Monday, August 15, 2011

The State of the Australian Public Service: An Alternative Report

Today the Centre for Policy Development released The State of the Australian Public Service: An Alternative Report, as part of its Public Service program.

The report’s key findings include:
  • a widening gap between the anti-public servant rhetoric of some politicians and commentators and the positive attitudes held by Australian citizens about public servants and the services they deliver and
  • a decline in the ratio of public servants per capita in contrast to claims of public service ‘bloating’.
Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey has declared the Coalition’s plans to slash public spending and axe at least 12,000 public servants’ jobs if they gain government at the next election in a rush to bring the budget to surplus. In recent days it has been revealed the Coalition plans to cut public spending by $70 billion, shutting down entire government departments.

The Australian Public Service (APS) employs approximately 160,000 people across 133 agencies, making it one of our largest employers and most significant investments. The staffing of the APS generates heated debate in the media as well as in Parliament. Views are polarised. But what do we really know about the APS? And does much of the rhetoric match up to the reality?

The State of the Australian Public Service analyses 20 years of opinion research on  the public service. The report finds evidence of a disconnect between frequent public service ‘bashing’ by politicians and commentators and generally positive views of the public sector in the general community.

Most Australians are willing to forego income to pay for public services. There’s a strong preference for services to be provided by the public sector: twice as many people support public over private provision of health and education for example.
Our research into long term staffing trends also contradicts the portrayal by some politicians and media commentators of a public sector that is ‘bloated’.

 “To return the ratio of APS staff to Australian citizens to 1991 levels would require increasing APS staffing to approximately 214,000, an increase of approximately 50,000 staff.”

Unless the community expects less of the public service or the APS is able to deliver its services with significantly fewer employees, the argument that we have a ‘bloated’ public service is baseless.
The report also finds that the APS is an increasingly top-heavy workforce that does not reflect the diversity of the Australian community, with Indigenous Australians and people with a disability under-represented, and women under-represented in the senior ranks.

Dr James Whelan, the report’s author and Director of CPD’s Public Service Program said, “British Prime Minister David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ vision entails cutting the public sector budget by ₤80 billion, freezing wages and calling for tenders for most services. At a time when the public service is under attack in the UK, Canada, New Zealand and the US, Australian politicians who are tempted to follow suit should be aware of Australian voters’ strong support for the public sector.”

CPD’s  The State of the Australian Public Service offers an accessible handbook of all you need to know about attitudes toward the public service and staffing trends.

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