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Senator Larissa Waters: Environment Department Job Cuts

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Larissa Waters 19 Nov 2013

Senator WATERS: On that same theme, just so I have my figures right, can you quantify precisely how many folk have now been cut as a result of the previous administration's efficiency dividend, as a first port of call?

Mr Carlos: I would have to take that on notice to the extent that we do not allocate staff cuts to specific things, so we manage within the total budget, and that means that it covers off a range of things, not only efficiency dividends but normal ongoing reductions in programs and other various saving aspects.

Senator WATERS: I thought I recalled some reporting that there were about 150 folk as result of the efficiency dividend. Is that a ballpark?

Mr Carlos: We are currently running a voluntary redundancy round of about 150, but that is to manage our overall budgetary reductions going into the next financial year, which covers off a whole range of aspects, not only efficiency dividends but other programs.

Senator WATERS: Do you have any indication of the proportion of staff cuts that will need to be made in your department as a result of the current government's 12,000-folk Public Service cuts?

Mr de Brouwer: No, because we do not know the allocation on how that will operate yet, so we cannot make any comment on what that will mean for the department.

Senator WATERS: You have not been advised or there has not been an indication of the rough proportion that your department will have to bear of that?

Mr de Brouwer: No, there has not been any advice yet on that-or any guidance or direction on that.

Senator WATERS: What is the time frame for when you are expecting that? Perhaps the minister can answer.

Senator Cormann: What has happened in the first instance, of course, is that there have been some mergers in other parts of government. Again, I would just say to you what I said to Senator Urquhart: the best place to ask questions in relation to this is either with the Australian Public Service Commission or with Finance tomorrow. But the one thing that has happened, of course, is that there has been a significant additional level of scrutiny and oversight in terms of any additional hiring, so any new hiring has been severely restricted in the first instance. I stress again, the policy that we took to the last election was to achieve a reduction in the size of the Public Service by 12,000 through natural attrition. Having come into government, we have been made aware of the implications of decisions made by the previous government which also had implications for staffing numbers, and we are working our way through the interaction between those two things at the moment.

Senator WATERS: Does the department have any indication of the likelihood of its susceptibility to further cuts from the Commission of Audit-a third tranche of cuts to your staff?

Dr de Brouwer: No, we do not know what is coming out of the Commission of Audit.

Senator WATERS: Do you understand that you are within the scope of review, so there could possibly be a third tranche of cuts?

Dr de Brouwer: Yes, but everything is within scope.

Senator WATERS: That is right-everything is on the table. How many voluntary redundancies have been accepted by departmental officials this financial year to date?

Ms Carlos: I would have to take that on notice. We might have a few from the current round, but I would have to take that on notice to give you accurate figures.

Senator WATERS: And for last financial year?

Ms Carlos: We ran a VR program of 108 voluntary redundancies, but there were a few more throughout the course of the year. I can quantify that in total on notice.

Senator WATERS: From which division did they mostly come?

Ms Carlos: They were a broad spread from across the whole organisation.

Senator WATERS: How long has the department got to meet its current job cut targets through natural attrition and voluntary redundancies before you have to move to sackings?

Ms Carlos: The current round of about 150 voluntary redundancies will position us appropriately for what we know is our budget for the 2014-15 year at this point.

Senator WATERS: Do you have any total projected staff cuts for the coming 12 months? Or at least the current financial year?

Ms Carlos: We have done some estimates based on what we currently have in terms of our budget position going forward, and those estimates are that we should be able to position ourselves for the 2014-15 year if we achieve in the order of the 150 voluntary redundancies.

Senator WATERS: I am not sure if this is the right spot to ask, but I am interested in recent statements by the Prime Minister in which he apparently indicated to certain landholders in Queensland that he would like them to have to right to say no to coal seam gas. The government voted against that very same statement in the Senate last week. I am interested in whether the Prime Minister's office or department has asked your department for advice about the necessary regulatory changes or for a briefing around the possibility of whether landholders should be given the right to say no to coal seam gas.

Dr de Brouwer: I might just take that one on notice. I am not aware of any such advice, but we will take that on notice and come back.

Senator WATERS: Can you come back today?

Dr de Brouwer: I will try.

Senator WATERS: Thank you, that would be great.

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