Spotlight on waste as Public Service Commissioner appears before estimates hearing

The public service redeployment register helping unplaced bureaucrats get jobs contains incorrect information and has been giving departments looking for workers a bum steer.

The Public Service Commission was grilled about almost $1 million of spending that looked like "extreme waste". 

More than 400 public servants now have their names on the register and another 168 have moved off the list since November after finding jobs.

But the top bureaucrat overseeing the public service says a number of public servants are not using the register well enough to get a job by uploading their CVs.

Others are leaving old information on the register.


Public Service Commissioner Stephen Sedgwick said when some departments called bureaucrats on the register to give them employment they discovered some of the people on the list had already found jobs elsewhere. 

During the estimates hearing, Liberal senator Dean Smith questioned why $320,000 had been spent on training senior public servants at the Peppers Manor House in Bowral and another $90,000 in recent years for similar reasons at a resort at Lake Crackenback in Jindabyne.

Using AusTender as his source, Senator Smith went on to ask about $500,000 spent on catering at one Canberra cafe within three years which fed people at the Woden Training Centre, another $12,724 for workshops to strengthen mental fitness and $42,000 spent on chairs for a training centre. 

"This looks like extreme waste," Senator Smith said. 

"Do the expensive nature of the venues correlate with the success of the [training] courses?

"In the current environment, people are being asked to make reductions in their expenditure."

Mr Sedgwick said the senator's conclusions were unfair.

"We run a major business," the commissioner said.

"Thousands of people go through the [Woden Training Centre]."

He told the finance and public administration hearing the training courses at resorts were highly regarded and important for people who were becoming leaders in the public service. 

In regard to the $12,724 mental health training, Mr Sedgwick said the senator may have been referring to sessions run to teach people about mental illness in the workplace. 

Senator Smith inferred this may not have been the case seeing as the workshops were described as positive psychology in "lively" environments, which allowed people to "flourish".

Liberal senator Cory Bernardi repeated comments made at earlier hearings that if the Community and Public Sector Union pushed ahead with 4 per cent yearly wage rises it would cost 10,000 jobs.  

The National Commission of Audit recommended the Public Service Commissioner's job be done by the secretary of the Employment Department – a department which would take on all the commission's roles – but the federal government is yet to take up the suggestion. 

Former department head Don Russell said these recommendations from the audit commission would strip the federal bureaucracy of much-needed independent oversight, introduce cosy relationships and conflicts of interest.

Dr Russell said the report's suggestion to roll the Public Service Commission into the Employment Department and give Mr Sedgwick's job to the education secretary "does not strike me as a particularly sensible change".