12 September 2018

The changing face of employment in Canberra

| Robyn Hendry
Join the conversation

View from Mount Ainslie. Photo: Jack Mohr.

In recent weeks our city, and nation, have been focused on the changing fortunes of those governing Australia. While the drama has been both disturbing and fascinating to watch unfold, there is a more profound shift taking place in employment in Canberra that it is time to pay attention to.

For much of its history, Canberra has been viewed as a ‘government’ town, with our workforce and local economy very much dictated by highs and lows in public sector employment.

In the past, the uncertainty created by something like a Prime Ministerial leadership spill or calling of a Federal election would significantly impact on local business confidence.

However, hard work to diversify our economy has created a new reality in which the ACT’s fortunes are no longer so tightly tied to the fluctuations of the Commonwealth workforce.

Unemployment in the ACT is currently the lowest in the country, standing at 3.6 per cent according to the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics Labour Force figures.

When we consider that the Territory also has one of Australia’s highest population growth rates, it must be concluded that jobs are being created.

What may surprise many is where they are being created.

Of the 225,700 people employed in the ACT, 144,000 or 63.8 per cent are employed by the private sector. As of the May quarter 2018, only 81,700 or 36.2 per cent of Canberrans reported as a public sector employee. (Source: ABS Labour Force Australia).

For many years, when arguing against the stereotype of Canberra being a public service city, the ACT has proudly pointed out that more than half of the local workforce was employed by private businesses.

However, these latest figures show we have moved far from that position.

So, whatever happens on the Hill, the important change in employment to keep track of is not simply who is in power, but how Canberra businesses are forging a new destiny for our city and protecting us against seismic shifts in the political landscape.

Robyn Hendry is the Chief Executive Officer of Canberra Business Chamber.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments
Capital Retro6:28 pm 14 Sep 18

Unions in the ACT are mounting a campaign to have employers pass on all benefits that normal employees get to the ABN contractors they employ instead.

Currently, small businesses are being targeted. I doubt very much that the ex-public service “Friday to Monday” contractors will be touched.

I have a feeling that this may be a great example of how statistics can be misleading.

Does this report count contractors (who may be employees of Australian or foreign companies) who are working in a Government Department as Public or Private sector? There has been a huge move towards contractors in the last couple of decades.

Even for people who are definitely Private Sector, such as local tradies or shop employees, how much of their business comes from Public Servants (and contractors)?

When a large business shuts down, (such as a car manufacturer in Adelaide, or a timber mill in Gippsland), it is quickly pointed out that the impact of that closure far out weighs the direct job losses. The people who lose there jobs were spending money on services in the town, which will now have less income.

To get a real and honest view of whether Canberra is really a Public Service town, work out what would happen if the centralised public service was removed. How many other jobs would then go too?

Do those calculations then tell us about the face of employment in Canberra.

A good example of what you are talking about is wh n BHP closed in Newcastle. The city was given extra federal money and programs to help counter the loss with the company being denigrated by then PM Howard for the impact on the wider community.

Yet the same man was cutting the same number of jobs (and many were cut rather than simply outsourced) in a city that when you add in Lake Macquarie and the lower hunter towns was larger than Canberra.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.