Who is Canberra's typical public servant? How the Canberra bureaucrat is better off

Mon 20 April 2015

A recent University of Canberra report said the bureaucracy performed better than the private sector on gender equity outcomes. 

It is financially better to be a typical federal public servant in Canberra than anywhere else in Australia because of the opportunity for promotion, figures show.  

And the significant cohort of women employed as executive level 1s in the national capital, leading the way as strong household earners, are breaking a glass ceiling as they get closer to outnumbering their male colleagues.  

Latest statistics show the typical Canberra public servant is an EL1 grossing $14,000 a year more than the most commonplace worker in the federal bureaucracy who is an APS6, according to Australian Public Service Commission Snapshots data. 

EL1s earn between $94,000 to $108,000 while APS6s make from $80,000 to $84,000. 

Sixty per cent of EL1s are in Canberra, even though the capital is home to just 40 per cent of the total number of bureaucrats working for the Commonwealth.

Executive level staff are often supervisors or technical experts charged with providing high-level policy advice.

But some may see drawbacks about taking advantage of working as a public servant in Canberra.

Staff in executive level 1 and 2 ranks were receiving more work and responsibilities following directives from the highest echelons of the bureaucracy.

Last month Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd said more decisions needed to be made by executive level staff rather than issues being passed up the chain of command to be resolved by members of the senior executive service.

Last week the Department of Defence announced it would be increasing spans of control – meaning it would give executive level staff more people to oversee –during its reforms following the First Principles review.

University of Canberra management expert Samantha Johnson said the public service needed to build capability among its executive level ranks before it dished out more responsibility. 

"They need [senior managers] to buddy up with or to have a mentor," Dr Johnson said. 

"The problem is you become task oriented and time is not allowed for professional development."

Across Australia, the typical public servant was more likely to be a woman and aged between 50 and 54.

Women were on their way to outnumbering men on the first rung of management at the EL1 classification.

Fifteen years ago women made up 36 per cent of EL1s. Now 49.7 per cent of EL1s are women, according to the Australian Public Service Commission's State of the Service report. 

The ratio of women in executive level positions during the same 15-year period has increased more greatly than the spike in the proportion of women in the bureaucracy.

A recent University of Canberra report, 50:50: Barriers to the Progress of Women in the Australian Public Service, said the bureaucracy performed better than the private sector on gender equity outcomes.

But it said the gravity of evidence indicated a fully effective public service, which reflected its stated values, would not be attained until there was an even split of men and women at senior levels.

"Only when unconscious bias is eliminated can we say that the merit principle for appointments to senior positions applies and the evidence suggests that this will be an ongoing struggle," the report said. 



This article was written by Phillip Thomson and first appeared in The Canberra Times. It has been republished here with full permission.

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