Public service morale plummets as 12,000 ‘natural attrition’ target fizzles

By Julian Bajkowski

The prospect of looming job cuts in the federal public service is dragging down morale and feeding into a climate of deep uncertainty over job security, unions and Canberra’s Labor politicians have warned.

As the Coalition government sets about attempting to thin the ranks of the bureaucracy by 12,000 positions through ‘natural attrition’, the Community and Public Sector Union and the Opposition have turned the spotlight onto departmental redundancies to prosecute their argument that the big number job reduction target will be simply unachievable without mass sackings.

“The Departments of Finance and Deregulation, Environment, Health, Social Services, Treasury, Attorney General are all calling for redundancies. This comes on top of last week’s announcement of a hiring freeze in the public service as the principal means of the Government reaching its target of the loss of 12,000 job cuts,” the CPSU said in a bulletin to members.

“An increasing number of agencies are turning to redundancies to reduce their workforce,” said CPSU National Secretary, Nadine Flood. “With the 12,000 cuts and the commission of audit there’s already a growing atmosphere of fear and loathing in the public service.”

Canberra’s three federal parliamentarians – Senator Kate Lundy, Andrew Leigh MP and Gai Brodtmann MP – wasted no time adding extra fire to the union’s latest broadside by accusing their local opposite, Senator Zed Seselja, of breaking his promise on job losses being confined to natural attrition.

“Natural attrition is typically achieved with retirements and resignations. As predicted public servants are holding on to their jobs in an uncertain and insecure job environment,” the Labor trio said in a statement.

Most public servants also privately concede that there is very little incentive to quit their roles when their political masters have to make a choice of either missing their budget targets or handing out redundancy cheques.

Labor also claims that the federal departure rate will need to increase sixfold from present levels if the Coalition’s targets are to be met, based on analysis of the government gazette.

The offering of redundancies in some agencies and departments has prompted Labor to raise the obvious and clearly loaded question of whether the present assisted exits will be counted towards the natural attrition quota – or are cuts over and above the 12,000.

The issue of how the present hiring freeze imposed by the government through the Australian Public Service Commission is being enforced, and what is an exceptional or critical hire, is also increasing in prominence as an issue.

The Department of Industry this week issued a request for tender for head-hunters “to undertake a global search for a Chief Executive Officer of the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA)”

According to tender documents the senior appointment is to lead “Australia’s national regulator for health and safety, well integrity and environmental management for offshore oil and gas operations.”

However the government has not been completely silent on the issue, despite a protocol of radio silence outside of messages approved by the Prime Minister’s Office being put into effect.

Assistant Minister for Employment, Luke Hartsuyker, on Thursday announced a trifecta of measures he claims “will cut red tape for jobs service providers and renew the focus on assisting job seekers.”

They include allowing suppliers to go fully digital by removing a requirement to keep paper copies of records, extending the timeframe for claims to be lodged and strictly limiting how many changes the government can make to supplier contracts.

“The Coalition believes our job service providers should be focused on delivering outcomes for job seekers, rather than being drowned in a sea of paperwork,” Mr Hartsuyker said.

He added that “bureaucratic red tape has been high on the agenda” of meetings with the National Employment Services Association.

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