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Public Service Commissioner Stephen Sedgwick denies freeze on hiring

Australian Public Service Commissioner Stephen Sedgwick.
Australian Public Service Commissioner Stephen Sedgwick.  Photo: Katherine Griffiths

There is no public service hiring freeze, the Australian Public Service Commission has declared.

But Commissioner Stephen Sedgwick says the hiring "arrangements" in force since late 2013 are seeing public service "staffing numbers declining month by month".

Mr Sedgwick says he has no issue with the bureaucracy's bosses using the inter-departmental transfer system to hire new staff, in fact he encourages the practice.

The commissioner has rejected a report in The Canberra Times that said public service bosses had been using various methods to game the hiring ban imposed by the Abbott Government soon after it took office in 2013.

The commissioner, whose office has the task of policing the policy, says there is no hiring freeze.

"The government has not put a freeze on recruitment activity in the Australian Public Service," Mr Sedgwick wrote in a letter to the newspaper.

"The intent of the government's policy [is] to maximise the use of existing staff to fill essential vacancies and minimise new hires."

The paper reported that Canberra mandarins had been using a number of lurks to get around the rules including "repurposing" long-vacant jobs and "position stacking" to continue recruiting despite the government's orders.

But the most popular way of hiring the person the boss wanted for the job was the use of Section 26 of the Public Service Act to simply transfer in the new recruit from another department, without having to inform the commission.

It was also revealed the commission had appointed just three of its public servants, one of them a part-timer, to police the system for the entire 160,000-strong public service.

But Mr Sedgewick says the S.26 transfers are "fully consistent" with the government's policies.

"By definition, transferring existing staff around the service does not add to overall staffing numbers," he said.

"In a number of cases, agencies that are expanding have established formal arrangements with downsizing agencies to facilitate such transfers.

"I encourage this approach."

The commissioner said there was nothing in the recruitment "policy" to stop departments hiring short-term "critical" positions for less than 12 months.

"The commission closely monitors the use of non-ongoing contracts," he wrote.

Mr Sedgewick said the hiring arrangements were having the desired affect; reducing the size of the federal government's workforce.

"These arrangements are having an impact with overall staffing numbers declining, month by month," he said.

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