By Julian Bajkowski
Federal public servants are bracing for a fresh round of job cuts after pre-Budget scene setting by the Gillard government confirmed around $580 million savings aim to be extracted from the bureaucratic machinery.
The projected savings have triggered warnings from the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) but are understood to be broadly in-line if not below adjustments expected by senior bureaucrats.
The combination of a yawning Budget deficit combined with the increasing probability of a change of government offers many bureaucrats at upper-middle to senior levels the opportunity to extract handsome up-front redundancies while being able to sell back their services at a premium through greater use of consulting and privatised policy development roles.
Federal public servants initially felt the brunt of cuts following the election of the Howard government in 1996 and the subsequent prosecution of a whole-of-government information technology outsourcing agenda.
Although successful in trimming headcount, the move was subsequently acknowledged to have sacrificed too much control to outsourcers like IBM and EDS who did not always deliver the savings or rises in productivity that were expected.
While the Gillard government has heavily touted the National Broadband Network, MySchool and the Digital Education Revolution as key policy elements, the majority of online government services remain essentially passive because they still cannot process transactions now common in private enterprise.
The automation of processes like transactions has been a key driver in the disruptive forces that online businesses have exerted over their ‘bricks-and-mortar’ peers because of the increased speed of business and much lower staff overheads.
The ability to create similar forces in the government remains a key opportunity to reduce costs and increase productivity but has been stalled by governance issues surrounding cheap and secure shared infrastructure like cloud computing that was initially passed over by the Gershon review into the Commonwealth’s use of information technology.
Communications Minister Senator Stephen Conroy has previously indicated that the government’s new cloud computing and digital economy white paper would be released after the Budget, a move that could potentially shift more power to the Department of Broadband, Communications and Digital Economy at the expense of the Department of Finance.
However there are already signs the public service is shrinking following the application of the dreaded ‘efficiency dividend’ and the anticipation of regime change.
Official figures from the Australian Public Service Commission has shown a decline of around federal public service 2400 positions to 165, 598 in December 2002 compared to over 168,000 six months prior.
Those reductions follow mass sackings of public servants in Queensland and New South Wales.
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