The number of Federal Government departments will be slashed from 18 to 14 as part of an overhaul of the Australian Public Service announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison today.
The changes, which take effect from 1 February 2020, will consolidate department functions and mean the departure of five Secretaries. It is unclear what impact there will be on jobs but Labor says the changes must not be used as an excuse to cut thousands more public sector jobs.
The controversial pairing of Environment and Energy has been axed, with Environment going to the new Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, while Energy is bound for the new Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, which will also take in the small business functions from the current Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business.
Current Secretary of the Department of the Environment and Energy David Fredericks will move across to lead Industry, Science, Energy and Resources.
A former department secretary, Andrew Metcalfe, will return to the APS from Ernst and Young to lead Agriculture, Water and the Environment.
Education will now sit with Skills and Employment in a new department, while Communications and Arts will go to the new Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications.
Services Australia (formerly known as the Department of Human Services) will be established as a new Executive Agency within the Social Services Department.
There will also be a new agency to respond to the drought and north Queensland floods, headed by former Country Liberal chief minister of the Northern Territory Shane Stone.
“The remit of the North Queensland Livestock Industry Recovery Agency will be expanded to include drought with Shane Stone leading the new National Drought and North Queensland Flood Response and Recovery Agency, providing national leadership and a whole-of-government response to support farmers and regional communities as they respond to, and recover from, the drought and the north Queensland flood from earlier this year,” Mr Morrison said.
The Agency will sit within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and report to the Minister for Water Resources, Drought, Rural Finance, Natural Disaster and Emergency Management, David Littleproud.
Ten departments remain unchanged.
The five secretaries who will leave the APS are Kerri Hartland (Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business), Renée Leon (Human Services), Mike Mrdak (Communications and The Arts), Daryl Quinlivan (Agriculture) and Dr Heather Smith (Industry, Innovation and Science).
Mr Morrison said the changes would ensure services were delivered more effectively and efficiently.
“Having fewer departments will allow us to bust bureaucratic congestion, improve decision-making and ultimately deliver better services for the Australian people,” he said.
“The new structure will drive greater collaboration on important policy challenges. For example, better integrating the Government’s education and skills agenda and ensuring Australians living in regional areas can access the infrastructure and services they need.”
But the public servants union says that slashing four departments and creating super-departments will only escalate the crisis in government service delivery.
It called on the Government to release the Thodey Report into the APS that it has been sitting on since September and to reverse the Average Staffing Level cap.
Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) National Secretary Melissa Donnelly said the Prime Minister was out of ideas and Thodey had not recommended the creation of super-departments.
“Moving buildings and merging departments does not fix the service crisis created by his own government,” she said. “We know that since 2013, 18,908 or 11.4 per cent of public service jobs have been cut under successive Liberal Governments, causing enormous damage to the capacity of the Commonwealth to deliver policy and essential services that all Australians rely upon.”
She said the changes would not address the 48 million unanswered calls to Human Services in 2017-2018 or the further 5.3 million calls abandoned out of frustration, or the delays in the Family Court, and the challenges the CSIRO faces.
“The community does not care about Canberra games. They care if their call to Centrelink gets answered or if their Robodebt gets fixed; that their visa gets processed; that we meet our climate targets; and that our biosecurity officers can stop threats at the border,” Ms Donnelly said.
“This announcement today doesn’t fix any of the mess the Morrison Government has made and doesn’t do anything about the ASL cap or budget restraints.”
Opposition public service spokesperson and ACT Senator Katy Gallagher said the Prime Minister had refused to guarantee there would be no job cuts, saying this would be a decision for secretaries.
She said successive Coalition governments had already cut almost 19,000 jobs cut since taking office, with 3,158 jobs gone in the last financial year alone.
“At this time of economic uncertainty the last thing this nation needs is more jobs cuts,” she said.
Senator Gallagher said the changes occurred without seeking advice from some of the departments involved or with regard to the effect of the changes on government efficiency and the quality of its services.
“Simply sacking people and changing the titles of some departments will not deal with the big challenges facing the public service,” she said. “Public servants working for this government will now be forced to head into Christmas uncertain about what 2020 brings for them and their families.”
The new structure of departments and Secretaries, on 1 February 2020, will be:
- Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment: Mr Andrew Metcalfe AO
- Attorney-General’s Department: Mr Chris Moraitis PSM
- Department of Defence: Mr Greg Moriarty
- Department of Education, Skills and Employment: Dr Michelle Bruniges AM
- Department of Finance: Ms Rosemary Huxtable PSM
- Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade: Ms Frances Adamson
- Department of Health: Ms Glenys Beauchamp PSM
- Department of Home Affairs: Mr Michael Pezzullo
- Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources: Mr David Fredericks
- Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications: Mr Simon Atkinson
- Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet: Mr Philip Gaetjens
- Department of Social Services: Ms Kathryn Campbell AO CSC
- Department of the Treasury: Dr Steven Kennedy PSM
- Department of Veterans’ Affairs: Ms Liz Cosson AM CSC