Money paid to lease space for swathes of empty desks across the country by Tax Office

A major Commonwealth agency culling thousands of workers because of financial pressure is still leasing offices for swathes of unused desks across Australia and one union official said it would only get worse.

Documents show the Australian Tax Office has 4390 workstations showing ''no signs of life'', which was enough empty desks to outnumber entire workforces at many other government departments.

More than 600 of the unused workpoints were in Canberra.

The Tax Office would not say how much money was being wasted on renting more space than it needed. 

The figures showed almost 16 per cent of workstations at 43 sites nationally were idle. It was an improvement on figures last year which showed 4700 desks were empty but harsh reductions in the workforce would pose a challenge from now on.

The Tax Office was in the process of seeing how it could consolidate office space as part of money-saving reforms.


Without significant office consolidation, the numbers of empty workstations would be expected to increase as staff reductions reached 4700 by 2018. 

In raw numbers, the Tax Office's leftover desks would be enough to home most of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's workforce, or twice the amount of staff employed at the Department of Finance or three times the public servants at Treasury.

In Canberra, more than a quarter of the Tax Office's Amungula office in Narellan Street, Civic, was empty, with 331 unused workstations out of a total of 1223.

The Gnabra Kembery building in Civic had 300 lifeless workpoints out of a total of 2951. From 2016 the Department of Veterans Affairs will be subletting part of the Gnabra building for most of its Canberra staff.

A Canberra shopfront had 6 of 11 workspaces empty. There were a total of 637 empty workstations in Canberra out of a total number of 4185.

Australian Services Union tax branch secretary Jeff Lapidos said he expected the number of empty workstations to increase  due to redundancies. 

''Commissioner [Chris] Jordan’s 2020 vision is creating chaos in the ATO as it heralds the closure of more offices because redundancies are creating vacant desks faster than subletting floors and office closures can eliminate them,'' Mr Lapidos said.

The mass of empty desks suggests a huge amount of leased floor space was not being used by the agency.  

If the Commonwealth's standard floor space of an average of 14 square metres was allowed for each unused workpoint, it would mean there was somewhere in the vicinity of 60,000 square metres of dead office space.

A workpoint was defined by the Department of Finance as a desk, enclosed office or a section of a counter where it was reasonable for one person to carry out their duties on an ongoing basis.

An occupied workstation was defined as having all essential office equipment – such as a chair, phone and computer – as well as ''signs of life'' such as including stationery and other belongings, and was not clogged up with excessive rubbish or boxes, which indicated it was being used regularly.

A Tax Office spokesperson said the agency was proactively working to reduce the number of vacant workpoints across office locations nationally.

''We have seen a reduction in the number of vacancies,'' the spokesperson said. 

''As lease expiry opportunities present themselves, we work with landlords to reduce any excess space as part of a new lease agreement.

''If no lease expiry is imminent, we work across government to identify opportunities for other agencies to sublet space.


''Forecasting future workpoint vacancies is not a simple equation of subtracting the number of departures from the current figure of 4390. It does not take into account the work we do with landlords when leases are renegotiated to reduce excess space, or discussions we have across government to identify opportunities for other agencies to sublet space.''



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