Federal

May 2, 2014

Relax, public servants, CoA cuts not as bad as you think

The Commission of Audit has suggested slashing 15,000 jobs from the public service and making mandarins more efficient. But the recommendations are reasonable, and not as dramatic as they seem, writes governance expert Stephen Bartos.

The Commission of Audit estimates that its recommendations could lead to a loss of 15,000 Australian public service jobs. But that is less frightening for the public service than it appears.

7 comments

Leave a comment

7 thoughts on “Relax, public servants, CoA cuts not as bad as you think

  1. Boerwar

    Bartos writes, ‘Everyone claims to want better performance, but good intentions butter no parsnips.’

    If intentions matter, individual APS parsnips look to be safe with Bartos around. No butter of human kindness for them. Perhaps Bartos is writing with good intentions but his article comes out to be somewhat sickening, IMHO. Here is why.

    (1) Firstly, it is obvious that Bartos will not be losing his work as a result of the changes. He is talking about other persons’ job losses. Like other seagulls, he is too obviously comfortable and relaxed as he soars over the heaving, sweating masses. He does not seem to get it that he is talking about real people, with real families, with real friends and with real mortgages and with real debts. Maybe he does. If he does, he hides his feelings well.

    (2) Despite Bartos’ blithe assertion to the contrary, not all of the APS will know whether they are for the chop. This stuff will take years to work through – years in which productivity suffers, and years in which people live with the stress and uncertainty of not knowing what their future holds. Meh. According to Bartos, maybe they will keep their jobs but in the private sector. Meanwhile, they need to get their service delivery online. They need to do some evaluations. They need to get their ‘management spans’ right.

    (3) Assuming half the additional 15,000 jobs (taking the total to around 25,000 job losses over a couple of years) go from Canberra, the ACT and regional economy will sink. In fact the sinking has commenced. House prices are falling. Canberra Airport is quiet. Private sector capital investment in the ACT is, to say the least, toey. Commerical vacancy signs are popping up like daffodils in spring. Most alarmingly, life is even getting tough for consultants!

    Oh, and the figure of 15,000 additional job losses is the ‘minimum’ figure. Are we really looking at an additional 20-30,000 job losses? Who knows? Certainly not Bartos. Nor those who might, or who will, eventually lose their jobs.

    (4) Those who survive all this roil will, no doubt, appreciate the opportunity to have something to do for longer hours for political masters who really appreciate the APS’ efforts at not dragging down the eocnomy, and Australia with it, even more.

    (5) There will be a flow-through into private sector job losses. In other words, as Bartos knows and ignores, it is not just the primary APS job losses that matter. Bartos advises that some public sector job losses will survive into the private sector. Perhaps the private sector job losses will enable the workers involved get a job in the APS? Just kidding. Not even Bartos can bring himself to suggest that. Maybe they could become governance consultants?

    (6) Unlike the case with job losses in every other industry, and in every other location, public servants can be secure in the knowledge that their job losses, their life disruptions, and the impact on themselves and their families will be greeted with responses that range from profound indifference to overt, vindictive glee. No dramatic vox pops. No blaring headlines in the MSM. No hand wringing from concerned ministers. De nada. Based on the contents of his article, I rate Bartos at the indifference end of the scale. Maybe not. If he is concerned, he hides his concern well.

    (7) Many of the job losers will go to their unemployment benefits comfortable in the knowledge that the work they have spent a lifetime on is valued at zilch, that their dedication is valued at zilch, and that their contribution is regarded as a nefarious drag on the economy. Human beings have these sorts of thoughts and the feelings that flow from these thoughts. Those with, for example, a real concern about the impact of AGW on Australia will, no doubt, particularly appreciate the irony of their jobs being consigned to the round file.

    (8) Mr Bartos might have commented on the change-management style of suggesting that, rather than being concerned about their jobs, public servants should be concerned about their country. Curiously, this line is never, ever offered to finance industry spivs, governance consultancy experts, miners who frack the joint, audit commissioners, or inefficient farmers.

    But wait, there’s more. The chap who had the effrontery to mouth this unctious platitude was up before Senate Select Committee this morning: something about his political donation being funnelled, through what possibly constitutes yet another mob of NSW crooks and liars, to Liberal Party election campaign expenditure. Whatever. He did the Sergeant Schulz, so no real harm done. Inspirational leadership for the APS to follow, abounds.

    Bartos reckons that ‘Ministers themselves will need to take action.’ Really? Bartos ignores the uneveness of the impact of the quality of political level on the effectiveness and efficiency of the APS. Bartos finds it easier to blame departments and their bloatocrats for their shortcomings. Perhaps he knows who really butters his parsnips?

    (8) There is hidden damage to the APS which Bartos also ignores. One is the ongoing ability to attract quality. The second is the flight of quality.

    IMHO, with this sort of look-at-moi article, Bartos has placed himself well for some new broom consultancies on how best to improve governance, fix the APS shortcomings, and ‘manage out’ the APS sweepings.

    But maybe that is a bit cynical and a bit over-critical?

    Maybe Bartos really does care about the tens of thousands of real breathing people with warm blood flowing through their arteries who are going to get the chop along with the tens of thousands of fathers, mothers and children who are going to be suffering through the chopping process?

    If so, it would be nice if he had spent a whole sentence saying so.

  2. JMNO

    Well I don’t know about this lack of evaluation/audit. I was in the state office of a federal government department until 2005, and the programs I worked for were regularly audited both for performance and accountability. Whole programs were reviewed quite regularly.

  3. stephen bartos

    @Boerwar, yes of course I care, as should anyone. You seem to be reacting to the headline, which I didn’t write, not the article. I note the Canberra economy will be hard hit. And the most important point about public service performance improvement is that it relies on Ministers to take a lead.

    However I will stick to the case I have made here and elsewhere that cuts should be based on real reductions in activity, not efficiency dividends that are untargeted and have random adverse effects. I feel really sorry for people who find themselves losing a job not because of a change of government policy that the electorate has voted for but because of a politically convenient efficiency dividend saving.

  4. pinkocommierat

    My Program has had the living shit evaluated out of it. Expertise is routinely ignored and loads of talent relegated to ‘special projects’.
    PS: enjoyed Boerwar’s demolition job much more than the article… 🙂

  5. Itsarort

    I could name more than a couple of large government contractors that are incredibly inefficient and wasteful. The mindset that outsourcing is always better than the APS is a stunning myth driven by Bartos types who are just greasing the wheels for business.

  6. Chris Hartwell

    I’ve seen numerous instances where a task has been outsourced, even at a local site level, and the quality of outcome diminished substantially.

    While we had people who worked here doing that task, unglamourous as it may have been, they none-the-less took pride in knowing that they provided a key, nay, critical aspect of care in our facility. Now we have contracted that work out. Things still get done. I just wish they did it as fast and as thoroughly as the folks who used to be employed to do so did.

  7. Graeski

    It’s the mindlessness of the Liberal mantra that offends me. Always the same old sterotypes repeated ad nauseum instead of attempts at actual creative problem solving. Everyone on the dole is a bludger. Single mothers get pregnant so that they can keep their payments. All unionists are corrupt – and all public servants are lazy and useless. Blah blah blah.

    The Australian Public Service isn’t some kind of magic pudding that you can keep on taking bites out of and still expect the same or better services. If we can attain greater efficiency all well and good – I don’t think anyone objects to that as an objective. For Heaven’s sake, though, stop using them as whipping boys (whipping young persons?) for all our social ills.

    Although I guess if there’s no longer any services for the Australian public, we won’t need an Australian Public Service at all, will we?

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details

Sending...