Friday, November 30, 2012

Bureaucracy at its largest in 24 years

The federal bureaucracy continued to grow earlier this year despite the toughest crackdown on spending in over a decade, and at a time many agencies were retrenching staff.  The Australian Public Service employed 168,580 people as of June 30, its largest workforce since 1988.

Six months earlier, when the government foreshadowed steep cuts to the bureaucracy's administrative budgets, the APS had 859 fewer staff.

However, Public Service Commissioner Stephen Sedgwick said the latest headcount was a "rear-view mirror" only, suggesting the government workforce had since shrunk.

"There has been a lot of activity that agencies have taken to respond to the efficiency dividend measures which are about preparing for next year, and they always have a tail."

Mr Sedgwick's State of the Service Report, tabled in Parliament on Thursday, also criticised the Business Council of Australia's recent call for a "smaller public service".

In September, the council's chief executive, Jennifer Westacott, demanded an audit and overhaul of the bureaucracy, with a view to cutting it.

However, Mr Sedgwick said that, contrary to such commentary, "the optimal size of the APS is difficult to establish a priori".

He told Fairfax Media the number of employees depended on what work ministers wanted done and how they wanted it done.

"If the government has a high-touch approach to managing projects, then you'll have [more] people. If priorities are being reordered in favour of programs that are high touch, as opposed to ones where you just write a cheque and send it to the states, then you'll have a different outcome for people than if it's otherwise."

Mr Sedgwick's report also hinted to the Labor government that it could not continue to increase the efficiency dividend – an annual cut to agency budgets – indefinitely.

More than half of the senior executive service said they had faced "greatly increasing" pressure on their workloads over the past three years due to the need to reallocate funds.

Mr Sedgwick said it had been "many years since the APS has operated in such a constrained financial environment".

"Recent decisions of government have increased the incentives agencies face to secure cost savings in their operations through increases in the efficiency dividend ... More substantial changes to the scale and priorities of the APS, however, require clear decisions by government about which activities should be scaled back or eliminated."

The latest State of the Service Report also draws attention to "conundrums" against which the public service has failed to make headway.

Mr Sedgwick said the inability of the APS to retain staff who were indigenous or who had a disability was a continuing concern, as were the relatively high rates of workplace absence.

He was also disappointed that fewer than half of employees believed their most recent performance review had helped them improve their work.

It was also unacceptable that one in six public servants felt they had been bullied in the past year, the commissioner said.

The latest snapshot of the APS shows that the typical public servant is a female university graduate, aged 42, employed as an APS6 officer. She earns about $82,000 a year.

The report also suggests the glass ceiling is slowly rising: women now make up 39.2 per cent of senior executives, 4.3 percentage points higher than five years ago.

The most sought-after staff are IT workers, accountants and human-resources professionals.


More union thuggery

A pattern is emerging in the building and construction industry – a pattern of battles not between capital and labour but between labour and labour. More specifically, union versus non-union.

In what looked like escalating into a Grocon Mark II dispute, unionists blockaded the Little Creatures brewery in South Geelong on and off for more than a month until last week in breach of a Supreme Court injunction.

Unionists from the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) have been in dispute with Western Australian contracting firm TFG Group over the use of non-union contract workers at the Little Creatures brewery.

The unions object to the employment of non-union labour on individual contracts, and are demanding that TFG employ local workers from Geelong on an enterprise bargaining agreement.

The new brewery represents a $60 million investment from Lion, Little Creatures’ parent company, and TFG has been hired to administer the fit-out of specialist brewing equipment. According to Little Creatures, 95% of TFG’s contractors are Victorians, and the brewery will offer significant opportunities for local jobs upon its completion.

The CFMEU and AMWU claim that TFG has engaged its labourers in sham contracts to avoid paying entitlements normally afforded to regular employees, such as sick and holiday leave, superannuation, and redundancy payments.

But if unionists were really worried that TFG was engaged in sham contracting, they only need to refer the matter to the building and construction industry watchdog. No such action has occurred.

This dispute is not about workers’ rights or sham contracting. According to Leela Sutton from Lions, the workers have indicated satisfaction with their conditions and do not wish to be represented by the union. This dispute is about growing membership through intimidation and boosting membership fees.

In an economy where just 18 per cent of the workforce is unionised, workers ought to have the right to union representation, but equally, workers ought to have the right to represent themselves, free from a meddling union.

Gone are the days of the 1970s when one in two workers was a union member and unions had a guaranteed place at the bargaining table.

The Fair Work Act has a place for unions but it does not authorise a group of unionists who do not even work at a site to blockade it and prevent workers from entering and earning an income.

Under the Fair Work Act there are several ways in which employees can gain union representation. Every worker has the right to associate and be a member of a union. The union is also the default bargaining representative for any employee who is a union member.

However, in this case the specialist workers are contractors, not employees.  As such they are employed under commercial terms, not regular employment terms. This means if the workers wish to be unionised, they would first need to become regular employees of TFG. Only then should the union be involved.

But there is also a bigger story. The building and construction industry has long had a reputation of militant union activity, and the CFMEU has long-standing reputation for thuggish behaviour.

The Cole Commission (2001–03) was established to investigate the degree of lawless and criminal behaviour in the building and construction industry, and its report found widespread disregard for the rule of law, particularly in relation to illegal strike activity, pattern bargaining, and intimidation tactics.

To remedy this problem, it recommended establishing a watchdog – the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) – to police the sector.

The ABCC has had positive effects on the industry, including a reduction in illegal strike action, pattern bargaining and intimidation, and an increase in productivity. Unfortunately, the ABCC was replaced with a new watchdog this year, Fair Work Building and Construction (FWBC). The new watchdog has reduced powers compared to its predecessor.

Most significantly, the maximum fines that can be imposed by the commissioner on organisations (or unions) and individuals have been reduced.

Several in the business community, including the ABCC’s former commissioner John Lloyd, believe that watering down the commission’s powers has weakened its deterrent effect and emboldened the union movement.

Times are tough for manufacturing in Victoria. Qantas has just sacked 250 heavy maintenance staff from its Avalon facility, 440 jobs have been cut from Ford’s Geelong plant, and a further 50 workers are expected to be sacked from Alcoa’s smelter in Point Henry.

At a time when local communities in Victoria need all the investment and job opportunities they can get, the industrial campaign at Little Creatures in Geelong serves as a deterrent to firms considering investing their time and effort in Victoria.


Independence lost

WHAT do the latest James Bond movie, `Skyfall', and Sir Robert Menzies, Australia's longest-serving prime minister, have in common? If you say, no idea - then that's understandable.

If, on the other hand, you answer Tennyson's poem Ulysses, then you win the prize.

In the latest Bond movie, M, facing a parliamentary inquiry into her failures as head of MI6, recites the final lines from Tennyson's poem, which supposedly was a favourite of the founder of the Liberal Party.

In the poem the ancient Greek hero Ulysses, though old and soon to confront death, longs for one last chance to prove his valour and strength and to embark on another perilous journey. He states:

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

The sentiment is one of overcoming adversity, not giving in to suffering, and battling against all odds to demonstrate one's bravery and heroism.

Pain, suffering and loss have always been with us and are an inevitable part of being human. The challenge, though, is how best to overcome adversity.

For Sir Robert Menzies' generation, who experienced two world wars and the Great Depression, the belief was that individuals, although often with the help others, had to rely on their own bravery, resilience and the conviction that after the tempest, still waters would prevail.

The welfare state, with its insatiable desire to intervene and comfort all, had yet to take control and individuals and their families still relied on one another and local networks to meet their needs.

Welfare payments were few and far between, unemployment relief was meagre and universal health care had yet to be introduced.

An essential part of Australia's bush ethos and the ANZAC legend was to fight against adversity and face a harsh future stoically. Stories such as Henry Lawson's The Drover's Wife epitomised the ability to survive in a hostile environment and to do what was necessary to raise a family.

In modern-day tragedies such as Victoria's Black Saturday bushfires and last year's floods in Queensland, we saw again this spirit of resilience and bravery when ordinary people achieve heroic feats.

Tennyson's poem and Lawson's short story embody a romantic notion of the hero and one increasingly lacking today when the common cry is one of victimhood.

Read the papers, watch or listen to the news or surf the net and it's clear we are surrounded by those seeking redress and government action for what has been or is being suffered.

As Joe Hockey said in a speech earlier this year, we live in a time characterised as the age of entitlement.

Many succumb to drugs and alcohol and, instead of taking responsibility, argue it's because of the sins of others and they must get government support.

Some are the victims of violence and abuse and, instead of breaking free, bemoan their fate, trapped in the past.

Even in education, the victim mentality is now rife with working class, migrant and indigenous students told that only positive discrimination will turn failure into success.

Supposedly, performance at school is not a matter of ability or effort, but the result of home background.

Instead of working harder, at-risk students are told it's not their fault that they underachieve.

Today's generations are wrapped in cotton wool and expect that all they have to do is to complain and things will work out in the end.

Worse still, the victim mentality drains individuals of their ability to stand on their own two feet, confront and overcome problems and get on with life with a positive attitude.

While there's no denying that those experiencing pain, loss and disadvantage need help and support, maybe, just maybe, things would be better if, like Ulysses, instead of victimhood, the cry was one of: To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.


Health funding cuts to hurt Victorian patients

The Feds can afford a vast new Federal Health bureaucracy that just overlaps State services but actually fixing up ill patients is a low priority

ELECTIVE surgery in Victoria will be slashed by 20-25 per cent in the next seven months as $107 million worth of Federal Government health funding cuts start to bite from next Friday.

Victoria has calculated the Commonwealth funding cuts are equal to losing the funding for 20,000 elective surgery procedures or reducing Victoria's elective surgery volumes by 20-25 per cent in the next seven months.

The $107 million cut is equivalent to 3150 bone marrow transplants or 6620 hip replacements or 6605 knee replacements.

Victoria's Health Minister, David Davis, has warned operating theatres could have to close over the summer.

He has written to his local area health services warning them to prepare for the cutbacks to start biting from next Friday.

A detailed spreadsheet complied by the minister shows how each of the local services and hospitals will be affected by the cuts.

The Alfred hospital will lose $7.9 million in funding, Austin Health $7.9 million, Eastern Health $8.5 million, and the Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute $1.2 million.

Mr Davis warned: "The risk is that hospitals will have to close theatres over summer, reduce capacity and put off staff."

The federal funding cuts are due to a recalculation of population growth figures based on the 2011 census. The

Commonwealth is also demanding the state refund $40 million of health funding it has already been paid as a result of the population growth recalculation.

These cuts will begin to hit the state on December 7 when monthly funds are transferred from the Commonwealth to the states.

But Paul Perry, spokesman for Federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek, said the Gillard Government's investment in Victoria was continuing to grow by 26 per cent in the next four years and "this is a desperate smokescreen by the Baillieu Government to distract people from its $616 million Budget cuts".

The State Government's own savage cuts would impact on frontline services, blowing out waiting times and eroding the standard of patient care, he said.

Mr Davis called for Prime Minister Julia Gillard to stop the federal cuts.

He said the cuts' effect would be even more severe in the next seven months because a full year's worth of cutbacks would be crunched into the last seven months of the financial year.


1 comment:

Paul said...

It is an ongoing banter we have that we could get through our work if it weren't for all these patients. Sometimes we even mean it as a joke.