Labor has called out the federal government’s temporary increase to staffing levels across the Australian Public Service, arguing that bureaucrats will eventually be under greater pressure to do more work with fewer employees.
While Tuesday’s budget revealed the average staffing level (ASL) cap will increase an estimated 3,666 to 170,428 across the public service — excluding military and reserves — in 2020-21, staffing levels are expected to return to 2006-7 levels by 2022-23.
Shadow assistant minister for treasury Andrew Leigh on Wednesday that the temporary measure outlined in the budget was unfair on APS employees.
“It provides a temporary top up in public servant numbers in a few agencies. But that won’t make up for the fact that there are 7% fewer public servants now than when the Coalition came to office, despite the fact that public servants are being asked to do more,” he told the Institute of Public Accountant’s annual budget breakfast.
“And the arbitrary public service cap stays in place – driving casualisation, costing the taxpayer more, and acting as an ideological ball-and-chain on the public service.”
Public service shadow minister Katy Gallagher also expressed concern over the APS being tasked with delivering more government initiatives with fewer people due to the ASL cap.
“After seven years and thousands of job cuts, the public service has risen to the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic but there has been no recognition of that effort in this year’s budget with 12,000 fewer positions across the APS now than when the Liberals took office,” she said.
“This budget asks a lot of the APS — the tax changes, business incentives, infrastructure program, skills and apprenticeship programs will all be led by an APS under significant pressure with the efficiency dividend, less staff and more work than ever to do.”
Leigh said the budget had also failed to alleviate strain on Australia’s national institutions.
“For Canberra, we’ve seen a mere one-year top-up to the budgets of the national institutions, to make up for the shortfall in visitor revenue. But that’s not going to make up for the 229 jobs at national institutions that have been lost since the Coalition came to office,” he said.
“It won’t make up for the 40 job cuts at the National Gallery of Australia, the 42 job cuts at the National Film & Sound Archive, the 52 job cuts at the National Library of Australia, the 71 job cuts at the National Archives of Australia.”
Earlier this year, after announcements of public service roles to be slashed at the CSIRO, the National Gallery of Australia, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Gallagher warned the cuts were “a sign of things to come”.
Since then, the Department of Defence has revealed up to 111 jobs would be cut from its aerospace, intelligence and surveillance, and maritime and weapon divisions, which the Community and Public Sector Union said was a “direct result” of the ASL cap.