Australian Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd is a glass half full kind of guy.
The Australian Public Service now has numerically fewer employees who are either indigenous or have a disability than a year ago – but the agency responsible for fostering and reporting on workplace diversity has still managed to extract a positive statistic to put the figures in a favourable light.
That’s the scenario that comes with the release of the annual State of the Service report this week, the Australian Public Service Commission’s annual update on the progress and challenges of the federal bureaucracy that this year heavily rationed the way it delivered and displays official information and statistics.
Like the public service, the annual report on it has been substantially shrunk and now weighs-in at slimline 63 pages from cover to cover with plenty of room for colourful big picture infographics favoured by consumer marketers over traditional tables of hard numbers.
It might be more user friendly as a top-line read, but don’t bother digging around for the details to stand-up up carefully crafted claims like the representation of Indigenous people in APS rising over the past year.
According to the State of the Service report “Indigenous people as a proportion of ongoing employees was 2.5 per cent in 2014, rising to 2.6 per cent in 2015.”
Although the 0.1 per cent increase just scrapes over the positivity line, the actual number of Indigenous employees actually fell by 55 people according to the more nerdy APS Statistical Bulletin that lists actual headcount numbers rather than just percentages.
The most likely reason for the technical percentage increase in workplace diversity is that the public service as a whole shed a total of 5526 employees in the 2014 – 2015 financial year according to the Statistical Bulletin.
Another way of looking the numbers is that proportionally fewer Indigenous public servants left their jobs than non-indigenous public servants, not exactly a feelgood statement.
According to the Statistical Bulletin’s tables, since total public service numbers peaked at 167,339 in 2012, the APS has cut a massive 14,909 jobs to arrive at the most recent number of 152,430 – a number last seen in 2007.
The Statistical Bulletin does firmly caution that its diversity data is supplied to agencies by individuals on a voluntary basis.
“As with any large voluntary data collection, APSED [Australian Public Service Employee Database] data tends to under-represent the number and proportion of Indigenous Australians, people with disability, and employees from a non-English speaking background (NESB) in the APS,” it says.
Even so, they are the same numbers from which the APSC extracts its percentages. To strictly compare apples with apples, the diversity data is based on ongoing APS employees.
For 2015, the total number of ongoing employees came in at 136, 498. That’s 8930 fewer than 2014 when it stood at 144,888.
There are also fewer people with a disability working in the public service. Yet the percentage movement on representation is also nominally positive . . . and eerily similar.
“Representation of people identifying with disability in the APS is at 3.5 per cent, an increase of 0.1 per cent from 2014,” the State of the Service report says.
However with disability it does acknowledge the actual numbers have retreated and the reason why
“There has been a decline in the actual number of people with disability in the APS from 4,918 in 2014 to 4,778 in 2015. This is due to changes in the structure of the APS and the overall lower number of employees,” the State of the Service report says.
That’s a net loss 140 employees with a disability – but still a boost for representation.
One reporting topic the APSC doesn’t appear too happy about is the thorny issue of corruption. That could be because as employee numbers are falling, corruption numbers appear to be rising.
Like productivity, the APSC seems to favour a tight conceptual definition of the term ‘corruption’ lest people become unduly alarmed over the full percentage point increase in “perceived corruption.”
“The definition of corruption, which was changed in this year’s employee census, may have contributed to the increase in perceived corruption ―from 2.6 per cent in 2013−14 to 3.6 per cent in 2014−15,” the State of the Service report helpfully explains.
“Similar to results from 2013−14, a large majority of employees witnessing corruption reported witnessing cronyism and nepotism.”
The APSC has also taken a curious swing at what warrants corrupt behaviour after agencies told it that 100 of the 557 finalised Code of Conduct investigations for 2014-15 “involved corrupt behaviour.” That’s a little under 20 per cent.
“The types of corrupt behaviour included inappropriate use of flex time; misuse of personal leave to undertake paid employment; conflict of interest on selection panels; theft; and misuse of duties to gain a personal benefit,” the State of the Service Report said.
“The relatively minor nature of many of these reported matters may be inconsistent with what is understood in the community by the term ‘corruption’. Nevertheless, misconduct of this kind still warrants appropriate attention and action.”
Appropriate is a relative term. Former NSW anti-corruption commissioner David Ipp has advocated for the creation of the equivalent of a Federal ICAC, an idea that seems to have mnore support outside Canberra than within it.
The APSC stresses that it’s working hard on integrity.
“The Commission is supporting the whole-of-government approach to integrity, including anti-corruption measures. Training in integrity and anti-corruption continues to be an element of the APS Leadership and Core Skills Strategy and associated learning programs,” the State of the Service report says.
As for Open Data . . . it’s not mentioned once in the report.