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End of the staffing cuts, public sector freeze lifted

From July 1 new control rules will allow agency heads to manage their own recruitment, including graduate recruitment, without need for external approval.

The government effectively froze all new recruitment after assuming office in November 2013, and requiring agencies let go all non-ongoing staff as their contracts expired.

Agencies have struggled to fill specialist roles as they compete with each other to hire from the APS’ shrinking pool.

However, the government has signaled it will take a tough line on public sector pay rises, declaring future wage rises will be offset by productivity gains to ensure they are affordable, sustainable and in line with community expectations.

This follows a 42% increase in annual median wage increases for Commonwealth public servants over the last decade, compared to CPI increases of 28% over the same period.

Read more federal budget coverage: Targeted razer-gangs replacing broad-brush efficiency dividends

According to the 2015-16 Budget papers, average staffing levels (ASL) for the APS are expected to stay stable from last year at 167,340 slightly down from an estimated staffing level of 167,411 for this year. Total government staffing levels including military are predicted to be 244,182 next financial year, slightly less than the 244,259 expected in 2014-15.

This is the lowest staffing since 2006-07 and comes after an estimated reduction in ASL this financial year of 12,542.

ASL Excluding military and reserves Military and reserves Total ASL
2005-06 156,674 70,339 227,013
2006-07 167,596 71,026 238,622
2007-08 175,531 72,686 248,217
2008-09 175,422 75,144 250,566
2009-10 178,970 79,351 258,321
2010-11 181,018 80,873 261,891
2011-12 182,505 79,132 261,637
2012-13 179,953 76,678 256,631
2013-14 177,258 76,595 253,853
2014-15 167,411 76,848 244,259
2015-16 167,340 76,842 244,182

Since the October 2013 election over 17,300 public servants have left the APS, with around half the reduction through natural attrition and half through redundancy, most of which have been voluntary.

The stabalising of staffing numbers follows the abolition of 286 agencies since the 2013 election.

The integration of the Defence Materiel Organisation into the Department of Defence is expected to provide additional staffing reduction, with the budget papers stating savings would be worked through in a methodical way later in 2015.

The Government has also announced reviews of the Departments of Agriculture, the Environment, Foreign Affairs and Trade, Attorney Generals and Social Services, as wells as the Australian Taxation Office and the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Similar reviews in Health, and Education and Training have generated net savings of $227 million.

Staffing is expected to rise to support expanded child care programs and the My Health Record initiative, as well as temporary increases to support the over haul in ICT systems at the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the first tranche of the Welfare Payment Infrastructure Transformation Program.

The Social Services portfolio is the biggest winner with staffing expected to rise by 1326, to 35,568. This reflects increased welfare compliance staffing to manage the new enhanced activity tests.

The number of Indigenous employees in the APS are expected to rise further. From 1 July this year, clear and accountable targets for Indigenous employment will come into effect.

Read more at the Mandarin: Health, education, infrastructure: what goes to the states and territories

Author Bio

Tom Burton

Tom Burton is publisher of The Mandarin based in Melbourne. He has served in various public administration roles, specialising in the media and communications sector. He was a Walkley Award-winning journalist and executive editor of The Sydney Morning Herald. He worked as Canberra bureau chief for the Australian Financial Review and as managing editor of smh.com.au. He most recently worked at the Australian Communications and Media Authority.