Work cut out for the public sector

By Chris Johnson

October 6, 2020

parliamentary secretaries
There are several reasons not to introduce competition to foundational public infrastructure. (Image: Adobe/TPG)

In 2020-21, government agencies will administer in the vicinity of $578.5 billion of services to Australian individuals, families and businesses.

The government’s COVID-19 response has already included commitments totalling $299 billion and this budget prioritises the Australian Public Service’s continued responsibility in the pandemic recovery.

The depth of experience in the APS has made this possible, and the adoption of new ways of working have allowed the continuation of high-level advice being delivered to the government.

The Australian Public Service Commission and the Chief Operating Officers’ Committee delivered a major redeployment of staff between agencies to areas of most need.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said the workforce model was a success and has been extended nationally through Commonwealth, State and Territory Public Service Commissioners.

“This agreement facilitates the rapid surge of workers across jurisdictions when public services come under strain,” he said.

“This will ensure that all Australian governments can expect to maintain critical services to Australians in future crises.”

The coronavirus slowed the pace of recruitment for routine agency activities in 2019-20 and this, along with ongoing natural attrition, has resulted in average staffing levels (ASL) across the general government sector being below the level expected at the 2019-20 budget.

This year’s general budget papers, however, do not include yearly comparative tables for ASL across the agencies. Instead, in Budget Paper No. 4 there is only 2020-21 estimates listed. ASL outcomes for 2019-20 are published by agencies in their portfolio statements and annual reports.

Staffing, funding and expenditure levels are further scrutinised and reported here in The Mandarin as part of our ongoing budget coverage. Modernising the APS to uplift its use of digital technologies, however, is being hailed as an ongoing success.

One of the largest areas of investment for the APS’s Modernisation Fund was the establishment of the Data Integration Partnership for Australia – an investment that helped with the government’s responses to the pandemic as well as the bushfires.

“The Government and the public sector have been called on over the last 12 months to respond to crises that have challenged the economy and community…,” Senator Cormann said.

“Just as the APS has benefited from a focus on modernisation, it will now coordinate new efforts to help Australian businesses to take the best advantage of technology, new infrastructure and upskilling… The APS will be at the forefront of efforts to deliver program that support job creation and help Australians seize every economic opportunity.”

The APS will be called on to implement numerous initiatives and changes outlined in the budget.

These include significant adjustments to taxation. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is describing it as a “major structural reform to our tax system”.

Some other key areas of expenditure and program initiatives to be overseen by the public sector include:

  • $7.5 billion transport infrastructure to tackle congestion on essential links;
  • $2.0 billion over two years for small scale road safety projects;
  • $552.9 million over four years for Supporting Regional Australia Package;
  • $1.5 billion over five years to support the Modern Manufacturing Strategy;
  • $459 million in additional funding for the CSIRO;
  • $1 billion for new research funding for universities;
  • $46.5 million over four years for the new National Agreement on Closing the Gap;
  • $317 million to help Australian exporters access global supply chains;
  • JobMaker hiring credit;
  • Doubling the number of Medicare funded psychological services;
  • New listings on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme;
  • $1.6 billion for 23,000 additional aged care home care packages;
  • Extra aged pension payments;
  • $350 million regional tourism package;
  • $1.9 billion to support renewable energy technology;
  • Additional $3.9 billion for the NDIS;
  • Creating YourSuper and implementing changes to superannuation; and
  • $1 billion brought forward in planned defence spending to support jobs and extend veterans’ programs.

National security is another focus of the budget, with an additional $1.7 billion to be invested in cyber security, and a further $450 million for law enforcement and intelligence agencies to help protect against international and domestic threats.

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