The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) has warned that a review of the Australian Public Service (APS) will fail if the federal government uses it to continue to promote its damaging neoliberal ideology and refuses to make significant policy changes that benefit all Australians.
The government announced a wide-ranging review into the APS on May 4, with former Telstra chief executive David Thodey as chair of the panel. Only one member of the panel has worked in the APS, while four of the six members have backgrounds in multinational corporations, including one who is a member of the Business Council of Australia and the right-wing think tank Centre for Independent Studies.
CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood said: “It's a make-up that underscores how fundamentally the [Malcolm] Turnbull government misunderstands the Australian Public Service and underestimates its role in shaping the future of Australia.
"A clear-eyed and objective look at the Australian Public Service is clearly needed, but we have real concerns that this review will be subservient to neoliberal orthodoxy and the bizarre and damaging policies the Turnbull government has imposed in pursuit of that extreme ideology.
"Just one example is their whacky policy that the APS must be smaller than when John Howard lost office, with an Average Staffing Level (ASL) cap driving expensive and damaging contracting out and privatisation.”
To give an idea of the scale of the current problem, government agencies have more than doubled their spending on contracted labour in the past five years as the Coalition government has slashed the APS workforce.
The CPSU said earlier this year: "The practical effect of the ASL cap is that while agencies have the funding, including new program funding, to hire additional staff, the cap is forcing them to avoid any direct employment of additional staff and instead engage casuals, hire contractors and use labour hire to do work that would normally be performed by permanent APS employees."
Since the Coalition came to power in 2013, annual expenditure on labour contractors for 18 of the largest workplaces has ballooned from $318 million to more than $730 million as the government imposed staffing caps and cut the public service workforce.
Flood said: "This review could provide a valuable opportunity to tackle the major challenges facing the public services and our community, while allowing people to have their say on what we want our public institutions to do and how we make sure we have the people, the resources and the technology to do it.
"What's needed is a genuine attempt from the government and the senior leadership of the public service to work with the community, people working in the APS and both sides of politics to wrestle with big challenges, making sure we have the policy capability to deal with the changing world.
"This review must be a catalyst to repair the ongoing damage that's been inflicted by the Turnbull government on public services, regulatory and policy capability, rather than a licence to double-down on those flawed policies.”