity can come under pressure. So the past 12 months have also been a time for renewed focus on integrity governance, leadership and capability.

As public servants, behaving with integrity in all facets of our work is critical to ensuring we serve in the best interests of Victorians. In 2023, public sector employees were less likely to agree that their organisation is committed to integrity (67% in 2023, down from 72% in 2021). Our research tells us that this is important – when employees believe their organisations are demonstrating integrity, they are more engaged, leading to improved culture and performance.

But, there is more to be done on integrity. Only 58% of Victorian Public Service (VPS) staff agree that their workgroup gives frank and fearless advice to our managers and leaders (including ministers), and 1 in every 3 public sector staff (33%) were either unsure or disagreed that their organisation was committed to integrity.

Perceptions of organisational integrity can be influenced by a range of factors, including whether people have experienced or observed unfair recruitment processes or negative behaviours, such as bullying.

My senior departmental colleagues lead by example to create cultures where people understand their obligations, know how to implement them and feel safe to speak up if they have any concerns.

In support of this, the Victorian Secretaries’ Board (VSB) released an Integrity Statement which committed to tangible actions to support a consistent culture of integrity across the public sector, including new integrity training and development opportunities, and consistent application of merit-based recruitment processes.

The VPSC has also developed an Integrity Framework to support public sector bodies to strengthen integrity within their organisations.

In the past year, we have seen two important reports by integrity agencies revealing failures by Victorian public servants to uphold their integrity obligations.

In April 2023, the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission released a special report on Operation Daintree. This investigation into a procurement process found that some senior public servants had not demonstrated integrity, impartiality and leadership in their decision-making.

In December 2023, the Victorian Ombudsman released its report on the alleged politicisation of the Victorian public sector. While I was pleased to see that the Ombudsman didn’t find any politicisation in appointments, merit-based recruitment and maintaining a safe-to-speak-up culture were highlighted for improvement.

While these reports can damage the standing of all public servants and contribute to a loss of public trust in the institutions of government, they also galvanise us all by highlighting areas we need to continue to focus on.

A sector that represents the public it serves

Between June 2022 and June 2023, the public sector grew by 3.8% (or 11,013 FTE). This was largely driven by workforce growth in several key frontline areas. The TAFE and education sector grew, including a valuable increase of teachers in our government schools, as did our police and emergency services workforce. The public health sector also saw growth in nurses and healthcare professionals to meet the needs of Victorians.

At the same time, VPS growth slowed substantially in the 12 months to June 2023, to 2.1% (1,121 FTE) compared to the average yearly growth of 6% over the last 5 years. Where the workforce has grown, this has related to key areas of demand including major transport and infrastructure projects (416 FTE), as well as increases in our Courts (231 FTE) and in prison and security officers (345 FTE).

It is also important to note that since the collection of the 2023 data, the VPS has been reducing staffing levels, mainly in non-frontline roles, in line with the government’s 2023-24 State Budget. Given the importance of these roles in key public service responsibilities, such as managing budgets, ensuring integrity in government administration and supporting employee wellbeing and safety, it is important that we actively monitor and manage the impacts of these reductions. This will be a focus of next year’s report.

I want to acknowledge and thank those who have left the service and recognise their efforts and commitments. I wish all former Victorian public servants all the best for their future.

Building a diverse and representative workforce is a key focus for the sector. We know how critical this is for innovation and decision-making, and for delivering our best for Victorians. Diverse workforces that are supported by safe, inclusive workplace cultures are also more engaged and have higher levels of wellbeing.

We have seen growing representation for some groups.

Getting to Work, the Victorian public sector disability employment action plan 2018-2025, includes a sector disability employment target of 6% by 2020 and 12% by 2025. As of 2023, 8.5% of the VPS identified as a person with a disability, representing an increase of 4.8% from 2018. This was achieved through a collective focus on employing more people with disability and an increase in the number of people feeling safe to share that they are someone with disability. While this is a positive trajectory, there is still work for us to do to meet our 2025 target, particularly as people with disability continue to be substantially under-represented at executive levels (representing only 4.4% of VPS executives).

The Barring Djinang Aboriginal Employment Strategy set a target of 2% representation of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander employees in the Victorian Public Service by June 2022. Since 2017 the number of VPS who identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander has grown nearly 50% to 705 employees. While a significant increase, broader growth in the public sector means this only equates to a rise of 0.1% as a percentage of all employees, to a total of 1.2% (this total of 1.2% excludes public schools).

The representation of people from multicultural and multifaith backgrounds in our workforce is difficult to determine due to data limitations. What we do know is that in the public sector, the proportion of those speaking a language other than English increased to 18.7% in 2023 (up from 16.4% in 2021). Further, close to 1 in 5 public sector employees (18.9%) was born outside of Australia, up from 17.2% in 2021.

The gender pay gap persists, with women in the sector earning just over 10% less than their male colleagues in 2023, equating to a $10,534 difference per year. This gap further widens when it comes to regulators (18.8% gap), TAFEs (15.2% gap) and transport organisations (13.9% gap). The gender pay gap favours men across all major occupation groups, with the biggest differences seen in machinery operators and drivers (29.9%), community and personal services workers (24.2%), and technicians and trade workers (20.9%).

I am committed to making progress in all of these areas.

We will need to work together to ensure that changes to our overall workforce support our targets for representation and diversity.

Challenges and opportunities facing the public sector

Over the past few years, our community has faced devastating bushfires, storms and floods, and of course the pandemic. To support the Victorian people through these challenges, the public sector has put in long hours, it has been flexible, mobile, creative and resilient. Like many workforces, this has resulted in some exhaustion and burnout, but also much pride in all that was achieved. It is pleasing to see a reduction in high-to-severe stress in the public sector workforce post-COVID (down 2% from 2021). This is a key area to monitor. We want to ensure that as a sector we support our employees and promote their wellbeing.

Climate emergencies and events are projected to continue and to increase in frequency and severity, so it is vital that the sector continues to work hard to ensure it can ably prevent, prepare and respond.

To ensure the VPS can meet these critical challenges, the Commission and Emergency Management Victoria launched a Rapid Response Pilot in October 2023. This is the first step in a program of work designed to mobilise employees with specific skills to provide short-term support to areas of emergency or requiring surge capacity.

While still in its early stages, the response to the pilot has been stronger than anticipated, with more than 1,600 expressions of interest received in the first three months. This interest once again demonstrates the willingness of public sector workers to deliver for Victorians.

At the same time, we are entering a period of opportunity in other areas.

As Victoria moves towards Treaty negotiations commencing this year, the public sector has the important opportunity to reflect upon historical injustices, promote reconciliation and celebrate the unique status and culture of First Peoples.

As we continue to work together to deliver on the Victorian government’s commitment to self-determination, I am looking forward to building on our work through the Barring Djinang Strategy to strengthen public sector workforce capability and competency in preparation for Treaty in Victoria.

Pride in the public sector

Part of my role as the Public Sector Commissioner is to identify and share good practice and innovation. We have included a series of stories in this report to highlight the sector’s invaluable work with the community, and some of the ways leaders and workplaces have invested in capability, integrity, diversity and inclusion. From improving access to healthcare through the Victorian Virtual Emergency Department, to creating job opportunities for public housing tenants, to turning landfill into parks and power and efforts to lift the number of people with disability employed in our workplaces. I urge you to take a read.

I would like to once again thank all public sector employees who work every day with a commitment to our values.

We are building a sector that truly represents and serves Victorians, something we can all be proud of. I look forward to continuing this important work together.

Brigid Monagle
Victorian Public Sector Commissioner