CPSU says government jobs could help drought-hit towns, panics over phantom ‘job cuts’


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The Community and Public Sector Union says the Morrison government’s cuts to the Australian Public Service workforce have worsened the economic effects of the drought, by removing over 1000 jobs from struggling regional communities since 2013.

The CPSU claims these cuts have removed a combined $85 million a year from the economies of drought-hit towns, and $253.7 million over the next three years, in its response to this year’s APS State of the Service report.

The public sector union would obviously like to see the numbers go the other way, and it now says those regions should be the priority for increased staffing, particularly in key service delivery agencies.

“If the Government was serious about increasing growth in these regions, they would restore these jobs and add new jobs to the existing APS regional footprint,” said acting national secretary Melissa Donnelly. “This approach would also improve service provision in regional locations. Creating more frontline roles in the Department of Human Services (DHS), the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) will ensure quick access to services and ensure these towns can stay alive.”

The union has an ongoing campaign against the arbitrary cap on staffing budgets, which stops the APS growing any larger than it was 13 years ago. But its first response to the report this year massively overstated the number of job losses reflected in the new statistics.

The CPSU claimed there were “3,158 jobs cut from the APS” in the last financial year, but fewer than half as many jobs actually disappeared.

The rest are still working for the government right now, and have seen hundreds more colleagues join them over the year, they just aren’t legally classified as members of the APS anymore. They are the cyber spooks and professional eavesdroppers at the Australian Signals Directorate, who ceased being employed under the conditions enshrined in the Public Service Act at the start of the financial year.

“This will provide ASD with greater flexibility to recognise the skills of its specialised workforce,” according to the relevant legislative amendment. “This structure will reflect the need to retain those individuals with highly sought after skills, such as those with STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) qualifications.”

The ASD’s director-general also gets to decide which “principles of the Public Service Act” the intelligence agency’s employees have to follow.

The Defence portfolio saw a net reduction of just under 1900 people in the year to June 30, 2019, and nearly all of them worked in the Signals Directorate. The ASD annual report shows it began that 12-month period with just over 1700 staff members, and ended it with a little over 1900.

If we assume the same growth would have occurred, had the ASD stayed in the APS, the net reduction calculated by the CPSU would be closer to 1200.

The APS also gained a couple of hundred employees in 2018-19, on paper, in a similar way. They already had jobs, with the National Disability Insurance Agency, but are now employed under the Public Service Act because they transferred to the Department of Social Services.

So with the ASD spooks going out and the former NDIA staff coming in, there was a net reduction to the APS headcount on paper of just over 1600, all purely as a result of machinery-of-government tinkering, not actual job cuts.

The biggest actual cut was in the Department of Human Services, which lost nearly 2000 ongoing staff and just over 300 non-ongoing personnel from June to June.

“With over 48 million unanswered calls to DHS in 2017/2018 and a further 5.3 million calls abandoned out of frustration, these are not the actions of a good government,” said Donnelly.

The Australian Taxation Office also shrank by a little over 1200 employees in 2018-19, including about 90 in non-ongoing roles.

The headcounts reported in SOS reports are only point-in-time snapshots of the personnel databases of APS agencies on June 30 each year while people enter and leave the workforce every day. The figures also also get revised over time.

Last year for example, the APS commission reported the total headcount was 150,594 at June 30, 2018. Now it says there were actually 199 fewer staff at that exact same point in time — June 30, 2018.

This is a tiny variation in percentage terms but shows there is little use in focusing on the exact numbers.

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