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.”
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.