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Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet executives freshly targeted

Date

Phillip Thomson

Dozens of top officials at Prime Minister Tony Abbott's elite department are in the firing line.

Senior executives at the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet have just found out they will take part in a "spill and fill" that forces them to stake their claim to stay employed at the organisation.

The process forcing staff to reapply for jobs is now being used at several units across the department because there has not been enough interest in voluntary redundancies.

The highest ranking staff targeted are 30 band-1 senior executives, who receive base pay of more than $170,000 a year, in the indigenous affairs section.

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One in three of these high-level public servants will lose their job despite the Prime Minister's focus on Aboriginal issues.

They were told the news on Monday but the rest of the department had not been officially informed as of Tuesday morning. 

A Senate estimates hearing on Tuesday heard that the vast majority of these staff, and others facing potential job loss at the department, had recently been transferred into the organisation from other departments.  

Labor senator John Faulkner was told these included staff transferred to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet from up to eight different departments or agencies because of machinery of government changes. 

"It would be a pretty unhappy experience for them," Senator Faulkner said. 

Other staff told they would endure a spill and fill included executive level two employees from the domestic policy division.

The department's average staffing level must be reduced by between 350 and 400 full-time-equivalent jobs out of a workforce of 2418 because of the federal budget.

About 200 staff have expressed interest in voluntary redundancies and another 100 have left without being backfilled.

This leaves 50 to 100 positions that need to be identified and surrendered between now and the end of June 2015.

A total of $25 million will be used to cover redundancies at the department in 2013-14.

The finance and public administration hearing heard also heard from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet that the cost of Mr Abbott's unused rented residence in Canberra was $120,000 – about the equivalent salary of an executive level 2 public servant. 

The full cost was revealed on a day when Liberal senator Eric Abetz said that under the Coalition, public servants travelling overseas would be showcasing Australia "in an appropriate manner, not an extravagant manner".

It also follows Monday's hearing when Liberal senator Dean Smith said almost $1 million on training and catering costs for public servants seemed like a waste, while listing $90,000 spent at the Lake Crackenback Resort and $350,000 at Peppers Manor House in Bowral. 

The cost of Mr Abbott's rented house included a $64,000 termination fee, $39,000 in rent, $14,000 in legal fees and $1500 in broker costs for a house in Forrest that was leased before the federal election because of renovations at The Lodge. 

The department's head of domestic policy, Rebecca Cross, conceded that with the benefit of hindsight, the bureaucracy would probably not make the same decision again.

Mr Abbott has not stayed at the house, instead choosing the Australian Police College for $110 a night.

Labor senator Penny Wong said: "The end of the age of entitlement doesn't apply to the PM's residence."

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