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Bureaucracy at its largest in 24 years

Web graphic for Markus Mannheim story, "Bureaucracy at its largest in 24 years", November 29, 2012.   web30PS_factbox.jpg

Web graphic for Markus Mannheim story, "Bureaucracy at its largest in 24 years", November 29, 2012. web30PS_factbox.jpg

The federal bureaucracy continued to grow earlier this year despite the toughest crackdown on spending in over a decade, and at a time many agencies were retrenching staff.

The Australian Public Service employed 168,580 people as of June 30, its largest workforce since 1988.

Six months earlier, when the government foreshadowed steep cuts to the bureaucracy's administrative budgets, the APS had 859 fewer staff.

However, Public Service Commissioner Stephen Sedgwick said the latest headcount was a "rear-view mirror" only, suggesting the government workforce had since shrunk.

"There has been a lot of activity that agencies have taken to respond to the efficiency dividend measures which are about preparing for next year, and they always have a tail."

Mr Sedgwick's State of the Service Report, tabled in Parliament on Thursday, also criticised the Business Council of Australia's recent call for a "smaller public service".

In September, the council's chief executive, Jennifer Westacott, demanded an audit and overhaul of the bureaucracy, with a view to cutting it.

However, Mr Sedgwick said that, contrary to such commentary, "the optimal size of the APS is difficult to establish a priori".

He told Fairfax Media the number of employees depended on what work ministers wanted done and how they wanted it done.

"If the government has a high-touch approach to managing projects, then you'll have [more] people. If priorities are being reordered in favour of programs that are high touch, as opposed to ones where you just write a cheque and send it to the states, then you'll have a different outcome for people than if it's otherwise."

Mr Sedgwick's report also hinted to the Labor government that it could not continue to increase the efficiency dividend – an annual cut to agency budgets – indefinitely.

More than half of the senior executive service said they had faced "greatly increasing" pressure on their workloads over the past three years due to the need to reallocate funds.

Mr Sedgwick said it had been "many years since the APS has operated in such a constrained financial environment".

"Recent decisions of government have increased the incentives agencies face to secure cost savings in their operations through increases in the efficiency dividend ... More substantial changes to the scale and priorities of the APS, however, require clear decisions by government about which activities should be scaled back or eliminated."

The latest State of the Service Report also draws attention to "conundrums" against which the public service has failed to make headway.

Mr Sedgwick said the inability of the APS to retain staff who were indigenous or who had a disability was a continuing concern, as were the relatively high rates of workplace absence.

He was also disappointed that fewer than half of employees believed their most recent performance review had helped them improve their work.

It was also unacceptable that one in six public servants felt they had been bullied in the past year, the commissioner said.

The latest snapshot of the APS shows that the typical public servant is a female university graduate, aged 42, employed as an APS6 officer. She earns about $82,000 a year.

The report also suggests the glass ceiling is slowly rising: women now make up 39.2 per cent of senior executives, 4.3 percentage points higher than five years ago.

The most sought-after staff are IT workers, accountants and human-resources professionals.

10 comments

  • Well the human resource "professionals" are a pretty useless lot, so they could all go. The SES level should all go along with half of the accountants. All of Gillard's personal staff should go, and all staff travel should be cut, especially, for the military personnel here in Canberra who do nothing but travel around the world - all the time!

    Commenter
    Sharron
    Location
    Canberra
    Date and time
    November 29, 2012, 4:15PM
    • With the Federal Parliament about to rise for it's session and parliamentary year, whilst there's much that has appeared on the stage in our Capital; what about the stuff that the government isn't prepared to discuss - such as; why is the majority of Australian businesses paying superannuation but the federal government, being a employer isn't I particularly note the detail within the above item and we should be asking Wayne Swan re; where's the money going to come from to pay its Commonwealth Employees, which remains a unfunded liability?

      Commenter
      Canberra Observer
      Location
      Brisbane
      Date and time
      November 29, 2012, 5:43PM
      • Before we get the usual blast of criticism which comes with articles concerning the APS it is worth remembering that Australia has grown and developed over the period since 1988 and that growth in the public sector must be analysed against that backdrop eg Australia's population has grown from 16.5 million to 22.8 million and from 1959 until 2012, Australia's GDP Growth Rate has averaged 0.89 % (GDP at current prices was reported at $1260.20 billions in 2009 (IMF) and in 2015 it is expected to be $1742.02 billions). With such growth and development it would be expected that the role of Government and the attendant expectations of the populace would engender growth in the public sector which would seem to be warranted. Cheers!

        Commenter
        Observer
        Location
        Canberra
        Date and time
        November 29, 2012, 6:13PM
        • Sensible, informed opinion has no place in a PS related CT article. Bring out the pick axes.. we all know where this will end. Everyone should just be a plumber or bricklayer. Everyone. On Government handouts, of course. Building industry needs some help.

          Commenter
          Trevor
          Location
          Budget lock up room
          Date and time
          November 29, 2012, 7:27PM
      • What worries me is that Australia has the highest spend on government, per capita, anywhere in the world. Admittedly the current strength of the Australian dollar distorts the analysis somewhat but it is still a concern. It's not that public servants are generally inefficient or incapable - though some will be. The issue, as I see it, is that there simply is too much doubling up of service design, analysis and execution. For instance, why are the states independently responsible for healthcare. Why isn't there a unified national education curriculum? We're using a system which was constructed around century old issues. We need to reform the status quo. And that will take considerable political capital.

        Commenter
        rala86
        Date and time
        November 29, 2012, 8:55PM
        • What worries me is that people get on here and just punch out 'facts' (like that above) which are just so plainly incorrect as to defy belief. Have you even bothered to look at any measures of public service or total government expenditure per capita before posting this? No. Because if you had you would not have posted it.

          Unless you were Abbott, of course. Nothing will stop him.

          Commenter
          Trevor
          Location
          behind you
          Date and time
          November 29, 2012, 9:43PM
        • rala 86 one way to fix it get rid of state governments.

          Commenter
          amro
          Date and time
          November 29, 2012, 9:49PM
        • rala86, interested in your comment, but your first sentence is off. The Australian government (even if you combine all three levels of government) is nowhere near being the highest spending per capita in the world.

          Commenter
          Markus Mannheim
          Location
          Canberra
          Date and time
          November 29, 2012, 10:34PM
        • Apologies if I am misleading readers - I wrote the above in good faith and only after reading an article about comparative costs of government a couple of weeks ago. The point that I was trying to make, and which clearly has been obscured, is that there is scope to rationalize public expenditure.

          Commenter
          rala86
          Date and time
          November 30, 2012, 3:38AM
      • "Bureaucracy at its largest in 24 years"... Well of course it is - the Australian population is at its largest ever! The public service serves the Australian public, so as the population grows, so does the public servce serving it. It's not rocket science.

        Commenter
        PatrickT
        Location
        Canberra
        Date and time
        November 30, 2012, 11:33AM
        Comments are now closed

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