Markus Mannheim | The Age, 4 September 2012

Public Sector Informant: How big is our government?

Markus Mannheim analysed comments in The Australian last week by the head of the Business Council of Australia, Tony Shepherd, with reference to findings from an earlier CPD report on the Australian public service.

[Shepherd] told The Australian last month that the country’s bureaucracies were growing out of control…

Yet, as the Centre for Policy Development highlighted in The State of the Australian Public Service report last year, while the APS’s staffing levels rose, so too did the population it served. “Our analysis contradicts the prevailing rhetoric about a burgeoning public service. On the contrary, the growth of the Australian Public Service has lagged behind the growth of the Australian population,” the report said.

Mannheim observes that a bureaucracy, “should become slowly more efficient at serving a growing population,” due to economies of scale, new technologies and better ways of working. Thus, we would expect to see a retraction in the public sector as a proportion of population. Since this didn’t happen in the last two terms of the Howard government, when the ratio rose significantly, and since under the Gillard government it has dropped sharply, to Mannheim’s mind this prompts the question: “what is Tony Shepherd talking about?”

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