Public Service Cuts - 15/06/2020

15 June 2020



I rise today to speak about the average staffing level offset rule, or staffing cap, and the impact it is having on our Australian Public Service and our nation. Constituents who work in the Public Service regularly tell me they feel undervalued by this conservative government. And why wouldn't they? Since the coalition was elected, they have cut 18,000 jobs, including 8,722 jobs in Canberra. The government goes on about the need to relocate government departments and public servants to the regions, but in actual fact they have cut over 1,600 jobs in the regions they claim these jobs need to go to.

I want to thank the member for Newcastle for bringing forward this motion. This isn't just a Canberra issue; this is a Morrison government policy that affects every Australian, from Newcastle to Canberra, Perth to Hobart. It affects every Australian because it is one of the key handbrakes on the effectiveness of the Public Service, and a handbrake on the effectiveness of the Public Service means a handbrake on the effectiveness of the government services that all Australians rely on.

As the member for Newcastle identifies in the motion, the staffing cap means that instead of 10,500 staff working to deliver disability services to Australians accessing the National Disability Insurance Scheme, only 3,200 staff are doing this work. Key work of the scheme, such as interviews to establish what participants need to live lives of choice and control, are outsourced. Key strategy work is outsourced. NDIS participants keep appearing before the Joint Standing Committee on the NDIS, a committee on which I serve, to tell us that their plans don't reflect what they have requested in their interviews, and that the NDIA processes and systems demonstrate a lack of firsthand experience in the disability services sector. NDIS participants are experiencing firsthand the lack of institutional knowledge, training and experience that outsourced workforces typically deliver. Every member in this place must be hearing that about the NDIS from their own constituents.

As a former public servant myself, I can tell you there is no other place in Australia where you get to do the broad spectrum of work you will do in the Australian Public Service. This is rewarding work in the service of our nation, and I have never worked with a group of people more hardworking, professional or dedicated to the good of our nation. But when the government decides to pay double for this work by outsourcing to consultants, it creates a serious brain drain in government departments. Not only that; it creates incentives for public sector leaders to outsource complex and innovative work to consultants, because it also outsources the risk and isn't subject to the APS values and integrity standards. It raises the question of a massive Morrison government bungle such as the illegal robodebt scheme happening because of the brain drain in our Public Service.

As recession creeps in and unemployment increases, there has never been a better time for the Commonwealth government to ditch the damaging APS staffing cap, hire more people and let public servants do the type of work that they are spending big bucks getting consultants to do. The government certainly can't argue they don't have the budget to do this. Since the coalition came to power, the eight biggest consulting firms are now getting $1.1 billion a year in contract—double what they were getting when the cap came into place. $1.1 billion. It is probably more than a billion dollars. Labor has had to piece together, through the estimates process, through questions on notice, through the Audit Office and other government reviews, the number of consultants and contractors currently employed in the APS. Despite a huge amount of reporting by the Australian Public Service Commission, there is no authoritative single stat on the number and expenditure by this government on consultants. However, even publicly available documents, such as the David Thodey APS review released in December point out:

Labour contractors and consultants are increasingly being used to perform work that has previously been core in-house capability, such as program management.

There is no rationale for this. We should be building up our Public Service capability; not eroding it and wasting money. Because the number of consultants working for the APS is not counted and expenditure on consultants is inconsistently collected, it says:

This makes it difficult to assess the value of external providers relative to in-house employees or to infer the effect on APS capability.

This is from a private sector leader.

The government needs to lift the damaging APS staffing cap. It is damaging the Public Service, adversely impacting the services Australians rely on, and the costs are out of control.