The public service:

Peter Jolly writes: Re. “‘A tough time to be a public servant’: the 38k forgotten jobless” (Tuesday, item 1). Your article prompted me to go to the tape so to speak. Rather than quoting thousands of job numbers being gained or lost, it’s probably better to view public sector employment as a share of the total economies or populations size. Presumably, the number of folk employed in the public sector should grow roughly in line with the economy or the number of people they are helping.

So we should compare the number of people employed in the public sector against a broader denominator.

I’ve used the quarterly Australian Bureau of Statistics industry employment data where they break the “Public Administration and Safety” category into three sub components — see below for a chart showing the “public administration” subcategory (this includes Commonwealth, state and local employment).

A couple of points to make:

  1. By late 2011 we had roughly 4.5 public sector administration jobs for every 100 people employed. The only other time we got anywhere near this level was in the early 1990s.  Arguably the early 1990s high was at least partially explained by the a generally high level of unemployment at that time (so a smaller denominator).
  2. So probably fair to say that the late 2011 high was a high point for public sector administration employment during a period of generally high employment.
  3. We could say something about different political parties and public sector jobs. For example the Max Moore-Wilton slashes you refer to can easily be seen on the chart (3.5 public sector admin jobs for every 100 persons employed) and you can also see the rebuild of the public sector during the early 2000s. You can see the further re-build under this government.
  4. But the real point to make here is that yes it is true that we are seeing public  sector shedding as your article suggests — the ABS reckons public service admin jobs fell 30,000 between May and February this year, from 520,000 to 490,000.  But so far this is has only taking us back towards the past decade average of around 4.2 public sector admin jobs for every person employed.
  5. If you really wanted to slash the public sector back towards the ratio we saw in the late 1990s — i.e. around 3.5 public servants for every 100 person employed — that would imply the loss of another 80,000 jobs.

Papua New Guinea:

Keith Thomas writes: Re. “A new political movement in Timor: ‘even if we lose we win’” (yesterday, item 10). This article continues Crikey‘s misguided focus on Timor Leste at the expense of Papua New Guinea. Timor Leste is 100 times further away from Australia than Papua New Guinea; it has a population about half the size of Perth while Papua New Guinea’s population is similar to Libya’s, Jordan’s, NSW’s or Bulgaria’s.

Why do you persist in this neglect? Is it because affection for Timor Leste is a surrogate for criticizing Indonesia? Is it because Timor Leste’s politics can be understood using the conventional categories of the Left and anti-colonialism? Is it because the Timorese are more photogenic by our standards?

Whatever it is, please bite off a tough one, Crikey, and keep us far better informed of events, issues, developments and trends in Papua New Guinea — at least ten times the word count as those you devote to Timor Leste. It is tough, but it’s vital.

Peter Fray

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