Public servants told to prepare for late nights after early budget announcement

Federal public servants have been told to prepare for late nights at work after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the federal budget would be brought forward a week to May 3.

The move allows for the possibility of a double dissolution on July 2 unless the Senate passes laws to reintroduce the construction industry watchdog, the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced he will recall a joint sitting of Parliament on April 18 during a press ...
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced he will recall a joint sitting of Parliament on April 18 during a press conference at Parliament House. Photo: Andrew Meares

The additional week provides the government with time to pass its budget supply bills before launching an election campaign, but the revised schedule is likely to place additional pressure on public servants.  

Former Finance Department deputy secretary Stephen Bartos said moving the budget could be a disaster for the public service unless it was carefully managed by ministers and senior officials. 

"The main factor placing pressure on the public service is how late the ministers leave it to make key policy decisions," he said.

"If the government keeps to the same timelines as previous years then it will be a disaster, so they have to be disciplined enough to bring their own deadlines forward a week too.


"If they don't, then there will be a lot of late nights for public servants and there is a risk of errors appearing in the budget."

Andrew Podger, a former public service commissioner and secretary of three federal departments, said bringing the budget forward would be a challenge for many senior public servants.

 "A small army of public servants will be working the midnight oil for a few weeks, I would guess," he said. "The areas most likely yet to be settled are on the revenue side which commonly is held off until the end of the process.

"Advancing the process a week will nonetheless be quite a challenge in terms of getting the documentation together and clearing it all with [the Department of Finance] and ministers."

But a Department of Finance spokeswoman said the early budget would not place additional strain on public servants. 

"Supporting the government in delivering a budget is core business for the Departments of Finance and Treasury,"  she said.

"The departments do not anticipate the workload requirements being any different to other budgets."

Mr Bartos, a NSW parliamentary budget officer, said the government had likely decided on key outcomes and a strategy although some decisions would be left until final weeks.

He said cabinet secretary Arthur Sinodios would be "alive to the dangers of an early election" and would ensure ministerial decisions were made in adequate time.

Centre for Policy Development chief executive Travers McLeod said there should not be any concern about the public sector's ability to produce an early budget.

"One thing the public sector has clearly displayed in recent times is that it is effective, hard-working and dedicated enough to deliver on the often unreasonable demands governments have placed on it," he said.

"This will be no different. The real concern is lingering uncertainty on almost every major policy issue: tax, climate change, joblessness, health and education."

Janine O'Flynn, Professor of Public Management at The University of Melbourne's School of Government, said the budget was always a huge impost on public servant's non-work lives.

"Delivering it early will only make that worse for them," she said. "It is also a big deal in the midst of [enterprise agreement] bargaining too".