During a recession, government should fill the deficit in demand left by private industry. This keeps more people employed and therefore limits the damage done. One way they can do that is by directly employing public servants.
So how do this year’s staffing levels compare?
Between 2018–19 and 2019–20, staffing levels (called ASL, or “average staffing levels” in the budget papers) increased by just 1,271 people. That’s based on estimated levels; the Budget tells us that the actual increase was “generally lower”. On the latest data there are 206,000 more unemployed people than there were at the same time last year. That’s a lot of slack that the Government has failed to take up.
Nor is a big increase in public sector employment planned for the coming year. In 2020–21, ASL is expected to be just 3,666 staff higher than it was last year. There will be no increase at all in federal public sector employment as a share of population, following a fall of 18 per cent over the decade.