‘Operating at our ASL limit’: Services Australia on APS staff cap

By Shannon Jenkins

Thursday October 3, 2019

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Services Australia has taken a Senate inquiry into visa privatisation and robodebt as an opportunity to justify the benefits of outsourcing.

In a submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee, Services Australia explained that outsourcing employees has been a “cost-effective” way for the department to deliver its services.

“Ongoing Australian Public Service (APS) employees will continue to be the core of the department’s workforce, but the department has historically had a workforce that includes non-ongoing APS employees, labour hire (resources employed by an external party and managed by a Services Australia manager), external service providers (employees who are managed by an external party to deliver agreed outcomes) and contract staff,” the submission states.

“Non-APS staff arrangements are used as a timely, cost-effective way to complement, not replace, the department’s current service delivery workforce. This workforce mix is not uncommon in large organisations with diverse functions. In general, this blend of resourcing arrangements helps us deliver timely services and provides flexibility to meet changing demand for services.”

The department noted it has had to work within the limitations of the federal government’s APS staffing cap.

“As a result, additional resources are sometimes required to deliver on government priorities or to progress initiatives to transform and modernise our technology and capability. Employing non-APS staff provides timely access to the people needed for specific and often time-limited priorities … where we are already operating at our ASL limit, it is important to be able to access non-APS resources to make sure we have the capacity to deliver on all of the government’s priorities,” it said.

Martin Hoffman, a former secretary of the NSW Department of Finance, Services and Innovation, was appointed earlier this year to produce a strategy to transition the Department of Human Services into the new Services Australia. Consultants McKinsey and KPMG won a $868,000 contract to help design the strategy. The department has spent more than $800 million on labour hire over the past two years, according to the Canberra Times.

Read more: Former NSW department head Martin Hoffman to lead Services Australia transition taskforce

The inquiry into the impact of changes to service delivery models on the administration and running of government programs was announced in August.

At the time, the Community and Public Sector Union Secretary Nadine Flood had welcomed the probe into issues posed by the staff cap.

“Cuts, outsourcing and privatisation have a massive impact on staff and on the quality of the vital public services and institutions that Australians rely on,” she said in a statement.

“And underlying all these problems are decisions by the Liberal government to cut and outsource the public service, and to put arbitrary limits on how many people the public service can employ to deliver these programs.”

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