SA Budget: Marshall plans to axe thousands of public servants, cut entire programs

By Stephen Easton

Tuesday September 4, 2018

South Australia’s Marshall government plans to cull several thousand public service jobs over the forward estimates, according to early reporting on the contents of its first budget.

Treasurer Rob Lucas officially delivers the budget at 3pm today but has already discussed a lot of its highlights and headline figures with newspapers that reported them this morning. The former government’s projected $12 million surplus for this year is to be replaced by a $397m deficit, with big spending on capital works to continue in the rest of 2018-19. Then the plan is to get to a $48m surplus the following year through about $715m in savings measures.

A screaming headline in The Australian could give the impression that over 4000 public servants will be shown the door in the next 10-12 months but the article explains this will occur over four years, and includes the state government winding down its disability support workforce as part of the transition to the National Disability Insurance Scheme in SA.

Not including those disability support jobs, most of which will theoretically transfer to other employers outside government, today’s budget will forecast a reduction of 2286 full-time equivalent public service jobs by July 2022, according to the news report. It also notes the previous budget had forecast a fairly similar reduction of 2047 FTEs by the middle of 2021, but the paper’s SA bureau chief casts doubt on whether the former government would have followed through, pointing to a track record of public service growth.

Pre-budget reporting also reveals that the government will put $170m towards the cost of paying out public service separation packages in this budget but after that, agencies will be asked to fund the payouts from their own budgets.

“So there’ll be clear incentives on ministers and chief executives to look in a strong way at their numbers of employees and if they’ve got too many, offering them packages to encourage them to move on to other employment somewhere else,” Lucas said, according to the ABC.

It appears that departments will have to cut some of their existing programs entirely, to make way for new priorities and deliver the savings required by government, according to several reports. “We’re going back to first principles,” he told the local newspaper, while the ABC quotes the Treasurer saying:

“Instead of just a general efficiency dividend, we’ve tried to go department by department, looking to identify specific areas where we can look for savings to deliver and bring the budget back into balance.”

Various specific commitments have already been announced, including a $14.5m boost for the state’s Independent Commissioner Against Corruption, Bruce Lander, who will soon gain the power to hold maladministration and misconduct hearings that are open to the public in certain circumstances.

In terms of the political spin, Lucas is claiming Treasury officials had warned his predecessor that the previously planned $12m surplus was a pie in the sky and likely to be closer to a $180-190m deficit. Opposition leader Peter Malinauskas, on the other hand, says the new government has an unexpected GST windfall of $272m to work with.

“Rob Lucas has been doing everything he can over the last few months to try and sabotage that surplus and bring forward expenditure,” Malinauskas reportedly said.

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