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Political Commentary

Former premiers take aim at bloated public sector

 

By Geoff Chambers, Canberra Bureau Chief, and Greg Brown, Journalist

The Australian, 28th January 2018

Read the original article online

Former premiers Jeff Kennett and Campbell Newman, who overhauled the public service in Victoria and Queensland, have called on the Turnbull government to further streamline government agencies and appointments, with 156 full-time public officeholders claiming remuneration worth ­almost $64 million.

Analysis by The Australian shows taxpayers are funding generous travel perks, salaries and cash top-ups for 156 senior officials, who are earning an average of more than $408,000 each.

Government agency chiefs and appointments, including some who have chosen not to work in Canberra, are receiving accommodation, first or business-class travel and reunion allowances. Another $10m is paid annually to government-­appointed chairs and deputy chairs of government agencies and companies, including NBN Co, Australia Post, ABC and the CSIRO, in addition to daily fees and travel allowances.

Despite efforts in recent years by the Remuneration Tribunal to maintain “economic restraint”, the pay packets for some defence and national security agency chiefs have jumped between 33 and 68 per cent in five years.

The pay spikes, which included the Public Service Commissioner and Australian Electoral Commissioner, were ordered in 2012 after a review of the responsibilities of senior government ­officials.

Mr Kennett, who was ­Victorian premier between 1992 and 1999, said there were too many public agencies and inquiries, arguing the growth had been fuelled by the reluctance of politicians to make difficult decisions.

“On top of all of those you then get the federal government spending over $200m on consultancies, and the value of those consultancies is dubious at best. They overcharge and because it is government, the people doing the consultancy just rip the public off,” he said.

“You combine those figures together with the senior people in the public service, together with consultancies, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they are almost spending $1 billion for advice, and my regret is that politicians were elected to govern and make decisions.

“It worries me that elected governments are only the top of what is now a very large pyramid of people employed by the taxpayer through their governments because governments increasingly have lost the courage to govern — they don’t want to make a decision.”

The Turnbull government has reduced public service spending from 8.5 per cent of government spending to 7 per cent.

Mr Newman, who scaled back the public service as Queensland premier between 2012 and 2015, said some senior bureaucrats were not delivering value.

“I wouldn’t mind paying for performance but we are not getting performance. I see public servants who just aren’t delivering necessary reforms,” Mr Newman said. “It is all very well to pay people for performance and to benchmark senior bureaucrats’ pay against the private sector and say we need to have healthier remuneration packages, but what we are not getting for that money is good enough performance.”

Mr Newman said the federal bureaucracy was “too large” and backed a claim by former West Australian premier Colin Barnett that Canberra was usurping the role of the states.

“That then feeds back into a federal bureaucracy which continues to expand, continues to gobble up recurrent income of the government, which really shouldn’t be there,” he said.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said the government had been “progressively transforming the way public services are delivered and how government operates to create a smaller, smarter, more productive and sustainable public sector”.

“We have reduced the size of the general government sector back down to 2006-07 levels and are committed to maintain it at that level down from its 2011-12 peak of 182,505,” he said. “Under our smaller government initiatives announced progressively since the 2014-15 budget, the government consolidated, merged and abolished almost 300 government bodies, resulting in estimated savings of $1.5bn.” Senator Cormann said the government was “reviewing options to ensure that the necessary rigour and discipline is in place to effectively manage the structure and size of government and the creation of new bodies into the future”.

The Remuneration Tribunal last month published a determination that showed Solicitor-General Stephen Donaghue, who is on a $745,770 package, was allowed a special arrangement where if he “does not establish his principal place of residence in Canberra he will be paid an annualised amount of $34,500 per year instead of the daily amounts of travel allowance”.

The tribunal also listed additional provisions for Innovation and Science Australia chief executive Charles Day, who receives an “additional fixed loading of $50,000 until 25 November 2019”. Dr Day is also eligible for an accommodation allowance of up to $34,500 a year and a reunion travel allowance of up to $18,500.

Labor finance spokesman Jim Chalmers yesterday attacked the growing pay packets of top bureaucrats, saying: “Ordinary workers are struggling. I can understand why ordinary workers are angry and frustrated when they see top public servants’ pay go up and their own wages aren’t keeping up with living costs.”

A Turnbull government spokesman said the tribunal’s “independence” ensured proper and “professional wage-determination practices are applied, free of political interference”.

“The tribunal considers it important that remuneration for offices in its jurisdiction be maintained at appropriate levels over the longer term to attract and retain people of the calibre required for these important high level offices,” the spokesman told The Australian.

 
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