By Melissa Donnelly, CPSU National Secretary

If the reporting of Mike Pezzullo’s messages is true – the Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs has some serious explaining to do, or rather, some resigning.

As Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs, the leaked messages to Liberal Party powerbroker Scott Briggs, fly in the face of the values all public servants are, or should be, held to.

Whether you’re a grad in the ATO, an APS 3 working in a Services Australia Smart Centre or the Secretary of a Department, the APS values apply.

You can read them in black in white on the Australian Public Service Commission's website:

Impartial. Committed to service. Accountable. Respectful. Ethical.

These values underpin the public service and are what gives the broader Australian population confidence in the fundamental functioning of their democracy.

For APS employees, these are not theoretical or obtuse.

In fact, over the last decade, APS managers have sought to regulate more and more of what employees do in their own time to assiduously protect the ‘apolitical’ nature of the public service.

Come federal election time, CPSU members have contacted the union for advice, because many employees feel it is safer to just delete your social media account than risk an over-eager manager analysing your posts.

Similarly, we have had an influx of questions and concerns from members across the APS regarding campaigning for and supporting a Yes vote in the Voice Referendum because they are worried that they’ll face disciplinary action for doing so.

It unfortunately goes further than this though, and perhaps this will help explain why APS employees are what would seem to the average person - excessively cautious.

We have had countless members who have been counselled to take down social media posts saying dogs should be allowed in cafes or trying to save a historic building from demolition —because they were ‘political’.

Members have been investigated and found in breach of the Code for ‘unauthorised outside employment’ for volunteering at charity organisations.

Members have been found to have ‘disobeyed a lawful and reasonable direction’ because their doctor didn’t list the medical condition they were sick with on their medical certificate.

Members have had to pay back carers’ leave, because when they were sitting by their spouse’s hospital bed because they weren’t ‘actively caring’ for them - the doctor was.

The leadership in the APS are not afraid to over zealously wave around the Code of Conduct. But, at times, there seems to be an issue when it comes to applying it to themselves.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but wheeling and dealing, interfering in leadership spills and internal political party machinations, and maintaining hitlists and wish lists wasn’t in that list APS values.

Impartial. Committed to service. Accountable. Respectful. Ethical.

Nope – not there.

That sort of behaviour, were someone to engage in it, would actually contravene nearly every single APS value.

I have not seen the alleged text messages, and the actions taken by the Minister for Home Affairs so far have been entirely appropriate given the situation.


If those messages do exist and the reporting is true - Mike Pezzullo should have no future in the APS.

But it isn’t just Mike Pezzullo who has failed to possess the very values he ruthlessly expected his department to embody.

Kathryn Campbell, the former Department Secretary of Human Services, oversaw the weaponisation of the APS Code of Conduct to silence Centrelink workers who spoke up about the illegal Robodebt scheme.

She was the key architect of the Robodebt program and its most fervent advocate in the public service. CPSU members called it out from the very beginning, and now have the backing of a Royal Commission saying that the scheme was both illegal and a walking violation of APS Values.

Robodebt was a program that, without question, served the government of the day, but failed to serve the Australian people. And that is the balancing act that public service and, critically, Department Heads, need to get right.

The Public Service Act 1999 (PSA), says that the first object of the APS is: ‘to establish an apolitical public service that is efficient and effective in serving the Government, the Parliament and the Australian public’.

It doesn’t say ‘or’ the Australian public.

Former Australian Public Service Commissioner, Andrew Podger, emphasised this point:

“The separation of politics from administration is not just a matter of avoiding ministerial patronage and the risks of nepotism and fraud... It also goes to efficient and effective management of government policies and programs, to the rule of law, protecting the public from the tyranny of the majority and ensuring impartial service delivery for all citizens.”

In ruthlessly targeting the Australian public, Kathryn Campbell was serving the government of the day and prosecuting its conservative ideological policies.

Other than himself and his own agenda, I’m not entirely sure who Mike Pezzullo was serving.

Neither have gone down without a fight, and that is worth examining. Because both Campbell and Pezzullo appear to have, for a decent amount of time, demonstrated an absurd sense of entitlement, holding the belief that they would pull through. A belief that they haven’t broken the rules, or perhaps of more concern, a belief that the rules don’t apply to them.

Freedoms that appear to come with seniority certainly aren’t being afforded to anyone else.

Not to the CPSU member who wanted to volunteer for a charity, or to the member who posted on social media about saving a building, or the member who wanted to take carer’s leave so they could sit with their loved one while they were in hospital.

The application of APS values is out of balance.

In the wise words of Bandit Heeler – the racquet needs to be re-strung. Bit of tightening up at the top, bit of loosening at the bottom.