Reporter for The Canberra Times
Tens of thousands more Australian public service jobs are to be
sized-up for potential privatisation as the Abbott government begins
work on its "contestability program".
One public sector expert has
warned the program is the beginning of a "slow bleed" of the federal
bureaucracy that could ultimately see more than 30,000 Commonwealth
government jobs lost in the coming years.
The Finance Department
has confirmed that "portfolio stocktakes" are underway with government
departments being assessed to see if their work can be farmed-out to
either the private sector or the commonwealth's growing "shared
Departmental bosses will also be ordered to replace their public
servants with technology wherever they can and ICON, the high-tech
secure communication network linking government departments in Canberra
is also being scoped for sale.
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"pilot stocktakes" have begun at the Finance and Communication
departments in an effort to get the methodology right before all
commonwealth operations, including big frontline Departments such as
Human Services and the Australian Taxation Office, get the
contestability treatment in a process that could take three years.
Minister Mathias Cormann, whose own department is implementing the
program, has made it clear that he wants to know which government
functions should be exposed to competition from private players and
which can be taken over by the private sector.
Department spokeswoman confirmed this week that the pilot stocktakes at
her own department and at Education were in progress and were due to be
completed in "early 2015."
"Efficiency reviews" promised for all
departments by Senator Cormann, were also underway, according to the
spokeswoman with Health and Education the first operations to come under
scrutiny from "independent experts".
Public sector finance expert Professor Janine O'Flynn
of the University of Melbourne said the contestability program was
part of the third phase of the government's public sector reforms and
that it could have a larger impact than the first two stages.
was the big sleeper on budget night which could have a much bigger
impact in the long run on both the scope and the scale (of the APS) than
any of the other phases," Professor O'Flynn said.
"Once you get into that area-by-area assessment for potential outsourcing, I think that's where the big cuts are going to come.
"At the time when those 16500 jobs
were announced, I made a private prediction that we might hit over
30,000 by the time you include what will start to happen once the
contestability framework kicks in.
"It's a rough prediction but
once you start to go through the big bureaucratic structure, and start
picking pieces off, I think what we'll see is a bigger number [of jobs]
than everyone was worried about before."
The government has
already shown it will not shy away from privatisations with scoping
studies for sell-offs of the Australian Mint, Defence Housing Australia,
Australian Hearing Services and the Australian Securities and
Investments Commission registry already underway.
Centrelink and some Veterans Affairs payment services may be taken over
by private players and the Finance Department is also looking at the
sale of ICON, the point-to-point fibre connection system that links 80
government agencies at 400 sites around Canberra.