The axe has started to fall at the federal Health Department with some divisions expected to lose up to a third of their staff.
Health staff were summoned to meetings on Wednesday afternoon where they were told that some of their sections would be gutted as Health tries to reduce its workforce by 350 jobs, the vast majority of them expected to be in Canberra.
The department, which has already lost about 1230 of its bureaucrats in the ''machinery of government'' changes, will now see its headcount reduced to as few as 3700 in just 12 months.
The Population Health Division is under the gun, understood to be targeted for a staffing cut of more than 30 per cent, while the Primary and Ambulatory Care Division will have its ranks reduced by 25 per cent. Some other divisions are expected to escape unscathed.
Departmental secretary Jane Halton declined to be interviewed on Wednesday but a spokesman for the department said staff had until next Friday, November 15, to apply for a ''small number of voluntary redundancies''.
''The number of voluntary redundancies is yet to be determined,'' the spokesman said in a statement. ''The Department is implementing a new organisational structure. A considered approach is being taken to ensure that staff with the required skills are matched to positions in the new structure.''
The move, described by the public sector union as ''ugly'', comes as the Attorney-General's Department joins the list of agencies trying to trim their workforces by offering voluntary redundancies, further undermining the Abbott government's pledge to use natural attrition to achieve its 12,000 job cuts.
Public servants at executive and senior executive level at Attorney-General are being asked if they want redundancy packages, joining counterparts at the Treasury, Finance and the Environment departments.
CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood said the Abbott government was taking an ugly approach to reducing public service numbers.
''We have always opposed the plan to cut 12,000 jobs, whether it's through natural attrition or redundancies,'' she said. ''Now we are starting to see the ugly reality of their approach. It is tough on staff and on the people relying on the services they provide.''
The office of Public Service Minister Eric Abetz has not responded to requests for comment on the redundancies sweeping the service.
Meanwhile, Australia's top bureaucrats went to a tropical holiday paradise to say the public service has no place for workers who don't ''pull their weight''.
Public Service Commissioner Stephen Sedgwick told delegates at a Commonwealth public sector conference in Kuching, Malaysia, last week that the service has to improve its performance management and accountability or risk being replaced as the main service provider to government.
Mr Sedgwick said there was growing intolerance for ''mistakes or waste'' in the public sector and he also took a swipe at ''activities that do not matter''.
In a time of efficiency dividends, job losses and with most departments and agencies struggling with their budget positions, performance management and accountability had to improve, he said.
''There's been lots of talk about improving efficiency and effectiveness, new ways of thinking about design and delivery of services and, a favourite topic of mine, accountability and performance management,'' he said.
''As resources tighten, we cannot afford to have resources wasted on activities that do not matter; nor can we afford staff who do not pull their weight.
''We have work to do here which has the potential to transform the efficiency and effectiveness of workplaces by changing the way that staff are tasked and their performance is managed.''