Army of 1900 spin doctors costs taxpayers millions

The federal government's ''army'' of spin doctors and communications staff has grown to more than 1900, based on data supplied by departments and agencies.

An analysis of answers to questions on notice supplied to a Senate committee shows staffers in government media, communications and marketing operations have increased by several hundred in two years and could be costing taxpayers as much as $190 million a year.

Public Service Minister Eric Abetz said the government was conscious of the growth of its spin machine and hinted action was being considered.

But he cautioned against relying too heavily on the answers his departments supplied, noting that many people in the latest tally might have been made redundant by now.

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Senator Abetz, in opposition in 2012, railed against the ''battalion'' of communications workers when numbers hovered around the 1600 mark, alleging the figures highlighted the Gillard government's ''concentration on spin''.

But the answers to the questions on notice, supplied to the office of Labor senator Joe Ludwig, show hundreds more spinners taken on board since 2012.

The Australian Taxation Office leads the tally with 265 communications workers, which includes graphic designers and media managers. That is slightly down from the 277 it reported in 2012.

Defence has added to its ranks in the past two years and now has a 216-strong unit, enough to staff 1½ infantry companies.

The giant Department of Human Service has trimmed down on spin considerably since 2012, reporting just 77 communications workers in its agencies Centrelink, Medicare and the Child Support Agency.

The reduction comes despite the formation of a 10-strong social media unit to run its five Facebook pages, six Twitter accounts, a Google+ presence and a YouTube channel .

The Environment Department and its many portfolio agencies, including the Bureau of Meteorology, the Clean Energy Regulator and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, reported 163 spinners.

The Health Department and its agencies, including the publicity-intensive Australian Sports Commission and the Institute of Health and Welfare, had 168 spinners.

Departmental spinners have emerged as a sore point for the Abbott government.

When Fairfax Media revealed last month that the Immigration Department reported 66 communications staff on its books, Minister Scott Morrison rose in Parliament days later to contradict his department, claiming there were only 39.

A spokeswoman for Mr Morrison said on Friday that the minister stood by his statement but would not explain how the discrepancy arose.

Senator Abetz told The Australian newspaper in 2012 of his concern at just over 1600 communications workers in the public sector, saying there was ''a battalion, if not an army of spin doctors''.

Responding to the latest figures, the minister said they showed ''the approximate level of communications staffing that the Coalition inherited from the former government after the election''.

''The government has been conscious of this issue and has recently been examining it,'' he said.

''Resourcing for communications areas will have reduced from the figures reported … in late 2013.''


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