Cuts hit Defence, welfare hardest

Cuts hit Defence, welfare hardest

Australia's defence and social welfare bureaucracies bore the brunt of Labor's spending cuts in the party's last 16 months in office, new figures show, with the two departments shedding nearly 1400 workers.

A detailed breakdown of where Labor's axe fell shows that Defence, Human Services and the Tax Office, the government's three largest departments, accounted for more than half the 3353 public service redundancies between July 2012 and October 2013.

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The Finance Department data supplied to a Senate estimates committee shows the Defence Department with 764 redundancies and Veteran's Affairs with 60, suffering proportionately higher losses than the rest of the public service. The two departments lost about 3 per cent of their workers.

Most other agencies reported redundancies of between 1 and 2 per cent.

And now more pain is on the way with Defence Minister David Johnston having signalled his determination for more cuts, saying 23,000 public servants in Defence, 9700 of them in Canberra, was ''too heavy''.


Labor's 2012-13 budget cut $5.5 billion out of the defence budget over the four-year forward estimates period, bringing the nation's defence spending, as a proportion of gross domestic product, to its lowest level since before World War II.

The 633 redundancies reported by Human Services were part of a dramatic downsizing that saw the mammoth department's headcount shrink by at least 3300 in Labor's last 16 months in power.

Up to 1200 of the casualties were temporary workers drafted in to try to ease the department's customer service crisis. These were then jettisoned with no entitlement to redundancy payments.

The department, which runs Centrelink, Medicare and the Child Support Agency, said there was no formal voluntary redundancy program in place but workers were free to request a pay-out package at any time.

The ATO reported 317 redundancies during Labor's last 16 months, a figure dwarfed by the 900 job cuts planned for this financial year and the 200 positions to be lost by the abolition, announced on Friday, of the Australian Valuation Office.

The Abbot government's public service job cull is well under way, with 60 more redundancies officially notified late last week, with the axe falling, again, on the Environment Department.

About 40 more jobs are to go, mostly Canberra-based officials, joining another 50 whose redundancies were announced earlier in the week.

The pain may not be over at Environment, with a spokesman saying an ''internal review'' was still under way.

''The department is undertaking an internal review of its roles and functions to advise on appropriate staffing levels and how best to realign its resources to meet its strategic objectives,'' he said.

Environment refused to supply data on how much it had spent on redundancies, saying it would publish the information in its annual report.

The latest departures also included four members of the public service's elite senior executive service from the ATO, Health, Social Services and Environment, who left under generous ''incentives to retire'' packages on offer to the bureaucracy bosses.

Community and Public Sector Union national secretary Nadine Flood said the figures showed that any more cuts to the public service would be ''folly''.

''What this goes to show is that the public service has been under sustained pressure for quite some time,'' Ms Flood said.

''We have consistently said that successive savings measures have taken their toll on public sector jobs and services. For the Abbott government to proceed with its promise to cut 12,000 jobs for starters is sheer folly. There have already been at least 3600 job cuts announced by this government since it came to office.

''We said before the election and we continue to say it now - cutting more public sector jobs will only hurt the services the community relies upon, and the economy.''

Noel Towell

Noel Towell is State Political Editor for The Age

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