On the Insiders television program on 21 February 2010, host Barrie Cassidy closed a long interview with the Communications Minister Stephen Conroy but asking about the workload of public servants in supporting government programs. The video is available on-line and the comments are at the 11 minute mark.
Conroy says that the “cracking pace” the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, established from the start of his government has continues. Rudd continues to expect high performance from his Ministers, staff and public servants. Conroy talks about the change that has been demanded of the public service and that this has generated more workload. He forecasts that the workload may ease if the Government achieves a second term of office.
Cassidy makes the link between the “pushing people too hard” and the failure of Government schemes such as the insulation scheme that was cancelled by the Environment Minister, Peter Garrett on 19 February 2010.
Politicians are in a difficult position when it comes to looking after the safety of their employees and the public servants. As Conroy said, the electorate expects government to implement election commitments promptly. Voters are unlikely to want to hear commitments made in an election campaign with conditions applied, this promise would be perceived as not a promise at all.
But the way that politics operates in Australia, at least, makes the health of public servants an ancillary consideration when the government is investigating and implementing their reform programs.
Barrie Cassidy was not implying that public service numbers should be increased but that the government should be reviewing the performance expectations of current public servants.
Most governments that have been in power for a couple of terms ends up with a slightly bloated public service. This allows an easy goal for the opposition when it comes to election time but this simply restarts the cycle only with different faces.
It is unlikely that the health and safety of public servants will be examined or mentioned in the current Senate hearings into the insulation scheme as it is outside of the terms of reference. It may come up under “related matters” but this is also unlikely.
In various governmental investigations of government programs costs is always a significant issue due to the sensitivity that politicians are playing with taxpayer funds. What is never included in the investigation of costs, in their broadest sense, is the health, stress and workers’ compensation costs that stem from the “rush job” demand by politicians. The next annual report of Comcare is eagerly awaited as is any staff retention/attrition data from the public service.