Public sector: Staffing, capability, ICT and operations

Budget Resources

Philip Hamilton and Kate Laing


From 2015–16 the previous Coalition Government undertook to maintain the size of the General Government Sector (GGS)—excluding military and reserves—at around or below the 2006–07 ASL of 167,596 (2016–17 Budget paper no. 4, page 132). In an election commitment the ALP undertook to abolish the so-called ‘ASL cap’.

In 2023–24, the Average Staffing Level (ASL) in the GGS—excluding military and reserves—is projected to increase by 6% to 191,861 (Budget paper no. 4, page 153). Some of the increase derive from ongoing or increased funding for ‘critical services’, and a reduced reliance on contractors, consultants, and external labour hire. Specifically, 3,314 formerly external roles have been converted to ASL, including more than 1,000 from Defence (Budget paper no. 4, page 154).

The main public sector union welcomed the ‘ongoing commitment to rebuilding the capability and capacity of the Australian Public Service’. However, it also maintains that Services Australia’s staffing levels are below requirements. Post-budget media reporting has summarised gains and losses of ASL in portfolios and selected agencies.

Agency bargaining

Although not a specific Budget measure, Budget paper no. 4 mentions that Australian Public Service (APS) bargaining will ‘support a more inclusive and diverse workplace and help the APS attract and retain the skills it needs’ (page 10). As one of the first steps in the process, the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) has released the Public Sector Workplace Relations Policy 2023. Some commentators have observed that there remains an ‘internal tech skills deficit within the APS’ and that current APS salaries do not address.

Efficiency Dividend

Since 1987–88 successive Australian governments have usually applied an Efficiency Dividend (ED) to Australian Government agencies’ ‘departmental’ (operating) expenses. The ED essentially reduces funding by a specified percentage, to account for increased productivity over time. Finance Minister Katy Gallagher endorsed the ED in April 2023; however, the ED rate is not separately identified in the current Budget. The Library’s Budget review 2022–23 included a brief summary of ED implementation over recent years.


To further reduce spending on external labour, the government has allocated $18.5 million over two years from the APS Capability Reinvestment Fund (Budget paper 2, page 189). This includes $10.9 million over two years to ‘provide start-up funding for an in-house consulting service within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet that can deliver high-quality strategic consulting services to the APS’ (page 189). This comes after media reporting into PwC leaks about tax policy, commentary on the extent of external labour hire, the release of the Government’s audit of employment report, and the ongoing Senate inquiry into the management of consultant services. The UK Government established a similar in-house Government Consulting Hub (GCH) two years ago before abolishing it on 31 January 2023.

A further $8.4 million has been allocated to projects that will ‘uplift capability across the [APS], including cultural competency, gender impact analysis and futures analysis skills for APS staff’. The APSC has been allocated $3.4 million to increase First Nations employment within the APS (page 189).

Treasury has been allocated $10.0 million over 4 years from 2023–24 and $2.1 million per year ongoing to ‘establish a central evaluation function within Treasury to provide leadership and improve evaluation capability across Government, including support to agencies and leading a small number of flagship evaluations each year’ (page 213).

ICT projects

The Finance Minister has emphasised ‘significant and targeted investment in data and digital capability as a foundational building block to enable the APS to provide better outcomes and services for the Australian people’ (Budget paper no. 4, page 4). Post-Budget media reporting assessed that the Budget allocated more than $2 billion overall to digital and ICT related projects, and listed agency- and portfolio-specific public sector ICT initiatives. Examples of these budget measures include:

  • Nine National Collecting Institutions will share in $535.3 million over 4 years from 2023–24 and $118.3 million per year ongoing to support their operations and ‘long-term financial sustainability’. This includes $146.1 million over 4 years from 2023–24 and $31.2 million per year ongoing for the National Library of Australia for the continuation of the Trove digital database, and other projects such as the extension of storage facilities, building maintenance and IT infrastructure (pages 177-178)
  • $46.5 million over 4 years from 2023–24 and $11.8 million per year ongoing for the Department of Home Affairs to establish the Coordinator for Cyber Security (page 156)
  • $58.0 million over 3 years from 2023–24 to establish the National Anti-Scam Centre within the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. It would appear legislation is not necessary for this initiative. This entity will improve scam data sharing across government and the private sector, with a further $17.6 million over 4 years for the Australian Securities and Investments Commission to identify and take down phishing websites (page 211)
  • $16.4 million over 4 years to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) for the Life Course Data Initiative, which aims to interrupt cycles of intergenerational disadvantage (page 206). A further $156.7 million over 4 years is allocated to continue modernising and replacing the ABS’ legacy ICT systems, including transitioning key data assets to a secure cloud environment (page 208)
  • $32.7 million over 4 years to the Bureau of Meteorology to provide a single digital platform for national online water data management, a new website to publish current water market information, and water market data standards (page 82)
  • $254.1 million over 4 years and $56.1 million ongoing to modernise and sustain the Department of Veterans’ Affairs ICT systems (page 93).

The Australian Electoral Commission, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Department of Industry, Science and Resources, and Treasury are also allocated funding for ICT upgrades (pages 112, 121, 168 and 213).

This funding is consistent with the draft Data and Digital Government strategy (with the final version due for release by the end of 2023). The strategy ‘will accelerate the Government’s uptake of data and digital capabilities and drive more cost-effective data and digital investment’ (Budget Paper no.4, page 3).

The current myGov platform will receive $134.5 million in 2023–24; however, the response to the Critical National Infrastructure: myGov user audit recommendations will determine future funding.

My Health Record received $429.0 million for further modernisation and secure data sharing. This is alongside provisioned funding for cross-jurisdictional data sharing through the Intergovernmental Agreement on National Digital Health with states and territories.

The Government continues to resource the Digital ID program development, allocating $24.7 million for the Department of Finance and the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) (page 113). This will assist the DTA to continue designing policy and legislative foundations to ‘transition to an economy-wide Digital ID ecosystem’. Despite the Digital Identity Bill being expected in Parliament by the end of 2023, a 2022 Parliamentary Library Flagpost highlighted stakeholder concerns about the proposed draft legislation.



As foreshadowed in the October 2022–23 budget, the Future Made in Australia Office is implementing the Buy Australian Plan within the Department of Finance (Finance). In this Budget, Finance has been allocated $18.1 million over 4 years to ‘improve Government procurement processes for business’. Specific emphasis will be on improving APS digital and data capabilities, and particularly the AusTender database. This funding will also improve businesses’ procurement opportunities, increase engagement of small and medium enterprises, and improve APS-wide procurement and contract management capability. An increase in fees Commonwealth entities pay to use Finance’s coordinated procurement arrangements will offset this funding cost (page 111).


To reverse a reported previous funding cut, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been allocated $250.2 million over 4 years from 2023–24 and $69.8 million per year ongoing for overseas property expenses (page 121).

The Budget includes $5.7 million over 7 years from 2023–24 for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s ‘participation in the design and build of, and transition to, the new … Precinct’ (page 121). This refers to the National Security Office Precinct, located in York Park, Barton (ACT). The Precinct’s development commenced in 2020 and aims for ‘a permanent solution to the critical accommodation and capability requirements of several national security and other Commonwealth agencies’. The Precinct will also include hospitality and retail amenities servicing up to 5,000 occupants and the wider public. In 2023 and 2024 a multi-level car park will be constructed adjacent to the John Gorton Building in Parkes (ACT), while construction of the main York Park Precinct is expected to commence in early 2025. The October 2022 Budget provided undisclosed resources due to commercial and national security reasons (Budget paper no. 2, pages 107–108).

Indian Ocean Territories and Norfolk Island

The Budget provides $31.1 million over 4 years from 2023–24 and $1.0 million per year ongoing to ‘support the delivery of essential services and infrastructure to the Indian Ocean Territories and Norfolk Island’. Funding includes $6.0 million over 4 years from 2023–24 and $1.0 million per year ongoing to ‘support the work health and safety of workers in the Indian Ocean Territories and Norfolk Island’ (page 174).

In addition, the Budget allocates $24.4 million over 3 years from 2023–24 to ‘upgrade rockfall and landslide infrastructure and repair roads and footpaths’ on Christmas Island, and $0.7 million in 2023–24 has been allocated to support ‘the delivery of state-type services’ on Norfolk Island. The Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts will collect and retain non-taxation revenue for activities on Norfolk Island. This includes ‘museum pass entry fees, rental income, and gift and merchandise sales to directly fund maintenance at the Kingston and Arthur’s Vale Historic Area World Heritage site’ (page 174).

The Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories is currently undertaking an inquiry into local government models and equitable revenue sources to support the Norfolk Island Regional Council.


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