Public service

Good government requires a truly public Australian civil service | Canberra time

public service, tim hollo, green, public service, public sector, labor hiring, contractors

From pandemic preparedness to disaster relief, each new crisis we have faced recently has shown more clearly what happens when successive governments erode public service. Due to crippling staffing ceilings and “efficiency dividends”, widespread outsourcing, precarious employment and reduced expertise, the government is less able than ever to meet the challenges we are facing. And it’s not just during crises. We see this with health and housing services, social welfare and schools, and of course with Canberra’s prized cultural institutions. Since 2012, federal governments have cut 17,000 public service jobs while spending billions on consultants and hiring outsourced labor. In a remarkable coincidence, during the same period, private consultants and labor hire companies donated more than $5.4 million to major parties. It’s a comfortable arrangement that serves commercial interests, but it doesn’t serve the public good. If we want a government ready and able to help us manage increasingly complex challenges, we must go beyond Labor’s promise to stop the erosion of the civil service and reverse it. This is exactly what the Greens policy does to revitalize the APS. It is a detailed and fully costed proposal, but at its heart rests on a simple principle: good government requires an independent and well-resourced Australian civil service, owned by the state. If we end up in a power-sharing with the Labor Party, we will work to bring APS membership back to where it was before the cuts of the last decade and index membership growth to meet growing needs. This means not only abolishing arbitrary caps on the average staffing level and removing the “efficiency dividend”, which have long since overtaken fat reduction and started amputating entire limbs, but also bringing staff under contract outsourced to permanent positions within APS. Outsourcing makes service delivery more expensive, less efficient, and less transparent and accountable. It abolishes wages and conditions in the public and private sectors. And it destroys job security, with terrible consequences both for the people who do the work of government and for the practice of good government itself. I hear from a lot of young Canberrans who have found that outsourcing means they can’t get basic job security, they don’t have a clear career path and they can’t allow the boat to be shaken. They cannot break into the housing market without a permanent position and feel that they cannot express their informed opinions either at work or in their private lives without putting their jobs at risk. And many old and experienced people are deeply troubled that the crucial institutions to which they have dedicated their lives are being eroded and privatised. Outsourcing, combined with rolling contracts at SES level dependent on the pleasure of ministers, destroys our expectation that government will receive frank and fearless advice from experts. READ MORE: The Greens want to end this by capping spending on outsourcing and hiring labor at no more than 7.5% of any agency’s appropriations, and demanding the publication of details of consultancy contracts and government reports. We are also committed to real wage growth for the APS, with an increase of 4 percent per year over four years, and finally to bringing workers’ representatives into the Remuneration Tribunal. The Reserve Bank has acknowledged that the abolition of APS wages is contributing to wage stagnation across the economy. APS is a model employer – it should be a positive model. Finally, we need appropriate systems in place to ensure the independence of APS. Civil servants should be encouraged to give frank and fearless advice in their work and allowed to express their opinions in their private lives. The Greens want to set up an advisory committee for the appointment of department secretaries and heads of agencies, and legislate to make it clear that staff can engage in public debate without fear of losing their jobs. We desperately need a well-staffed and highly skilled public service, ready and able to provide impartial and expert policy advice, to meet the challenges of our time. With enough MPs to drive policy change, the Greens will work to make it happen.