The federal government should use tonight’s budget to remove its controversial public sector staff cap and build in house ICT capabilities, according to the Community and Public Sector Union.

In a pre-budget submission to Treasury, the primary union representing people working in Commonwealth Government has argued for a government led economic recovery, including “rebuilding” in house ICT and lessening a growing reliance on consultants.

Doing so would also better prepare Australia for future crises by leaving the public sector less reliant on insecure labour hire and outsourced jobs, according to the union. The union says the coalition government should scrap the controversial Average Staffing Level, a limit designed to keep the public sector the same size as it was in 2007, and reinvest the efficiency dividends back into the public sector. 

“Prior to the pandemic it was apparent that years of cuts, outsourcing and privatisation had undermined the public service,” the CPSU submission from August states.  

“As recommended by the Government’s own Independent Review of the APS, the performance and institutional capability of the APS needs to be strengthened. We must now rebuild, not continue the destruction.”

The independent review, released in December last year (a notorious dumping period for governments), found he Australian public sector’s digital capabilities are trailing comparable governments and failing to meet public needs and expectations.

The review called for a comprehensive audit of ICT systems and more than $250 million to be invested in digital skills each year for the next four years to address the problems and drive transformation.

ICT opportunity

In its Treasury submission the CPSU said COVID-19 had underscored the importance of digital capacity to deliver services to Australian citizens.

“There are no shortcuts to building in-house capacity, but it is necessary for effective government. To build internal ICT expertise, there needs to be an express and specific goal to reduce the reliance on contractors and external vendors by the APS. There is also the opportunity to combine it with a broader employment strategy.

“Building the public sector ICT capacity we will need into the future is a nation-building infrastructure project that will provide an opportunity to develop a highly skilled APS ICT workforce spread across the country, including in regional Australia. Considerable work has already occurred in analysing what the future digital and ICT needs of the APS are. The work on progressing that needs to start now, but with the focus shifted to in-house capacity.”

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