Turnbull forces all Dept staff to re-apply for jobs


Question Time

Note: This article was updated after publication with a statement by the Office of Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

news Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has ordered all 550 staff at his Department of Communications to re-apply for their jobs, according to the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU), as part of a sizable cull that could see up to 125 jobs cut from the department.

In a statement issued last week, the union said it had learned that all 550 staff at Communications would have to participate in a ‘spill and fill’ process as part of a major restructuring of the Department to cut 20-25 percent of its workforce.

CPSU National President Alistair Waters said: “This is a disruptive, costly and deeply divisive process. All it will do is pit colleague against colleague and throw the department into a tail spin. Waking up and finding out that your department is cutting jobs is bad enough but then to be told you will have to fight your workmates to hang on to job is worse.”

“We understand that the priorities of government departments change but this is not the way to treat hard-working professionals. We call upon the Department to immediately rethink this process. If jobs need to be cut, then the Department should first ask people to apply for redundancy rather than go down this divisive route.”

Waters said the staff do valuable work such as helping the switchover from analogue to digital, enabling people to access better broadband internet, and drafting rules and regulations to prevent media concentration. “This is not the way to treat your staff. It’s an unprecedented example of the appalling way that this Government deals with public sector workers. Cutting thousands of workers’ jobs is bad enough but to do it this way is just cruel and vindictive,” said Waters.

Since the Abbott Government came to office the CPSU said it had estimated that up to 4000 jobs – or more than one every hour – had been cut.

The news comes as a number of other major Australian employers have recently been cutting technology-related jobs over the past few months. Last week, for instance, embattled airline Qantas flagged plans to cut $200 million out of its technology budget over the next three years and undertake reviews of its major technology supplier contracts, as part of a company-wide cost-cutting initiative that will see a total of 5,000 staff leave the company and some $2 billion in total costs cut. IT jobs will specifically be cut under the initiative.

Similarly, Telstra’s advertising and directories business Sensis revealed plans several weeks ago to cut about 800 jobs Australia-wide, in a move that the CPSU said would “irreparably harm local economies and erode the nation’s skills base”. Telstra itself is also reported to be currently offshoring as many as 1,000 jobs to the Philippines and India.

However, new jobs are also being created. For example, in early February, global technology giant Hewlett Packard yesterday announced it would significantly expand its presence in Adelaide, creating about 430 high-end technology jobs over the next four years with the assistance of the University of South Australia and the South Australian State Government.

Update: A spokesman for Turnbull issued the following statement, following the publication of this article:

“The assertion that the Minister has ordered all staff to re-apply for their positions is clearly incorrect. As the Secretary indicated in his address to all staff last week, the Department has initiated consultation on a process that it considers, given the Department’s specific circumstances, to be a fair and equitable way of managing a redesign and reduction of this scale.

“The reduction in funding to the Department reflects the winding down of terminating programs from previous Budgets. Delimiter’s allegations that staff will be vetted for political affiliation is wrong and is a shocking slur against the professionalism of the public service.”

OK, there’s a couple of things going on here.

Firstly, it’s not usual for a major government department to spill all of its positions, as Communications has (at least according to the CPSU). What this signals is that the new Abbott administration is very serious about cutting a lot of weight out of the Federal public sector. This is an extreme move and will cause significant disruption at the Department.

The CPSU is right, in many ways, in its criticism of the move. A far more normal approach would be to conduct a more targeted cull. However, it seems clear that the new Coalition Government is determined to make broad cuts across the board and really put its stamp on Canberra’s public sector. It does have the mandate to do this, unfortunately for the department’s workers.

My personal opinion is that this move will also likely be used to marginalise any bureaucrats at the department who are seen as having links that are too close to the Labor Party. We’ve already seen NBN Co executive chairman Ziggy Switkowski take this action in October with the move to make former Labor State MP Mike Kaiser redundant, for example. We may also see those with links to the Liberal Party or Turnbull personally given important positions, as we’ve seen at NBN Co (Delimiter 2.0 link).

In general, as an advocate of small government, and although it’s a bad situation for those workers affected, I am personally in favour of broad cuts to the Department of Communications. When we have existing major government organisations such as the ACCC, the ACMA and most of all, NBN Co, all of which have at least a partial focus on telecommunications in Australia, one has to ask what work is actually being done at the Department that could not be done elsewhere.

I haven’t seen a huge amount of productive information released from the Department over the past several years. Perhaps that is indicative of something. I’d be interested to get feedback (perhaps through Delimiter’s anonymous tips form) about whether other people believe the Department of Communications is overweight for the tasks that it needs to perform.

Image credit: Office of Malcolm Turnbull


  1. I dislike this man, well wouldn’t even class him as that! That’s all I’m going to say otherwise if I really write what I’m thinking I’ll most likely have a knock on the front door.

    • I can hardly decide if he is on a witch hunt, or burying the dead bodies under the carpet – with generous severance.

      Someone knows too much – that’s for sure.

  2. simple I think, those that work well will end up safe, those who have just being “goin in coz its a job” should be very, very, worried.

    • In my experience the opposite can occur. Those who “work well” are confident of getting another job so they take the redundancy payout and leave. You can be left with the less competent employees.
      I’ve seen this occur a couple of times.

  3. Strange, I thought Abbott promised that his cuts to Public Sector jobs would come through natural attrition and NOT stunts like this. Gillard and Rudd may have been stabbing each other in the back, but Abbott is trying to stick the rusty butter knife in the backs of normal aussies.

    One of many lies that Abbott told throughout his election campaign. What trust is left?

  4. Small government…AU is already small government by numbers. A society where government is so small that it’s not effective is a terrible thing.

  5. On a semi-related note…I wonder what employee morale is like now at NBNCo. I’m sure everyone was passionate about building something worthwhile for the country, and they above everyone else would know the implications of downsizing to the MTM instead.

    • I have a friend who worked there (as a Business Analyst – so I assume would not be directly affected by a change in network design) – who resigned a few months before the election.

  6. “However, it seems clear that the new Coalition Government is determined to make broad cuts across the board and really put its stamp on Canberra’s public sector. It does have the mandate to do this, unfortunately for the department’s workers.”

    Absolutely not. The concept of an election mandate is in itself nebulous, but the above is just plain wrong. In fact, the Coalition ran its election election on a promise to NOT cut public service jobs — it certainly didn’t pledge to cut jobs as part of being elected.

  7. Like Queensland a smaller public service simply means removing jobs. I see no process of increasing efficiency, changing “public Service” processes (culture), to make a better performing (competitive) public service.

    Reform is missing. Sackings are the answer. The “Business approach (dry) to cost cutting. Change is not the act of dismissal!

  8. Like any business or organisation, if you’re managing the performance of your employees correctly and closely, you should already know who is worth keeping and who should be offered redundancy. If you don’t know this, why do you continue to pay them?

    • +1

      Rather than wholesale “re apply for your own job”, if there was decent management they’d be able to point out the underachievers and do something about them. “Decent management” is the key phrase here though…

    • Exactly. I’ve never worked in management, but it seems to me that you can tell MUCH more about an employee from their work than you can from their job application.

    • In the Public sector its not always that easy. In general, there are usually rather complex laws and rules that dictate how things are done, which is why things happen at a slower rate – get something wrong, it ends up on A Current Affair, Today Tonight, 60 Minutes, etc etc. Witness the number of times local government gets it wrong, usually on a simple error.

      Then there are the Goverment oversight problems, where staff end up second guessing anything unusual. Initiative isnt always rewarded, even when most departments are being drained 1% of their budget every year. Or 2% in recent years.

      You end up with formulaic work practices, and that makes it very hard to separate the good workers from those that just know what buttons to press.

      And at the end of the day, its because of the necessary red tape the over riding legislation forces on to staff. Staff that are productive arent necessarily the best, they just know the fastest way to get a case out of their intray.

      So do you want someone who gets results, or someone that gets cases closed? Its not always that easy to tell the difference.

  9. New job application first question –
    “Did you vote for Labor?” If yes, please turn over and see sub-heading “You’re fired” section.

  10. Don’t forget that in some cases in the public service the management has vested interested. They are not interested in rewarding good workers but reward workers that build their ego and are not a threat to them. I am sure many that work in the public service know what I am talking about.


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