15 May 2023

Services Australia to lose 1800 staff and get 'back to normal' following pandemic-era boost

| Chris Johnson
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Under the Federal Budget, Services Australia will shed 1868 staff after the pandemic prompted a boost in numbers to deliver crisis support. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Services Australia will lose more than 1800 staff next year in what the agency says is a return to normal following the heady days of heightened demand during the pandemic.

It is one budget measure that flies in the face of promises to boost the Australian Public Service.

More than 10,000 additional public servants will be employed across the APS in the year ahead, an initiative Public Service Minister Katy Gallagher says indicates the Government’s commitment to the sector and a plan to have more services delivered in-house.

“The Albanese Labor Government is delivering on an ambitious Australian Public Service reform agenda that will put the Australians who use government services front and centre and rebuild capability across the service,” she said.

“[It] is making the necessary investments in the 2023-24 budget to continue the job of rebuilding the service after 10 years of neglect under the former Coalition government.”

Almost $11 million from the budget is being directed towards building an in-house consulting function for the APS, with a further $2 billion to modernise government ICT systems.

“This is an important investment in our public and democratic institutions, and also our community,” Senator Gallagher said.

“The APS performs a critical role in our democratic system, it should be valued by government and be focused on serving our citizens.”

But Services Australia will lose 1868 average staffing levels (ASLs), or 6.5 per cent of its workforce.

The agency’s chief executive officer Rebecca Skinner detailed the measure to staff this week via email following the release of the Federal Budget, telling them Services Australia would return to 26,692 ASLs, down from 28,560.

“This is due to the agency returning to more regular staffing levels now that pandemic-era work, and the temporary increase we were given to deliver crisis support in recent years, has concluded,” Ms Skinner said.

READ ALSO Federal Budget delivers surplus, cost-of-living relief and more public servants

Services Australia will, however, receive $231.8m to build an emergency team of about 850 people from its staff to be mobilised at times of crisis.

The increase in staffing levels across the wider public service will target regional areas as well as the nation’s capital.

ACT independent senator David Pocock said boosting the APS by another 10,000 staff could not be “sold” as a boost for Canberra.

“The Government will hang their hat on increasing the public service as something they’re doing for Canberra,” he told a post-budget forum this week.

“I still think we’re missing out when it comes to infrastructure and valuing the nation’s capital …

“There are legitimate reasons to outsource certain functions, for expertise or for all sorts of short-term projects.

“I think the public service is struggling in a whole bunch of areas to maintain talent, given the job market as it is today, and it presents a significant challenge.”

Community and Public Sector Union national secretary Melissa Donnelly welcomed the allocated increase in staffing levels across the APS, but wasn’t happy about the cuts headed Services Australia’s way.

READ ALSO Pocock says budget boost for APS isn’t the government looking after Canberra

“Frontline public sector workers and the hundreds of thousands of Australians who rely on public services every day saw firsthand the depth of the damage to APS capability and capacity caused by budget cuts, staff caps and an overreliance on the use of insecure work, consultants and contractors,” Ms Donnelly said.

“The alternative to investing in public sector staff is to do what Scott Morrison did and throw $21bn of taxpayer money at self-interested, profit-driven, private companies that are swimming in conflict-of-interest risks.

“… there is more work to be done. Staffing levels in critical areas such as Services Australia are still well below where they need to be.

“There is also significant ongoing work required to move labour hire and outsourced jobs back into the APS.

“The task of rebuilding the public service must continue, where significant improvements to wages and conditions must be achieved to ensure the Commonwealth walks the walk on wages and its commitment to becoming a model employer.”

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