Public sector: Staffing, capability, ICT and operations

Budget Review October 2022–23 Index

Philip Hamilton


When discussing public sector employees, budget papers use Average Staffing Level (ASL) to adjust for casual and part-time staff when showing the average number of full-time equivalent employees. ASL is almost always lower than a headcount, which is the method used by the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC).

In the 2015–16 Budget, the Coalition Government undertook to maintain the general government sector’s (GGS) size, excluding military and reserves, at around or below the 2006–07 ASL of 167,596 (2016–17 Budget paper no. 4, p. 132). This policy, referred to by the main public sector union as the ‘ASL cap’, was largely maintained until the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020. In April 2022 the Library’s Budget review 2022–23 summarised ASL fluctuations during the pandemic. During the 2022 election campaign Labor promised to abolish the ASL cap.

Budget paper no. 4 indicates that total ASL in the GGS has increased to 181,122, almost 8,000 higher than the pandemic-affected 2021–22 estimate of 173,142 (Budget paper no. 4, p. 159). The ASL increase is partly due to budgeted improvements in front-line service delivery, partially met from Services Australia’s existing resourcing. An allocation of $500.2 million over 4 years, and $145.6 million each year thereafter will provide an additional 1,080 staff across the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (500), the NDIA (380) and Services Australia (200) (Budget paper no. 2, p. 81).


Having committed during the election campaign to improving the APS, in a recent speech the Minister for the Public Service, Katy Gallagher, outlined the Government’s reform ideas. Specific details are likely to emerge from the main Budget measure, which allocates $40.8 million for the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) and the APSC to ‘develop and implement an ambitious reform plan to strengthen the APS’ (Budget paper no. 2, p. 169). This will probably be led by Gordon de Brouwer, the recently-appointed Secretary for Public Sector Reform. In September 2022 a Parliamentary Library Flagpost summarised key issues likely to influence APS reform plans. Priority capability areas specified in the Budget include:

  • Service delivery, through a Charter of Partnerships and Engagement (Budget paper no. 4, p.4)
  • Increasing employment for First Nations peoples, people with a disability and gender equality (Budget paper no. 4, p. 6).
  • $11.5m over 4 years for 1,000 Digital Traineeships focusing on ‘First Nations peoples, women, older people, veterans transitioning to civilian roles and their spouses’ (Budget paper no. 4, p. 9).
  • Facilitated by APSC-university partnerships, four regional APS Academy Campuses will open by 2024 to pilot ‘new ways of supporting entry-level jobs’ (Budget paper no. 4, p. 8).
  • $25.0 million over two years (from 2023–24) for an APS Capability Reinvestment Fund (Budget paper no. 2, p. 169).

The APSC will lead a new cycle of capability reviews, the first of which have reportedly already commenced and will be finalised by mid-2024 (Budget paper no. 4, p. 7). The APSC website reports that over 20 APS capability reviews were conducted from 2011 to 2016.

ICT projects

An allocation of $31.3 million in 2022–23 will extend the current Cyber Hubs Pilot while evaluations are ongoing (Budget paper no. 2, p. 106). This is a slight variation from a measure in the March 2022–23 Budget, which allocated $30.2 million to extend the Pilot until the end of 2022 (April BP2, p. 157). The Pilot commenced in July 2021 to establish ‘centres of expertise to respond to rapidly increasing and persistent cyber security threats’. The Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) coordinates the program in partnership with multiple hosting agencies, supported by the Australian Cyber Security Centre’s technical expertise (March 2022 Budget paper no. 4, p. 15). However, in a recent report the Australian National Audit Office criticised the DTA for its ICT procurement practices, including in relation to Cyber Hubs.

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner has been allocated $5.5 million over two years from 2022–23 in relation to the Optus data breach (Budget paper no. 2, p. 47). Other agency- and portfolio-specific public sector ICT initiatives have been noted in post-Budget media reporting.


Spending reductions

The Government’s election commitment was to save $3.6 billion over 4 years by reducing spending on external labour, advertising, travel and legal expenses. BP2 outlines a staged approach, in which ‘only the FY2022–23 impact [$642.5 million] will be allocated to GGS agencies’. Although savings in each of the three forward estimates years are specified, bringing total savings to $3.6 billion, BP2 explains that ‘the allocation of the remaining financial year impacts in the 2023–24 Budget will be guided by the Government’s broader Australian Public Service initiatives, including the Audit of Employment’ (Budget paper no. 2, p. 83). This suggests that the exact pathways to achieving the savings target will evolve as agencies recalibrate the mix of employed staff, and contract labour hire and consultants.

Notably absent from the Budget papers and related messaging from the Government is the Efficiency Dividend (ED). Since 1987–88 it has been usual for successive Australian governments to apply an ED to ‘departmental’ (operating) expenses of Australian Government agencies, reducing funding to account for increased public sector productivity over time. The most recent public confirmation of ED rates appears to have been in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook 2019–20 (MYEFO) of December 2019. The Library understands that, as foreshadowed in the MYEFO statement, an ED of 1.0% has been applied in 2022–23. In April 2022 the Library’s Budget review 2022–23 included a brief summary of ED implementation over recent years.


The Budget notes that the recently-established Future Made in Australia Office is funded through the existing resources of the Department of Finance and the Department of Industry, Science and Resources (Budget paper no. 2, p. 106). The Office aims to ‘support the uplift of procurement and contracting capability across the APS to provide government buyers with the skills, tools and resources they need’ and, for potential suppliers, will deliver ‘targeted learning events to raise awareness on how to do business with the Government’.

Net zero emissions by 2030

The Department of Finance has received $7.1 million over two years to implement ‘an interim policy and reporting framework’ for the APS to have net zero emissions by 2030. Costs will be met from within existing resources and will exclude security agencies (Budget paper no. 2, p. 169).

Noting that only 0.1% of Commonwealth Fleet vehicles are electric, the Government will implement a low emissions vehicle target of 75% of new Commonwealth passenger vehicle purchases and leases by 2025. This long-term measure comprises $15.9 million over 4 years and $6.0 million per year to 2032–33 (Budget paper no. 2, p. 109).

National Security Office Precinct

The Budget provides resources to further develop the National Security Office Precinct in Barton (ACT). Development of the Precinct commenced in 2020 and aims for ‘a permanent solution to the critical accommodation and capability requirements of several national security and other Commonwealth agencies’. Media reports have indicated that the development will house around 5,000 staff. To facilitate Precinct development, a multi-level car park will be constructed in the Parliamentary Triangle. For commercial and national security reasons, the financial impact of the project is undisclosed (Budget paper no. 2, pp. 107-108).

National Anti-Corruption Commission

On 28 September the Government introduced a Bill to establish a National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), along with a related consequential and transitional provisions Bill. With the NACC intended to subsume the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI) and commence operations in 2023–24, the Budget funds preparatory measures in 2022–23, and anticipates substantive ongoing funding from 2023–24. This comprises $262.6 million over 4 years for the NACC’s establishment and ongoing operations, with some funding met from the ACLEI’s existing resourcing (Budget paper no. 2, p. 51).

In 2022–23, $27.5 million is allocated for ACLEI ‘in preparation for transition to the Commission’. Additionally, the Attorney-General’s Department is allocated $7.6 million over 4 years (and subsequently $0.7 million per year) to assist with the NACC’s establishment and provide financial assistance to support witnesses or people seeking review regarding NACC decisions.

Department of Parliamentary Services

Two functions of the Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS) will share $15.9 million over 4 years from 2022–23:

  • Hansard and broadcasting services will receive $5.1 million over 4 years from 2022–23 (and subsequently $1.5 million per year) for staffing
  • The Parliamentary Library will receive $10.8 million over 4 years from 2022–23 (and subsequently $2.0 million per year). Of the $15.9 million allocated to DPS, $2.7 million is identified as capital funding, apparently for the Library rather than Hansard and broadcasting (Budget paper no. 2, p. 168).

In June 2022 it was reported that ‘the government has promised to boost resourcing to the Parliamentary Library to account for the larger crossbenches’. Budget paper no. 4 indicates that DPS’ aggregate staffing ASL will increase by seven, from 961 in 2021–22 to 968 in 2022–23 (Budget paper no. 4, p. 152). In line with usual practice, Budget paper no. 4 does not provide ASL figures for functional areas within an agency, so it is not clear how many additional positions will be added to the Library, and to Hansard and broadcasting.


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