Stephen Bartos: relax, CoA cuts not as bad as you think

The Commission of Audit suggests slashing 15,000 jobs from the public service and making mandarins more efficient. That’s reasonable and not as dramatic as it seems.

The Commission of Audit estimates that its recommendations could lead to a loss of 15,000 Australian public service jobs. But that is less frightening for the public service than it appears.

Some are likely to arise from privatisations, which do not necessarily lead to job losses. For example, privatising the Defence Housing Authority would mean a change of ownership, but people will still be needed there to deliver housing to Defence personnel. While privatisation sometimes does lead to staffing reductions, it is not always the case.

Second, the government is not likely to accept all the recommendations. There may well be fewer job cuts than the commission recommends.

But most importantly, at least any cuts that come in the budget would be associated with specific initiatives, so public servants affected will know where they stand. There are good and bad ways to cut. The Commission of Audit sensibly rejects across-the-board efficiency dividends as a “blunt instrument” that has reached its limits.

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