How many are employed in the Commonwealth public sector?

26 November 2010

Joanne Simon-Davies
Statistics and Mapping Section

Contents

Introduction
The Australian Public Service Commission (APSC)
Treasury
Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)
  Employment and Earnings: Public Sector Survey
  Census of Population and Housing
Statistical appendix
  Table 1: Number of employees: Commonwealth public sector, 1990–2011
  Graph 1: Comparison of Commonwealth public service employee numbers
  Table 2: ABS 2006 Census—Commonwealth government employees by industry of employment
  Table 3: Scope of the four major data sources
   

Introduction

Determining the size of the Commonwealth public sector is complex. There are three major sources of statistics—Australian Public Service Commission, Treasury and Australian Bureau of Statistics—producing four different staffing counts, each using different definitions resulting in data that are not comparable.

This background note provides a short summary of the different methodologies used to estimate the size of the public sector and a statistical appendix provides the current figures from the four sources.

The Australian Public Service Commission (APSC)

The APSC’s annual Australian Statistical Bulletin provides a headcount of all staff employed under the authority of the Public Service Act 1999 (the PS Act). [1]  As a result it has the narrowest focus of all the collections as it only covers the public service departments, executive agencies and those statutory agencies that employ staff under the Act. The Statistical Bulletin states that

... staff employed in Commonwealth-owned companies, statutory authorities, the Australian Defence Force and government business enterprises who are not employed under the PS Act are excluded from its figures.[2]

The headcount includes both on-going and non-ongoing employees (including staff on leave without pay and other unpaid inoperative staff) and staff employed overseas under the PS Act. The data are not adjusted to a full-time equivalent (FTE) basis.

When using APSC time series data it is important to note that the number of employees in the APS can vary over time due to coverage changes within the Act. For example: in 1994 the Australian Capital Territory Government Service (ACTGS) was established, ceasing to be covered by the Public Service Act; in 1999 the Parliamentary agencies ceased to be covered by the Act; in 2005–06 Medicare Australia moved into the coverage of the Act; and likewise, in 200809 the Australian Fisheries Management Authority also moved into the coverage of the Act.[3]  The effects of these changes can be seen in Graph 1 in the Appendix. The graph includes both the actual staffing numbers and the actual figures adjusted for coverage changes.

The Statistical Bulletin provides aggregate figures as well as various breakdowns which include: statistics by agencies, classification, employment category, location by state and territory.

Treasury

Treasury provides an annual staffing estimate in Commonwealth Budget Paper no. 1.[4] These figures differ from the APSC in two critical areas.

Firstly, the count is broader and encompasses staff from general government sector agencies, not just those employed under the PS Act. This includes: government and parliamentary departments; Commonwealth companies; statutory authorities; and the Australian Defence Force (civilian, military and reserves), and overseas personnel. Public financial corporations (e.g. Reserve Bank of Australia) and public non-financial corporations (e.g. Australia Post Corporation and the National Broadband Network) are not included and only one government business enterprise (Defence Housing Australia) is included whilst others, such as Medibank Private, are excluded.

Secondly, Treasury estimates are not a headcount but are an estimate of the average staffing levels (ASL). They

... reflect the average number of employees receiving salary or wages over the financial year, with adjustments for casual and part-time staff, to show the average full-time equivalent (FTE).[5]

The Budget papers provide aggregate ASL figures as well as a breakdown by agency. Historical ASL figures as well as ASL estimates for the coming financial year are available. No other data collection provides forecasts.

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)

Employment and Earnings: Public Sector Survey

The annual ABS Employment and Earnings: Public sector survey provides a headcount of public sector employees by Commonwealth, state and local governments.[6] The Commonwealth sector includes:

... all departments, agencies and authorities created by, or reporting to, the Commonwealth Parliament. Those bodies run jointly by the Commonwealth government and state governments are classified to Commonwealth.[7]

This coverage differs from both the APSC and Treasury by including public non-financial corporations, public financial corporations and the higher education sector (staff employed in universities). Also, only civilians within the Defence Force are counted.

The following categories of employee are not included in the survey:

  • members of the Australian permanent defence forces
  • employees of overseas embassies, consulates, etc.
  • employees based outside Australia
  • employees on workers' compensation who are not paid through the payroll
  • directors and office holders of public sector organisations who are not paid a salary.[8]

Similar to the APSC, it is a head count and not adjusted to FTE. It comprises:

Wage and salary earners who received pay for any part of the last pay period ending on or before 30 June, including part-time and casual employees, employees on paid leave, and employees on workers' compensation who continue to be paid through the payroll.[9]

Data are collected via a sample survey based on the ABS Business Register, whereas the APSC and Treasury statistics are supplied by agencies.

The Employment and Earnings survey report is an annual release. Prior to 2007–08 the survey was quarterly and published in the Wage and Salary Earners, Public Sector publication (Cat. no. 6248.0.55.001). Quarterly data are available from 2003 to 2007 by the following series: original, trend and seasonally adjusted. Current data are only available in original terms.

The ABS advises that care should be taken when comparing data for the public sector over time because the privatisation of public financial and public trading enterprises has affected estimates at the sector level over recent years.[10] An example of this is the exclusion of Telstra employees after it was fully privatised in November 2006.

Census of Population and Housing

Every five years the ABS conducts the Census of Population and Housing. This is another source of public sector employment data. Census data use “industry of employment” by “type of employer”.

Census data allows the user to select or exclude particular industries depending on how the data are to be used (see Table 3). For example, the higher education sector can be included (as in the Survey of Employment and Earnings: Public Sector) or excluded as in the Treasury estimates and the APSC. Defence Force personnel can also be included or excluded.

Census data are available by a range of geographical levels, including: state, Commonwealth electoral divisions, postcode, Statistical Local Areas etc. Data from the APSC Statistical Bulletin are available by state.

However it is important to note that the Census is self-reporting with respondents selecting from multi-options which can lead to errors.

Statistical appendix

Table 1: Number of employees: Commonwealth public sector, 1990–2011

Year

Australian Public ServiceCommission (a) (b)

Treasury budget estimates (c)

ABS Employment and Earnings: Public sector survey (d) (e) (f)

 

Headcount

FTE

Headcount

1990

160 942

..

..

1991

162 367

..

..

1992

163 669

..

..

1993

165 529

..

..

1994

160 348

..

..

1995

146 035

..

..

1996

143 193

..

..

1997

134 052

..

..

1998

121 003

..

..

1999

113 835

..

..

2000

113 527

..

..

2001

119 525

193 369

..

2002

123 386

195 314

..

2003

131 760

217 284

243 600

2004

131 476

223 134

245 600

2005

133 594

225 914

251 400

2006

146 208

227 013

260 800

2007

155 421

238 623

232 200

2008

159 760

248 217

237 100

2009

162 835

250 566

242 900

2010

164 596

258 321

..

2011

..

258 704

..

Source: see below.

(a)     As at June of each year.
(b)    Not adjusted for coverage change.
(c)     Estimates of average staffing levels receiving salary or wages over the financial year, with adjustments for casual and part time staff, to show full time equivalent.
(d)    As at June quarter of each year. Data from 2004–2007 are taken from the June quarter publication ABS Wage and Salary Earners, Public Sector, Australia, (Cat. no. 6248.0.55.001). Data from 2008 are from the annual ABS Employment and Earnings, Public Sector, Australia (cat. no. 6248.0.55.002).
(e)    Data for 2004–2007 are from the original series, however, the series are also available by trend and seasonally adjusted.
(f)     Prior to November 2006 Telstra Corporation employees were included in the data, after full privatisation Telstra employees were excluded (March 2007).

Graph 1: Comparison of Commonwealth public service employee numbers

Graph 1: Comparison of Commonwealth public service employee numbers

Note: When using Australian Public Service time series data it is important to note that the number of employees in the APS can vary over time due to coverage changes within the Act, e.g.in 1999 the Parliamentary agencies ceased to be covered by the Act and in 2005–06 Medicare Australia moved into the coverage of the Act. The graph includes both the unadjusted staffing numbers and the numbers adjusted for coverage changes.

Sources (Table 1 and Graph 1):

Australian Public Service Commission (APSC), Australian public service statistical bulletin: State of the service series, various years.
Treasury, Budget strategy and outlook, Budget paper no.1, various years.
ABS Wage and Salary Earners, Public Sector, Australia, Cat. no. 6248.0.55.001, various years (original data).
ABS Employment and Earnings, Public Sector, Australia, Cat. no. 6248.0.55.002, various years.

Table 2: ABS 2006 Census—Commonwealth government employees by industry of employment

Industry of employment (ANZSIC 06)

Commonwealth employees

Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing

 0

Mining

 0

Manufacturing

2 792

Electricity, Gas, Water and Waste Services

 0

Construction

 40

Wholesale Trade

 17

Retail Trade

1 481

Accommodation and Food Services

 231

Transport, Postal and Warehousing

3 301

Information Media and Telecommunications

40 913

Telecommunications Services

31 191

Other Services

9 722

Financial and Insurance Services

3 325

Rental, Hiring and Real Estate Services

 561

Professional, Scientific and Technical Services

20 769

Administrative and Support Services

 215

Public Administration and Safety

188 460

Defence

60 790

Central Government Administration

115 447

Other (a)

12 224

Education and Training (b)

102 074

Health Care and Social Assistance

1 957

Arts and Recreation Services

1 117

Other Services

 592

Total

367 845

Total excluding defence

307 055

Total excluding education and training

265 771

Total excluding telecommunication services

336 654

Total excluding defence, education & training, telecommunication services

173 790

Source: ABS 2006 Census of Housing and Population, customised table using CData.

(a)     Includes justice, government representation, public order and safety, regulatory services.
(b)    Includes higher education (Universities).

Table 3: Scope of the four major data sources

Table 3: Scope of the four major data sources

(a)     Employed persons on paid leave (for example holiday leave, maternity leave or sick leave), compensation (and planning to return to work) or unpaid leave for less than four weeks are counted as employed. Those on unpaid leave for four weeks or more are not counted as employed.
(b)    Treasury estimates only include one Government business enterprise (Defence Housing Australia) and excludes Medibank Private, Aust. Rail Track Corporation Ltd, Aust. Government Solicitors etc.
(c)     The Department of Defence civilian staff are employed under the PS Act.
(d)    Previously a quarterly publication, moved to annual in 2008.
(e)    HR refers to human resource systems that capture information on all employees employed within the agencies.

Sources:

Australian Public Service Commission (APSC), Australian public service statistical bulletin: State of the service series, 2009-10, Canberra, 2010.
Australian Government, Budget strategy and outlook, budget paper no.1, 2001–02 and 2010–11, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 2010.
Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Employment and Earnings, Public Sector, Australia, 2008-09, cat. no. 6248.0.55.002, Canberra.
Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 2006 Census of Population and Housing, Census Dictionary, cat. no. 2901.0, Canberra.



[1].      Australian Public Service Commission (APSC), Australian public service statistical bulletin: State of the service series, 2009–10, Canberra, 2010, p. 5, viewed 26 November 2010 http://www.apsc.gov.au/stateoftheservice/0910/statistics/bulletin.pdf

 In December 1999, The Public Service Act 1999 (Cth) and Parliamentary Service Act 1999 (Cth) took effect, establishing the separation of parliamentary departments from public service departments and enshrining a range of features, including: values and codes of conduct, protection for whistle blowers and employment equity. Rose Verspaandonk, Dr Ian Holland, Dr Nicholas Horne, Chronology of changes in the Australian Public Service 1975–2010, Background note, 11 October 2010, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2010, viewed 2 November 2010 http://www.aph.gov.au/Library/pubs/bn/pol/APSChanges.pdf;

For a full list of public service agencies with staff employed under the PS Act go to: http://www.apsc.gov.au/apsprofile/agencies.htm

[2].      Ibid, p. 1.

[3].      Ibid., p. 1.

[4].      Australian Government, Budget strategy and outlook, budget paper no.1, 2001–02 and 2010–11, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 2010, p. 6–50 and 6–68 to 6–71, viewed 20 October 2010 http://www.aph.gov.au/budget/2010-11/content/bp1/download/bp1.pdf

[5].      Ibid., p. 6:71.

[6].      Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Employment and Earnings, Public Sector, Australia, 2008–09, cat. no. 6248.0.55.002, Canberra, viewed 21 October 2010 http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/allprimarymainfeatures/389EBF5407C7D5AACA25755A000D09CC?opendocument

[7].      Ibid., Explanatory note: glossary.

[8]       Ibid., Explanatory note.

[9]       Op. cit.

[10].    Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Wage and Salary Earners, Public Sector, Australia, June 2007, cat. no. 6248.0.55.001, Canberra, viewed 21 October 2010 http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/6248.0.55.001Explanatory%20Notes1Jun%202007?OpenDocument

 

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