Dept of Regional Australia flags job cuts

THE Department of Regional Australia spent $4.5 million on a voluntary redundancy program for 68 staff last financial year, and has flagged staff cuts of about 100 more public servants by the end of June next year.

During Senate estimates late on Tuesday, senior bureaucrats with the Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport revealed the fall in staff numbers under questioning from Senator Ian MacDonald.

Originally offered to 86 departmental staff, 68 public servants took up the voluntary redundancy program, with an average pay-out of more than $66,000 per employee during the 2011-12 fiscal year.

Of those 68 official redundancies, 17 came from the regional development and local government divisions, with department secretary Glenys Beauchamp admitting the job cuts "and other savings" would trim about $15 million from the department's 2012-13 budget.

But Ms Beauchamp said the redundancies and other savings were note technically jobs cuts, as Senator MacDonald defined them, but were actually a result of "the cessation of one-off initiatives as well as lapsing and finishing programs".

DRALGAS corporate service chief operating officer, Jamie Clout, said the department employed 335 staff in July 2011.

He said that figure rose to a total of 662 after the Office for Sport and Office for the Arts, as well as corporate staff from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet were moved into the DRALGAS portfolio in December 2011.

Mr Clout said the total average staffing level was about 567 employees during the 2012-13 financial year, but further cuts would need to be made to reach a target "somewhere in the mid-400s" by the end of 2012-13.

Senator MacDonald said the reduction in staff for 2012-13 equated to a 12% reduction for the department.

But Ms Beauchamp said "in a sense, it is not a cut in staffing; it is something that we have expected over the forward estimates period".

The fall in the past two years has come as Finance Minister Penny Wong has been pushing for savings across all department, in a government push to reach its budget surplus.

Ms Wong has repeatedly said the Federal Government was not cutting staff.

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