The concept of merit adopted in the APS is a direct inheritance from reform movements in 19th century Britain. These reforms had the objective of eliminating nepotism, patronage and enhancing of the efficiency in the British Civil Service.
This was reflected in the Public Service Commissioner's first Annual Report in 1904:
'…all appointments and promotions shall be based upon a just and equitable system excluding all political or other patronage, throwing all appointments open to rich and poor alike, and establishing merit combined with fitness as the only basis of selection.'
From its beginnings, APS selection was consciously designed for people to compete and be assessed on their ability. Merit, however, was never universally applied in recruitment—for example, there were restrictions on women obtaining ongoing employment, preferential treatment for returned servicemen, age limits on appointments and seniority criteria.
In 1976, the Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration upheld the principle of recruitment by merit. However it was not being consistently applied to women, indigenous people, people with disability, and people from non-English speaking backgrounds.
The 1983 White Paper Reforming the Australian Public Service revised provisions in the 1922 Act and determined merit to be applied by open competition and promotion and on the basis of relative efficiency. It enshrined merit in the legislation.
Since the introduction of the Public Service Act 1902 and its replacement, the Public Service Act 1922 (1922 Act), merit as a principle has been an integral part of the APS.
The 1999 Act simplified the application of merit for staff selection in the modern APS.