PS wings clipped in war on costs
Minister for the Public Service and Integrity Gary Gray and Finance Minister Senator Penny Wong discuss further cuts to the public service. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Most federal bureaucrats will no longer fly business class on the eastern seaboard - if they travel to meetings at all - under further belt-tightening for the public service unveiled by the federal government.
The government will also shift more recruitment advertising from newspapers to the internet as well as print fewer reports and reduce the number of consultants.
Finance Minister Penny Wong said yesterday the government would strip another $550 million from its agencies over the current four-year budget cycle, on top of the 4 per cent efficiency dividend that public servants are presently struggling to meet.
However, the latest crackdown will exclude the Defence Department, which has again received a reprieve.
The government made it clear it wants to cut down on bureaucrats flying to meetings and encourage them to use video conferencing.
Special Minister of State Gary Gray said that along with the war on paper and travel, ''even greater savings'' could be squeezed from the public service, but denied this would mean job losses.
''These are cuts targeted at running costs, these are non-staffing measures,'' he told The Canberra Times.
''We've known for some time we'd be able to find some additional savings if we targeted it right.''
However the union representing public servants said it was very concerned at the cumulative effect of years of cuts, and repeated its estimate of 4200 jobs being lost from the federal bureaucracy.
Mr Gray said the latest savings would be achieved by eliminating wasteful spending and cracking down on inefficiencies.
''The government has looked carefully at the spending of departments and agencies,'' he said.
''From this financial year, departments will be required to find savings through a new targeted savings arrangement that reduces expenditure in non-staffing areas.
The proposed savings include:
■ Almost $30 million a year through across-the-board reductions in air-travel spending, including restrictions on business-class flights.
■ More than $60 million in 2012-13 by cutting public servants' reliance on external consultants and contractors.
■ $2 million a year through advertising jobs online rather than in other media.
■ Cutting printing costs by about 5 per cent by increasingly publishing online only, saving about $6 million a year.
The bureaucracy would also consider buying more services on a whole-of-government basis, to leverage the Commonwealth's purchasing power.
The government's decision will make it considerably harder for agencies to meet the dividend without retrenching staff.
When Senator Wong announced the one-off extra efficiency dividend last year, she suggested the bureaucracy avoid redundancies by instead trimming their travel, advertising, printing, entertainment and training costs, and by using fewer consultants. Yesterday's announcement means agencies can no longer count many of these cuts towards their dividend targets.
Mr Gray said the government was already saving about $30 million a year by shifting recruitment advertising to the internet.
''But we didn't put all recruitment advertising on line, we now believe we can do it,'' he said.
''There'll be occasions when people need to fly business class but we believe from what we understand out of the efficiency dividend's operation, we believe there are even bigger saves that can be taken
''The public service is here to provide its work in service of its client groups and it should be done as efficiently as it can be done and that's what we're about doing.''
Liberal Senator for the ACT, Gary Humphries, criticised Labor for not putting any job figures on the plan.
''If they are cutting half a billion dollars, then they are cutting jobs, no ifs, no buts, they're cutting jobs,'' he said.
''It's likely that the total job cuts over three years in the Commonwealth Pubic Service under Labor would pan out to around 14,000 jobs, which ironically is the very figure they keep throwing up from Queensland.
''How can they lecture us on job cuts when they won't put their own plans on the table?''
Assistant national secretary of the Community and Public Sector Union, Louise Persse, said the union was concerned about the cumulative effect of the cuts.
''The public service departments took a hit with the 4 per cent efficiency dividend in May and that meant about 4200 jobs,'' she said,
''While this is not of that same magnitude, what we are concerned about is the cumulative effect of all these cuts … you can't keep doing that without having an impact on services and jobs.
''We are concerned that that provides even less scope for people to meet the efficiency dividend of 4 per cent to which they're already subject.''
Former public service commissioner Andrew Podger, now with the Australian National University, said there was ''no way'' there could be another cut in departmental budgets without having an impact on public servants.
''It is wrong to imply you can cut public service spending without cutting the services provided,'' Professor Podger said. ''But all around the country that's what everyone is saying.
''The levels of cuts they are trying to make cannot be just efficiencies, they will have to reprioritise services to the public. There is nothing wrong with reprioritisating services so long as ministers stand up and take responsibility for it. That's what we pay them for.'' with Peter Martin