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8000 gone from Australia’s ageing, more diverse public service

The Australian Public Service shrank by 4.7% in the year to June 30 — a loss of almost 8000 staff — according to the annual APS Statistical Bulletin released yesterday.

The updated data also reveals the service is ageing, employees are staying longer in the job, and progress is being made on equal representation of women.

The government’s campaign to cut the size of the bureaucracy has seen an increase in retrenchments relative to retirements and resignations: the natural attrition (resignations and retirements) rate in 2013-14 was 4%, down from 4.2% in 2012-13 and 4.9% in 2011-12.

But the “other separations” rate (including retrenchments, invalidity retirement, deaths and termination of appointment) has grown from 2.1% to 3.5% due to the increase in the number of retrenchments.

Staff attrition in the APS (2000-14)
Staff attrition in the APS (2000-14)


Agency No. of employees % of total APS
Human Services 34,757 21.8
Australian Taxation Office 23,259 14.6
Defence 21,163 13.3
Immigration and Border Protection 8,506 5.3
Customs and Border Protection 5,424 3.4
Industry 5,154 3.2
Foreign Affairs and Trade 4,958 3.1
Agriculture 4,644 2.9
Social Services 3,652 2.3
Health 3,487 2.2
Total 115,004 72.3

An increase of women

Over the past 15 years, the number of women in the APS has increased from 49.9% to 57.6% of ongoing employees. But women still tend to be employed at lower classification levels than men.

Women now hold 40% of SES-level positions, compared with 25% in 2000.

The representation of women varies considerably between agencies. Of the large agencies, the Department of Human Services had the highest proportion of ongoing women (71.7%), followed by the Department of Health (68.4%).

Those with the highest proportion of men were the Bureau of Meteorology (71.6%) and the Department of Defence (59.4%).

Diversity in the APS (2000-2014)
Diversity in the APS (2000-2014)

Getting older, staying longer

Public servants are getting older. The 55-59 and the 60+ age groups have increased by 5% and 4.6% respectively since June 2000. The 25-29 group decreased by 2.6%. The number of graduates decreased by 12.9% from 2013 to 2014.

The proportion of ongoing employees with fewer than five years of service dropped as fewer hires were made. At June 2014, 21% of employees had fewer than five years of service, compared with 24.1% in 2013. The proportion with 30 or more years of service increased from 5.2% last year to 5.4% at June 2014.

A top-heavy service

EL1-category public servants increased by 126.9% and EL2 by 64.7% between 2000 and 2014, while APS1 and APS2 decreased by 71.3% and 56.9% respectively during that period.

One measure of the shifting classification profile is the change over time in the ratio of EL2 employees to employees at lower classifications (trainees, graduates, APS 1–6 and EL1). Over the past 15 years, that ratio decreased from 12.7 to 10. Policy agencies had a median of 6.3 while larger operational ones had a median of 13.4.

Staff classification in the APS (2013-14)
Change in proportion by base classification, ongoing (2000-14)

Bureaucrats moving agencies

Figures show it is becoming less common to move between agencies. In 2000, 73% of staff had only worked in one agency, compared to 80.6% in 2014.

Some 1819 workers in indigenous affairs policy moved into the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet from Health, Attorney-General’s and the departments of Communications, Environment, Industry, Education, Employment and Social Services. Some 1719 staff moved from AusAid into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade when those workforces were merged.

Length of service in the APS (2000-14)
Length of service in the APS (2000-14)

Author Bio

David Donaldson

David Donaldson is a journalist at The Mandarin based in Melbourne. He's previously written for The Guardian and Crikey and holds a masters in international relations.