Abbott's numbers on APS a 'fiction'
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott "repeatedly includes growth in the Australian Defence Force ... to fictionalise his numbers".
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott often portrays the Australian Public Service as a bloated and slothful organisation that should be cut down in size. In talking about growth of the public service, he repeatedly includes growth in the Australian Defence Force and Australian Federal Police to fictionalise his numbers. Which means if he's serious, he is looking at cutting soldiers, police and security people.
He was at it again on Friday, when he told a forum by the Committee for Economic Development that there were 20,000 more public servants than five years ago but no increase in service delivery or efficiency, adding ''we will trim back the Commonwealth public sector''.
This fiction was countered on the same day by his Liberal colleague, Senator Gary Humphries, who was criticising the government for slashing public service jobs ''under the cloak of darkness''.
So, what's the truth?
First, it's important to distinguish between public servants working under the Public Service Act 1999 and divided into departments and agencies and Commonwealth entities outside the core public service such as the defence force, police, ASIO, the CSIRO, and the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority.
Since the election of Labor in 2007, the core public service has grown by just over 13,000 to the latest available official figures in June 2012 (155,424 to 168,580). That is less than the population growth. In the same period, Labor has achieved more than $13 billion in public sector savings and last year targeted savings of $550 million over the forward estimates in travel, consultancies, advertising and printing.
The previous Coalition government retrenched 29,000 public servants between 1996 and 1999 and then increased the numbers by 35,000 between 2001 and 2007. The Senior Executive Service ballooned by more than 50 per cent.
What of claims that the public service is too big and inefficient?
Last year, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development published an international Value for Money report. This report describes Australia's public sector as comparatively small and says ''Australia is an example for the other 'Value for Money' countries'', including the Netherlands, Denmark, New Zealand and Britain.
Just in the last few weeks Tony Abbott has suggested that there are 20,000 too many people employed by the Commonwealth; that he would sack at least 12,000 of them (to save $4 billion) and that the rest need to be shipped out of the cities and towns they currently service to less populated areas in order to serve the public better.
His recent leaked ''vision'' document says: ''In its first term, the Coalition proposes [to] relocate substantial and relevant components of federal departments and Commonwealth agencies, such as CSIRO, to key urban areas in northern Australia.''
It might interest Mr Abbott to know that nearly 60 per cent of the nation's public servants are already employed outside Canberra, as they should be, to deliver efficient and effective services to the people.
They are located in our towns and cities across the nation. More than 45,000 in Sydney and Melbourne, nearly 12,000 in Brisbane, 9000 in Adelaide; 6500 in Perth and 3300 in Hobart. This is not to mention more than 21,000 public servants located outside our capital cities nationwide.
They are located in these places across our nation because they can there deliver services most efficiently to the people that need them.
The Opposition's simplistic approach to the delivery of public services, from slashing jobs and services, to the ''thought bubble'' of arbitrarily relocating substantial parts of the public service all over the place is bad policy that would have dire consequences.
I often say public servants work every hour of every day to make sure that Australians from Gladstone to Broome, from Hobart to Darwin, across the country and around the globe get the help they need.
As the secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Dr Ian Watts, said last year, the public service performs an amazing array of functions ''from working on the counter at Centrelink to undertaking macro-economic forecasting; from carrying out world-class defence scientific research to running a world-class and low-cost pharmaceutical benefits scheme''. They, with their counterparts in state governments are on the ground in fire and flood to ensure that people are looked after in their time of need.
Sometimes it must feel like a thankless task.
Unfortunately for Australians - and our public servants - Tony Abbott's analysis of the work of public servants is unsophisticated at best and downright dangerous at worst.
If Mr Abbott becomes prime minister, his slash-and-move approach means they won't be there to help.
Gary Gray is the federal Minister for the Public Service and Integrity.