Peter Woolcott’s estimates seachange


APSC appearances at Senate estimates have been decidedly calmer since the departure of Public Sector Commissioner and Labor bugbear John Lloyd.

Lloyd’s successor Peter Woolcott appeared for the second time in his role as head of the Australian Public Service Commission yesterday — and there were no tense exchanges or even hostile questions from Senator Penny Wong.

The only one that came close was when Senator Jenny McAllister asked whether he had any concerns about the potential over-use of contractors in the Australian Public Service.

“I’m not aware of any particular concerns having been brought to my attention in relation to the composition of that workforce,” Woolcott responded.

“That is truly remarkable,” said McAllister.

“We announced a target of some 3% Indigenous representation in the Commonwealth public sector by 2018. We are not there yet in terms of the overall public sector, but in terms of the APS we have gone ahead of that.”

The commissioner was also asked about Indigenous employment.

He explained that the number of Indigenous federal public employees had grown in recent years. For the Commonwealth public sector as a whole, it grew from 2.2% to 2.9% between 2015 and 2018. That number is higher for the APS, moving from 2.6% to 3.3% in that time.

“You will recall that under the Commonwealth Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment Strategy we announced a target of some 3% Indigenous representation in the Commonwealth public sector by 2018. We are not there yet in terms of the overall Commonwealth public sector, but in terms of the APS we have gone ahead of that,” said Woolcott.

“My strong sense is that, in looking at the strategy for the future — and obviously we are still giving consideration to what we replace the current strategy with — we’ll need to look at issues around retention and we’ll need to look at issues around the seniority of Indigenous public servants, because I think at the most senior levels it is still way too low.”

Additionally, Woolcott was asked whether he agrees with Lloyd’s position that the public sector should neither lead nor lag private sector wages — he does, and confirmed that like his predecessor, he has not sought advice on the macroeconomic effect of the Commonwealth’s public sector wages policy.

He also stated he believes the Commonwealth has a role as a model employer.

Finance Minister Matthias Cormann was asked how many of the 1.25 million jobs the government has pledged to create over the next five years would be in the public sector.

He took the question on notice but stated that “it continues to be our intention to maintain the size of the federal public sector at 06-07 levels until such time as the budget is back in surplus, which is expected to be 2019-20”.

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