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Skies just got bleaker for the bureaucracy

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The cloud of uncertainty hanging over Canberra’s federal public servants just got worse.

For that kick, the workers can thank Tony Abbott, the man who looks set to become their new boss in just over a week.

It is terrible people management to say an agency of 300 jobs is going to be shifted to regional and rural Australia, without saying who’s in the firing line.

What is this information vacuum supposed to do, other than unsettle people?

No doubt some people would like a sea change, leaving behind Canberra’s deep chill for the coast and a life by the beaches.

But you don’t even have to look out the window at today’s glorious spring-like weather to realise this is a great place to live and work and raise kids.


There are always good arguments put forward to trim the public service but the problem with losing 12,000 positions by natural attrition – resignations and retirements – is losing experienced people and possibly freezing out the bright young graduates.

And the problem with more voluntary redundancies is losing the good people.

Just ask John Howard, who supervised the departure of an estimated 30,000 public servants.

They took the money and ran – to their own consultancies. They knew exactly what their former departments needed and, with fewer staff back there, reaped the benefits of contracting out services.

Why should we expect any different this time?

Sure, departmental staff lists will be shorter. But the budgets will be paying contractors.

Never mind, so long as the Coalition government can tell the Canberra-bashers elsewhere that the dreaded public service has been trimmed, all will be fine.

And Abbott clearly has in mind winning marginal seats by relocating public servants, to Gosford and northern Australia.

As if by magic, the public servants shifted are no longer a drain on the purse, but will boost the local economy.

And if the lure of the ocean does not work, staff of the agency earmarked to be relocated, might find the ACT bureaucracy extending a welcoming hand.

The salaries would be lower, but it would mean not having to shift the family and find new schools.

However, even with the informal recruiting drive by the ACT, there are not many people to be absorbed by the smaller bureaucracy.