National

Treasury wants deputy secretaries to be able to work from outside Canberra

Treasury secretary John Fraser says advertising jobs as being based in Canberra is a huge barrier to sourcing the best talent for his department.

Treasury head John Fraser.
Treasury head John Fraser.  Photo: Louie Douvis

In an Estimates hearing on Wednesday, Mr Fraser said he had spent a lot of time trying to recruit for a deputy secretary position inside and outside the public service but that "moving to Canberra was an issue".

"That's why we're trying to make it so Melbourne or Sydney is a viable option for people to work as a deputy secretary," he said.

"For family reasons, in particular, moving to Canberra is a big issue for both women and men, but particularly I've found so far for women.

"I do have a bias about trying and get people in who have got broader experience ... either outside Treasury, in the public service in Canberra [or] broader experience say in the state treasuries and also people who have had experience in the private sector.

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"We can't keep up with policy development in areas such as financial markets in particular and increasingly in foreign investment unless we've got people who have experience in businesses or dealing with businesses."

Treasury has established the Sydney office and will open the Melbourne office in March to engage more with business.

The department's staff numbers have shrunk significantly in recent years. It peaked at 1080 and was now down to 800 and will go to 730 by about 2018.

On the other side of the equation was the fact Treasury was dealing with a wider range of issues now compared with 25 years ago.

Fewer resources and a bigger workload meant policy development would increasingly be done with a number of staff sitting around a table at the same time, rather than a junior staff member drafting a policy and sending it up to a superior and so on.

Mr Fraser was overseeing a secondment program in which Treasury staff were sent to other organisations and a small number of private sector executives from large accounting firms were brought into the department.

"I would hope some of those [secondments] would see their way to join us but I've got to be careful because if I'm running one of those big firms my appetite to give me [secondments] may be tempered if they think [those staff] are going to join us," he said.