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The federal public service's 34,000 empty desks in more than 500 buildings around Australia

The federal government is to go national in its efforts to offload some of the hundreds of thousands of square metres of office space leased by Commonwealth departments but sitting empty.

The Commonwealth has 34,000 empty desks in more than 500 buildings around Australia, according to the latest government data.

The Commonwealth has 34,000 empty desks in more than 500 buildings around Australia, including Canberra.
The Commonwealth has 34,000 empty desks in more than 500 buildings around Australia, including Canberra. Photo: Graham Tidy

But the Coalition says it is beginning to get the federal government's glut of excess real estate under control, with "Project Tetris" said to have saved $200 million in Canberra so far and due to be rolled out nationally.

The latest Australian Government Office Occupancy Report, shows that progress is being made in reducing the hectares of empty office space around the nation being paid for by taxpayers.

Leases on more than half of the government's vast property holdings will expire within three years and the Finance Department, which has been given a greater supervisory role on government real estate, sees opportunities to cut the portfolio down to size.

But the task is huge, according to the Occupancy report, with 2.38 million square metres of offices currently held on leases around the country and 21 per cent of it sitting vacant.

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There were 158,315 "work points" in those buildings but just 124,315 of them were occupied.

Finance says it intends to move large numbers of public servants out of buildings where the leases are expiring and into those empty floors and buildings.

"Whilst some vacancy is needed to provide flexibility to manage churn relating to changing business needs, it is reasonable to expect that the Commonwealth will be able to reduce this percentage significantly over the next few years, by back-filling surplus lease space as leases reach expiry," the report states.

"With 55 per cent of leases scheduled to end over the next three years, representing 41 per cent of the area leased, a genuine opportunity exists to better manage the Commonwealth's property footprint and deliver efficiencies and savings."

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann was upbeat on Monday about his department's prospects for success, saying its real estate reshuffles in Canberra had booked savings worth $200 million.

"The Government's Operation Tetris has successfully filled over 42,000 square metres of previously vacant and surplus office space under lease in and around Canberra.

"As a result of a more co-ordinated approach to property leasing arrangements on a whole of government basis, Operation Tetris has delivered almost $200 million in savings so far since the last election from the significant reduction in unnecessary leases. "

The minister nominated several moves around the capital including The Department of Veterans' Affairs moving into 10,000 square metres in the Taxation Office's building in the city centre, and The Shared Services Centre taking up nearly 11,000 square metres in the Garema Court building.

The Australian Electoral Commission, the Digital Transformation Office and the Department of Education have taken more than 7000 square metres between them at 50 Marcus Clarke Street. 

Only about half of the government's office holdings are in Canberra, according to the report, and the minister's office said the Finance Department would now apply the Tetris treatment to buildings in other capital cities and regional centres.

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