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Australian Public Service staffing

Australian Public Service (APS) staffing levels have received attention recently with the Opposition indicating the possibility of abolishing one government department if it is in government and reportedly searching for further public service expenditure reductions.

The Opposition has had a policy of reducing public service staff numbers for some time as part of a broader drive to identify savings in government expenditure. In its May 2010 response to the 2010–11 Budget the Opposition stated that in government it would reduce staff numbers by 12 000 over two years through a recruitment freeze and natural attrition (i.e. without redundancies), with exemptions for front-line service and uniformed staff. In the lead-up to the 2010 election the Opposition’s election policies identified projected savings resulting from the recruitment freeze, and the commitment to reduce staff numbers by 12 000 was reiterated in the Opposition’s May 2011 response to the 2011–12 Budget.

The Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) regularly publishes detailed employment data for the APS (staff employed under the Public Service Act 1999). The following graph, from the most recent APSC State of the Service Report (2009–10), shows APS staffing levels since 1991:

APS staffing levels between 1991 and 2010. The graph shows a decline until 1999/2000 and then a steady return to numbers up to 2010

It is important to note that changes in APS staffing levels can result from Public Service Act 1999 coverage changes (i.e. agencies or staff coming under or moving out of the Public Service Act 1999 employment framework) as well as from staff joining and leaving the APS. The graph above shows both absolute staff numbers (unadjusted for coverage changes) and staff numbers adjusted for coverage changes.

APSC data from APSC publications also indicate that:
  • the overall trend for APS staffing over the 2000–2010 period was one of growth, with some significant fluctuations within the period
  • the APS grew at an average annual rate of 3.8 per cent between 2000 and 2010; between 2000 and 2005 the average annual growth rate was 3.3 per cent and between 2005 and 2010 the average annual growth rate was 4.3 per cent
  • between June 2000 and December 2010 (the most recent data) the APS grew by 50 251 staff, with 60 per cent of this growth (30 184 staff) taking place since 2005
  • APS staff numbers in 2009 were similar to absolute staff numbers in 1990 (as shown in the graph above, numbers underwent a steep decline between 1993 and 1999 followed by an overall upwards trend from 2000 onwards)
In addition to the APSC data for the APS, the Australian Bureau of Statistics publishes employment data for the broader Commonwealth public sector covering ‘all departments, agencies and authorities created by or reporting to the Commonwealth Parliament’ including joint Commonwealth-state agencies. The scope of this data includes, but also extends beyond, the APS with some exclusions such as overseas staff and permanent Australian Defence Force personnel. As at June 2010 (the most recent data), total staffing for the Commonwealth public sector stood at 243 700 staff. A November 2010 Parliamentary Library paper provides a guide to the various methods of calculating Commonwealth public sector employment levels.

The Centre for Policy Development has recently released a study of the APS examining a range of matters including APS functions and staffing and perceptions of the APS.