Election 2022: How Morrison’s threat to increase efficiency dividends might impact your department

By Tom Ravlic

May 18, 2022

The APS’s fate is up to voters. (zsv3207/Adobe)

The release of costings during an election campaign always leads to tussles between political parties and the media, but there are several issues meriting further reflection, given the federal government’s announcement that a Liberal return to office will mean an increase in the efficiency dividend to pay for promises.

It is important to note that the efficiency dividend increase is being touted as the way the government will cover the costs of the policies it has released during the campaign. But the Morrison administration has the advantage of campaigning with a federal budget done, dusted, and packed with some goodies they would merrily flog on the road.

This is an advantage of incumbency, and it provides the government with the ability to sell budget initiatives as investments they have made during the campaign.

An opposition has no such luxury and is forced to try to manage with some costing support from the Parliamentary Budget Office as well as its own policy resources.

That is why people are seeing an additional statement designed to assure voters that anything not in the federal budget will be covered by the increased efficiency dividend.

It is unclear what this means in practice for each department because government departments are not created equal. But to be clear, positions will be scrutinised across the public sector, with the view to trimming job numbers.

There are some things, however, that will happen naturally given the government is requiring belt-tightening to pay for new stuff that did not wriggle its way into the budget back in March.

Remember travel? The thing people did a lot of before the coronavirus hit? Travel once deemed essential might well become non-essential again in order to ensure a department clears the limbo bar that the government has set.

The coronavirus pandemic resulted in people spending more time engaging with people on teleconferences, and Zoom or Skype calls. It is more than likely this discipline will be retained for a period so as to not increase travel costs.

Office amenities might be examined. We can laugh about catering budgets and replacing Tim Tams with something less sweet, but any costs cut do accumulate. Will your tearoom get a visit from the office razor gang? Time will tell.

There is something else that department bosses will also be scratching their heads over, and that is new hires. Any call to cut costs will bring attention to what work must be done and whether it can be done with the existing headcount.

Forcing people to do more with fewer resources is never an easy choice for managers to make because it creates risk-management and quality-control issues.

Essential projects may be deferred because the department is unable to tackle everything that it would like.

This is not a healthy situation in which to place the public service, given the often-repeated refrain that the headcount has declined over the past decade, with work being farmed out to outsiders such as consulting firms.

How it ultimately plays out remains to be seen given the federal opposition has promised a different approach to public sector resourcing if it is elected.

Labor’s policy is to review spending across departments as well as seek to cut back the use of consultancies and rebuild the public service.

This last week of the campaign has seen another curious debate on the costings saga: the timing of the release of opposition costings.

It is the usual frolic between the political parties about transparency and competence of economic management in the hope they can swing those who are half-paying attention to vote for them.

We will see what the Albanese-led team costings are on Thursday (tomorrow). The ALP argues it is releasing costings in accordance with the precedent set over many years by the Coalition parties.

An obvious question needs to be asked:

Why would a political party cherry-pick a precedent for a document release that was set by a political party they openly criticise in so many other respects?


Election 2022: Coalition’s APS funding cuts to put 5,500 jobs on the line

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