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Australia's luckiest public servant? Mystery bureaucrat gets $633,000 performance bonus

Labor opposed performance bonuses in the bureaucracy, but the Coalition plans to bring them back.

Labor opposed performance bonuses in the bureaucracy, but the Coalition plans to bring them back. Photo: Jim Rice

Somewhere in the federal bureaucracy, a lucky junior executive received an extraordinary performance bonus last year: almost half a million dollars.

That payment was topped only by one given to a senior public servant, who pocketed a bonus of more than $630,000 in addition to their usual salary.

Yet the Public Service Commission can't say who these officers are, where they work, nor describe their accomplishments. It is bound by an agreement with government agencies to keep the details confidential.

Do you know more? Send your confidential tips to ps@canberratimes.com.au.

Despite a handful of exceptional payments, the commission's latest pay data shows the bureaucracy is slowly wiping out bonuses, which were introduced by the Howard government to encourage public servants to be more responsive.

The size of bonuses last year was relatively modest: the median payment to a typical bureaucrat – an APS6 officer – was $1478 while, near the top, the amount for a deputy secretary (the second in charge of a department) was $29,157.

After winning office in 2007, Labor scrapped bonuses for department heads and began to phase them out across the public service, because it believed they persuaded staff to give only the advice ministers wanted to hear.

About 69 per cent of the senior executive service received the payments in 2007, but only 13 per cent did last year. The proportion of lower-level staff who pocketed a bonus fell from 29 per cent to 15 per cent over the same period.

However, one executive level 2 public servant – a job usually held by a middle manager or a specialist – received a huge bonus of $482,069 last year. The amount was more than 3½ times the median annual salary of an EL2 officer.

It followed similarly large payments to an EL2 officer of $416,232 and $397,254 in the previous two years, though it was unknown whether the same person received those bonuses.

Meanwhile, one SES band 2 officer – an executive role that typically oversees several hundred staff – was given a huge $633,216 bonus last year. Bonuses of $536,760 and $412,242 were paid in the previous two years to an executive at the same level.

The Community and Public Sector Union said the "obscene" payments would outrage rank and file government staff.

Its national secretary, Nadine Flood, said: "To see a select few bosses pocket such massive secret 'bonuses' when most public servants earn average wages and are struggling with cuts is appalling, frankly."

She described the bonuses as an attempt by some agencies "to get around the remuneration policy to benefit a few hand-picked favourites".

"No one knows who is getting these payments or what they did to deserve them. It looks dodgy and highlights why most public sector workers remain so opposed to the use of unaccountable and divisive bonuses."

The Coalition said before last year's election it would bring back performance bonuses for department heads and senior public servants, and tie the payments to their success in cutting red tape.

But the Public Service Commission warned the newly elected Abbott government in September the plan was problematic.

Public Service Minister Eric Abetz then acknowledged in April that "judging performance is sometimes more difficult in the public sector".

"You have to tread carefully in these areas; it's not a matter of being 100 per cent ideological one way or the other," he said. "You see what can work and what would work, then go down that path."

Last year's extraordinary bonuses were most likely given to the very small number of public servants on an Australian workplace agreement or a common-law contract. The vast majority of bureaucrats – about 98 per cent – are employed under an enterprise agreement.

131 comments so far

  • Perhaps the recipients of these bonuses might show true dedication and public service by donating them to the Budget deficit?

    Commenter
    Bob9000
    Location
    Canberra - Weston
    Date and time
    June 18, 2014, 12:29AM
    • $630,000!! Nice coin. My guess is that it went to a senior person in Scott Morrison's department. They have exceeded all KPIs.

      Commenter
      Bang Bang
      Date and time
      June 18, 2014, 7:44AM
    • why not a Royal Commission into this farce????

      Commenter
      rockinghamlarry
      Date and time
      June 18, 2014, 9:38AM
    • And look who brought in the bonus payments to the APS - Howard government! And Labor started to get rid of them, only to lose to a new set of wastrels. As the household treasurer one of my top three reasons for voting Labor is financial management. The other lot...aargh, hopeless! To reverse the St George Bank tagline, the Coalition government is bad with people and bad with money.

      Commenter
      Passionfruit
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      June 18, 2014, 9:56AM
    • And you believe the Royal Commission is not a farce itself?

      Commenter
      Not Really
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      June 18, 2014, 10:10AM
    • Under which government was the bonus earned and paid? Is this another Labour legacy that the Libs are left holding the can with?

      Commenter
      Duck Shuffler
      Date and time
      June 18, 2014, 10:23AM
    • Duck shuffler. Might help to read the article. Bonuses are a left over from the Howard years. You have to understand the logic give bonuses then say. Politicions are underpaid compared to Senior public servants we need more money. The wealthy work hard to create upward pressure on CEO wages, top management whilst working with Conservatives to create downward pressure on the low income earner ie wage cuts/ freezes and currently Budget messures to reduce household income. Saddest part is Shops will suffer as battlers cut back spending and shops will lay of staff and close. The wealthy will spend thief Bonuses overseas

      Commenter
      Jessica
      Date and time
      June 18, 2014, 10:43AM
    • What a scam. People are employed to do the job they were recruited for, that's what they are qualified to do, that's what they get paid to do. If they can do better, they're in the wrong job. Bonuses are simply legitimised theft. JUST WHEN IS THE "AGE OF ENTITLEMENT" ENDING SIR TONE?

      Commenter
      Neil (not on radio) MItchell
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      June 18, 2014, 11:09AM
    • Neil, bonuses for public servants is an idea taken from the private sector. Public servants traditionally have received lower salaries as a trade off for job security. As this is no longer a given, why shouldn't they get paid the equivalent to the private sector. As someone who has worked in both, I can assure you that the pay and work load was better in the private sector. According to the World Bank, Australia has one of the leanest and most efficient public services in the OECD. Which was recently trumpeted by one of our federal ministers on an overseas business trip. From the comments in these pages it is clear that many Australians are turning into wingers and love to put down their fellow Australians based on their own perceived prejudices.

      Commenter
      ICSBSS
      Date and time
      June 18, 2014, 11:37AM
    • Come on Markus.. Labor were getting rid of bonuses really. A bonus of that size would have to have been approved at Ministerial level. Oh and that would have been a Labor Minister.

      Commenter
      Blame game
      Location
      Acton
      Date and time
      June 18, 2014, 12:58PM

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