Australian election heats up as Labor’s pledge to cut public service contractors sparks political ad battle

By on 18/05/2022 | Updated on 18/05/2022
A polling station sign
Australian Labor leader Anthony Albanese has said the party wants to “revitalise the public service” by attracting top talent to government, rather than continue to hire contractors. Photo via Pxfuel

Australia’s opposition Labor Party has said it will wean the Australian Public Service (APS) off its use of consultants and contractors and instead hire more public servants if it wins the federal election on 21 May.

Anthony Albanese, leader of the Labor Party, said that if elected, the party would deliver on its commitment to “revitalise the public service” by attracting top talent to government.

“We need to stop the contracting out that’s occurred, the use of labour hire, the gutting of the capacity of the public service,” he said. He stressed that Labor’s key aim is to improve productivity, and that it would not grant APS staff a real wage increase despite the Reserve Bank’s warning that real wages could tighten by 3% this year.  

The Liberal Party responded to Labor’s announcement with a political advertisement targeting voters in Canberra that warns APS contractors and consultants could lose their jobs if Labor or the Green party were to be elected.

The ad received mixed reactions from Facebook users, from laughter and surprise to anger.

The hiring mire

Patrick Hetherington, the Australian Public Service Commission’s first assistant commissioner (APSC), warned recently that the APS faces a “war for talent” as competition for jobs from the private sector makes hiring increasingly difficult. He said that successful public service reform would have to engender cultural change through a coordinated approach among its leadership.

The APSC has published a workforce strategy aimed at elevating human resource and capabilities across the public service. Its three key objectives are to attract, build and retain skills, expertise and talent; embrace digitally adaptative and flexible workforce models; and instil purposeful leadership.

Read more: ‘The war for talent’: APS warns of challenges in attracting staff

The strategy also includes a new learning hub, known as the APS Academy, which will take on serving senior and retired public servants to shape curricula and programmes.

To ease its hiring challenges, APS this year announced plans to centralise recruitment for roles across government. Peter Woolcott, APS commissioner, noted before a senate committee that agencies such as the Australian Bureau of Statistics were enabling data graduates who gain experience there to apply for other APS jobs.

He added that this trend could be expanded to include opportunities for economists and HR specialists through the Treasury and Australian Taxation Office.

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About Jack Aldane

Jack is a British journalist, cartoonist and podcaster. He graduated from Heythrop College London in 2009 with a BA in philosophy, before living and working in China for three years as a freelance reporter. After training in financial journalism at City University from 2013 to 2014, Jack worked at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters before moving into editing magazines on global trade and development finance. Shortly after editing opinion writing for UnHerd, he joined the independent think tank ResPublica, where he led a media campaign to change the health and safety requirements around asbestos in UK public buildings. As host and producer of The Booking Club podcast – a conversation series featuring prominent authors and commentators at their favourite restaurants – Jack continues to engage today’s most distinguished thinkers on the biggest problems pertaining to ideology and power in the 21st century. He joined Global Government Forum as its Senior Staff Writer and Community Co-ordinator in 2021.

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