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Public service numbers on slide

Date

Noel Towell and Markus Mannheim

Office workers.

Office workers. Photo: Louise Kennerley

The federal public service shed more than 2500 jobs last year, the first time in a decade the Commonwealth bureaucracy has shrunk.

The latest APS jobs snapshot from the Public Service Commission shows there were 2608 fewer public servants in December 2012 than employed in June that year, as Labor's cost-cutting and efficiency dividends began to bite in earnest.

The December data, published on Tuesday by the Public Service Commission, shows 165,598 people employed by the bureaucracy across the nation, a decline of nearly 2 per cent in six months.

The last contraction in public service numbers, by just 283 workers, was in the 2003-04 financial year under the Howard government.

The size of the public service has become a focus of the federal election, with Labor and the Coalition trading barbs over each other's approach to the number of staff in the bureaucracy.

The Coalition claims the service has grown by 20,000 under Labor and says it will shed 12,000 jobs through ''natural attrition'', while the the government has consistently cut public sector spending while saying it wants to avoid large-scale job losses.

Next week's federal budget is expected to reveal that the public service lost even more jobs in the first half of this year.

Among the departments hardest hit by the job losses in 2012 was Defence, which shed 972 jobs, and the Australian Taxation Office, which lost 420 workers.

The Department of Human Services, which runs Centrelink, Medicare and the Child Support Agency, saw its workforce reduced by 1078 to 35,800.

Among the few departments to grow between June and December 2012 were Prime Minister and Cabinet, which grew by 20 employees, and Department of Immigration and Citizenship, which added 79 staff.

The offices of shadow treasurer Joe Hockey and Liberal workplace relations spokesman Eric Abetz were contacted for comment on Tuesday but did not respond.

The Labor government's acting Minister for the Public Service and Integrity, Jason Clare, said the new figures were not an indication the government was trying to implement its cost-cutting agenda through jobs cuts.

''The government has pursued efficiencies in the way the public service operates through cutting unnecessary spending in the public service, rather than through job cuts,'' the minister said.

''The efficiency dividend is a matter for individual agencies. The government has sought savings through a new targeted savings arrangement that reduces expenditure in non-staffing areas.''

Mr Clare referred questions on the numbers of forced and voluntary redundancies among the jobs lost in 2012 to individual departments.

''The management of staffing levels is a matter for individual agencies,'' he said. ''The data collected by the Australian Public Service Commission does not differentiate between voluntary and involuntary retrenchments.''

The new figures showed the biggest drop in public service numbers since the late 1990s, according to CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood, who said essential services would suffer if further cuts were delivered.

“Public sector workers are telling us they are already working harder than ever to deliver the services that Australians rely upon every day,” she said.

“Cutting their budgets might help balance the government’s books but in the end the losers will be the public who rely on these services every day.”

Correction:
An earlier version of this article wrongly said almost 3000 jobs were shed in the second half of 2012. This discrepancy was the result of comparing Public Service Commission data published last year with the latest, updated report.

106 comments

  • Now that the numbers in the public service have changed will "Slick" Abbott change his mind about his 20,000 sackings.

    "When the facts change I change my mind, what do you do sir" ... Keynes

    Prime Minister Julia Gillard had no hesitation in doing this.

    Will "Slick" Abbott follow behind Julia ........ again.

    Commenter
    J. Fraser
    Location
    Queensland
    Date and time
    May 08, 2013, 6:55AM
    • J Fraser. Nice deflection but would it be too much to get your opinion on the current round of cuts, not what may happen in the future? Or are facts just too inconvenient a reality for you?

      Commenter
      BBA
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      May 08, 2013, 8:11AM
    • "When the facts change I change my mind, what do you do sir" ... Keynes

      I listen to what Milton Friedman has to say, sir.

      Commenter
      w ch
      Date and time
      May 08, 2013, 8:12AM
    • J. Fraser - So just becaust it has been claimed that federal public employees numbers are down by "nearly 3,000", all will be right? What is 3,000 compared to tens of thousands added by Labor (and even by Howard)? Is it just a numbers game or is it making sure the employees are actually justified? Wasn't there a report stating that a manager in the public sector now "manages" only 2.5 staff? Can Australia continue to waste money on a very much bloated public sector which adds nothing to real services and efficiency, especially in health and education, not to mention the Department of Climate Change and Clean Energy?

      Commenter
      hbloz
      Date and time
      May 08, 2013, 8:32AM
    • Only 17000 to go by my maths. There are a lot of managers who only have 2 to 3 staff in a section supposed to have 10+ staff. Time for some management consolidation me thinks.

      Commenter
      Act Rationally
      Date and time
      May 08, 2013, 8:36AM
    • @J. Fraser
      LocationQueensland
      Date and timeMay 08, 2013, 6:55AM

      White collar redundancies, non-voluntary I might add, are occurring today at an unprecedented rate today. Why shouldn't Tony Abott undertake similar measures to the Public Service when he storms to power in September, regardless of whether measures have begun to take place? Or is your faith unwaivering once again in Australian workers to pay for the inefficiencies of the Public Service, too? Gonski, NBN, 20,000 APS hangers on, NDIS. Just how are we going to pay for all of this? I'm sorry but the current Labor Government's ability to demonstrate to the public that it can balance the books has not convinced me. The mining tax and false surplus promises suggest to me that we shouldn't listen to anything Wayne Swan says.

      Commenter
      Llama Farma
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      May 08, 2013, 8:39AM
    • We will end up with a 2nd class public service. If you are talented why would you put your hand up to work for less money & have a uncertain future with Abbott & Hockey already saying it's time for Cut Cut Cut. In the future if you don't like the way the Health, Education departments are run then just look at all of the experience that has left due to the treatment & conditions. Same with the State public service .........if the trains don't run it's because all the best people have gone to the open market.

      Commenter
      Bazza
      Date and time
      May 08, 2013, 8:45AM
    • J Fraser do you ever feel a bit embarrassed and pathetic with your ridiculous "slick Abbott" comments to pretty much any political story? I was just wondering.

      Commenter
      WotTha?????
      Date and time
      May 08, 2013, 8:47AM
    • Poor J Fraser - still trying to give Gillard that leg up.....give it up mate - too little, too late.

      Commenter
      tired of the waste
      Date and time
      May 08, 2013, 8:54AM
    • @Act Rationally...."There are a lot of managers who only have 2 to 3 staff in a section supposed to have 10+ staff." In that case maybe get rid of 2 in every 3 managers so each manager has 10 staff?

      Commenter
      Erika
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      May 08, 2013, 9:02AM

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