The Australian Public Service's losing battle against sickies has been raging for more than a century, documents from the National Archives reveal.
A high level report into the service written in 1920 shows departmental bosses struggling to get their bureaucrats to show up for work and noting "the cost to the community of granting sick leave to public servants forms a serious item of expenditure".
Ninety-five years later, little has changed with the departing Public Service Commissioner describing the service's problems with sick leave and other unscheduled absences as "seemingly intractable".
The 1920 Royal Commission into the Administration of the Public Service found many early public servants treating sick leave as a "vested right" and showing "remarkable ingenuity" in defrauding their departments.
The average absence rate in 1920 was 12.5 days each year for women bureaucrats and 5.8 days for men.
In 2013-2014, unscheduled absence rates across all APS agencies increased to 12 days per employee, up from 11.6 days the previous year, with sick leave accounting for most of the absence.
In his 1920 report, Royal Commissioner Duncan Clark McLachlan, himself a former Public Service Commissioner expressed alarm at the sense of entitlement to sick leave among the young nation's 24,000 federal bureaucrats.
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The Royal Commissioner wrote that "unduly liberal" sick leave arrangements, of up to 12 months' pay for veterans with more than 10 years of service, were driving the number of no-shows and Mr McLachlan was unimpressed with the level of medical scrutiny on public service sickies.
"The present scale is unduly liberal and in many cases offers an incentive to unscrupulous officers to absent themselves from duty without sufficient reason," he wrote.
"Generally speaking, the medical check on unlawful absences and on malingering is but slight.
"Many officers regard sick leave as a vested right, which they are justified in exercising whether necessary or not."
Mr McLachlan was taken aback by the resourcefulness shown by some early bureaucrats in rorting their sick leave entitlement but was careful to stress that a small number of public servants were blackening the reputation of the majority.
"The history of malingering in the service includes many remarkable instances if the ingenuity of officers in defrauding their departments," the Royal Commissioner wrote.
"These remarks do not apply to a large proportion of the service, comprising honourable men and who would scorn to take advantage of the departments.
"But unfortunately there is a proportion who do not hesitate to avail themselves of the liberality of the regulations, which were solely designed to help unfortunate and deserving officers."
Recently departed Public Service Commissioner Stephen Sedgwick, who did not use words like "malingering", revealed in his last State of the Service reports that he was at least as exasperated as his distant predecessor about public service sickies, despite the 95 years years of soul searching in between.
"The level of unscheduled absence in the APS continues to increase and the reasons for this are unclear," Mr Sedgwick wrote.