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Mixed Messages on Federal Staffing Levels

by Staff Writers •
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In the lead-up to the election, Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner was blunt in promising to cut government spending by $10 billion. At the time, he provided assurances that these savings would be achieved without the need for public sector job losses. However, since the election there has been considerable confusion about how the “razor gang” cuts and more recent budget cuts will impact APS numbers.

The union representing most Federal public servants, the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) has expressed strong concern at the likely impact of cuts, and has called on the Government to provide more details about how cutbacks might affect APS staff.

The CPSU considers that Lindsay Tanner has failed to provide satisfactory details about the Government's proposed cuts, despite their specific request for information.

"During the election campaign Mr Tanner assured public servants the ALP's ‘razor gang' would find public sector savings by focusing on consultants and Government advertising, not redundancies," said Margaret Gillespie, Acting National Secretary of CPSU.

Despite Lindasy Tanner’s assurances, several recent developments have called into question his assurances.

Last month, the Government announced a $57m cut in the budget of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, including the closure of several overseas posts. This is expected to result in the loss of up to 43 positions. Subsequently, it’s been announced that 33 positions will be cut from the National Capital Authority.

In recent weeks, both the Treasurer and the PM have made comments about cuts required in the May Federal budget. Speaking on the 7.30 Report on 24 January Lindsay Tanner said that the Government had nominated a target surplus of 1.5% of GDP, stating that this would require additional cuts of up to $5b in the coming financial year.

According to the CPSU, “Members are increasingly concerned that the extra cuts needed to deliver the Rudd Government's $17 billion budget surplus - and a one-off, 2% efficiency dividend increase - will come at the expense of public sector jobs and services…If the new Government is determined to make these savings, they must provide details about where the cuts will occur, how increased workloads will be managed, and how services will be delivered to the community with reduced resources."

Axe Falls on Defence IT jobs

This headline in the Canberra Times last week looked like an announcement of more job cuts within the public sector. The article mentioned that the Defence Department was slashing 388 jobs from its IT section and handing them over to the private sector.

This announcement also follows controversy about whether or not Defence spending will be quarantined from the proposed razor gang and general budget cuts. On 24 January, Lindsay Tanner confirmed that Defence would maintain current levels of Defence spending.

However, the job cuts announcement is the culmination of a long drawn-out contract negotiation process with Unisys Australia. In January 2007, Defence announced that Unisys had been selected as the preferred tenderer for a five year contract to provide IT support services to 460 bases and establishments across Australia. This contract closed in November 2005, but has yet to been signed, although the Canberra Times article quoted a Defence spokeswoman saying that contract negotiations with Unisys had been concluded, and that the contract was awaiting the delegate’s decision.

Defence has announced that no arrangement has been entered into with Unisys to employ the staff made redundant, but it was expected that a number of staff would transfer to the supplier. Defence will attempt to redeploy staff who do not accept positions with Unisys.

This is not really new news. Staff that might be affected by these cuts have known for almost 12 months. Those that decide to leave might be expected to find alternative positions in the strong Canberra labour market.

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