Commonwealth public service numbers will rise slightly, but Services Australia will shed thousands of staff and the ramifications for Canberra of a plan for new regional APS hubs remain unknown.
The Budget papers show that average staffing levels (ASL) will rise to 173,558, which is 416 above the updated estimate for 2021-22, but still nearly 9000 fewer than in 2011-12.
“While the increase in 2022-23 ASL is slightly above the latest 2021-22 estimate, it is 718 below the original expected peak forecast in the 2021-22 Budget, reflecting the difficulties some agencies had with recruiting stemming from the strong labour market and as a result of COVID-19 related lockdowns in 2021,” they say.
The APS will establish new regional hubs at a cost of $15.2 million over seven years, although there is no detail about where or how staffing will be sourced.
Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said that putting staff in multi-agency workspaces in regional APS Hubs would locate staff closer to the communities they serve while breaking down silos to broaden their perspectives.
“Growing the APS footprint, particularly in regional areas, will build stronger linkages with local communities and facilitate closer engagement across arms of government, supporting better policies and services for Australians,” he said.
But Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the hubs plan would be concerning if it meant Canberra lost jobs.
He said the continued push towards decentralisation of the public service through the creation of ‘regional hubs’ could have ramifications for the ACT’s economy in the medium term.
“The ACT Government is urging the Commonwealth to focus any ‘decentralisation’ from the congested capital cities rather than Canberra,” he said.
With the COVID-19 response winding down, Services Australia will cut a further 2719 jobs or 9.4 per cent of total staff.
The CPSU says this comes as south-east Queensland and northern NSW still reel from ongoing floods.
“At a time when so many Australians are relying on Services Australia, Scott Morrison has shown his true colours by gutting the services that communities rely on,” CPSU National Secretary Melissa Donnelly said.
But the Budget papers say the Social Services arm of Services Australia will be boosted to deal with the fallout of the floods.
Ms Donnelly said that despite the modest staffing rise overall, the government was locking in deep cuts and singled out Veterans’ Affairs where only $22.3 million in funding is guaranteed over two years.
It will only gain a slight increase in staff, despite a backlog of unprocessed claims.
Senator Birmingham said that over the four years from 2022-23, the departmental funding provided to administer government services would decline as an overall share of total government expenses.
“This decline is consistent with the Government’s longer-term efforts to drive improved efficiency and productivity in the public service,” he said.
The big winner from the Budget will be Defence nwhere a build-up of capacity across the civilian and ADF workforce will begin, reflecting the changes in the strategic risk environment.
The government has announced a long-term plan to increase Defence’s total permanent workforce to more than 101,000 by 2040, an increase of 18,500 over baseline growth already agreed in the 2020 Force Structure Plan.
Senator Birmingham said this includes taking the total permanent ADF to almost 80,000 personnel.
He said that because the additional Defence staff would support cutting-edge capabilities, the ramping up of staff is a long-term commitment so critical skills can be taught and experience grown.
Staff will also grow in the cyber security space, with $9.9 billion over 10 years to 2030-31 to the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) to deliver a Resilience, Effects, Defence, Space, Intelligence, Cyber and Enablers package called REDSPICE.
It will be the largest ever investment in Australia’s intelligence and cyber capabilities and will double ASD’s size, creating 1,900 new jobs over the next decade.
REDSPICE will triple ASD’s offensive cyber capabilities and double its cyber hunt and response activities.
The package will help ASD keep pace with the rapid growth of cyber capabilities of potential adversaries, as well as be able to counterattack and protect the nation’s most critical systems.
The government says REDSPICE will offer significant opportunities for Australian industry and support new employment pathways through partnerships with educational institutions, particularly in data science and analysis, artificial intelligence, cyber security and ICT engineering.
There is also $30.2 million for a Cyber Hubs program to support pilot hubs across the APS in Defence, Home Affairs, Services Australia and the Australian Taxation Office.
The Cyber Hubs program is coordinated by the Digital Transformation Agency in partnership with the agencies that host the pilot hubs and supported by technical advice from the Australian Cyber Security Centre.