Remember the Crikey Index of Overgovernment
figures we ran last year – the figures where we looked at the growth of the
numbers of public servants across the state, territory and Commonwealth

With Peter Costello waving the big stick and fretting over what happens with his beloved GST dollars, let’s look again
at how the states administer themselves. It seems that public service numbers
continue to rise.

The Bureau of Statistics publishes regular
series of public sector wage and salary earner figures. The latest figures are
from February of this year
and were released just over a fortnight ago. The ABS also runs regular
estimates of Australia’s population, such as the Population Clock and the Populations Projections series.

From them, we can make up the following
table comparing populations and numbers of public servants. We’ve run them from
bottom to top, starting off with the ACT where public service numbers have

Public servants Population
03/05 02/06 change 03/05 02/06 change
ACT 18800 18300 -500 335056 337803 2747
NT 26200 26300 100 226270 228125 1855
TAS 44900 46600 1700 490481 494501 4021
WA 128300 135400 7100 1988393 2004692 16299
QLD 238100 247600 9500 3925912 3958094 32181
SA 99200 102300 3100 1575956 1588874 12918
NSW 375700 378200 2500 6843765 6899864 56100
VIC 254200 264900 10700 4989048 5029945 40896

You get some stands from this process alone.
Take Western Australia – 7,100 new public servants for just 16,299 new residents. Or Tasmania – 1,700
new public sector positions for 4,021 new people. Or Queensland – 9,500
to 32,181… But you have more the most when you start coming up with ratios of
public servants to population.

Since we did this exercise last year, all
the state and territory governments – with the exception of NSW and the ACT –
have increased their ratios of public servants to population. Western Australia
and Tasmania are leading the way, providing respective increases in the ratio of
4.47% and 4.18%. In the West, there is now one public servant
for every 14.8057 people. Tasmania has one for every 13.626.

The big story comes when you compare the
increase in public servants to the increase in population – and run it as a

Nationally, over our 11 month period, state
public servants have been put on at a rate of almost one new public servant for
each five new Australian residents. That’s right. A 1:5 ratio. 20%
of the increase in population seems to be filling a slot in the public sector.
There was a net increase of 33,900 new state/territory public servants over the
11 months we surveyed while the national population increased by 167,017.

Western Australia, Tasmania, Queensland and Victoria are all employing public servants at a rate of more than one in
four when measured against population. The ratio in the West and the Apple Isle
is close to 1:2.

Here’s how all the states and territories
measure up at the moment – first the figures from March last year and then for

Victoria 19.62647 18.98809
ACT 17.82213 18.45916
New South Wales 18.21604 18.24396
Queensland 16.4885 15.98584
Western Australia 15.498 14.8057
South Australia 15.88665 15.53152
Tasmania 14.21684 13.62263
Northern Territory 11.60359 11.57994

All up, we’ve seen an increase of 33,900
positions on public payrolls at a state and territory level, compared to a
population increase of 167,017. What does this mean in salary terms – in
recurrent expenditure? How much is swallowed there?

And the biggest question is what the roles
actually are. Nurses, doctors, teachers, police – the beloved “front line
services” – or carpet strollers?

One spin-off question for the states to
answer is – how many of these were nurses, doctors, police, teachers and how
many were administration, supervisors etc (ie carpet strollers)?

Is this where the GST we pay is going? No
wonder Peter Costello is straining at the lead, wanting to get his teeth into
the states.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey