O’Farrell Govt Staff Numbers Jump 40%

It took only 82 days for the number of O’Farrell Government Ministerial staffers to swell by 40 percent.

Barely two and a half months after trotting out the usual post-election bromides of running a “mean, lean machine”, the number of staffers has bulked up quicker than a Spanish cyclist.

On April 10, the Sunday Telegraph reported that an unnamed Minister “confirmed that the NSW Coalition has adopted a “skin and bones” hiring strategy.”

“The staffing numbers have been slashed to the bone”.

The article reported that “..ministers believe there will be no more than 120 staff within the new O’Farrell Government.”

This was supposed to be a massive symbolic cut to the reported 220 staffers in Kristina Keneally’s term of office.

However, on June 30, the official “Premier’s and Ministers’ Staff Numbers” profile issued by the Department of Premier and Cabinet had the number of staffers for the O’Farrell Cabinet at 167.2. Basically, splitting the difference between the Coalition’s original undertakings (120) and the Keneally profile (220).

Interestingly, even with the jump in numbers, only the Premier, Deputy Premier, Treasurer, Attorney General and Minister for Finance and Services have any senior policy/media advisors in addition to their Chiefs of Staff.

My take is that the numbers are interesting only because of the promises made and broken. By and large, the posturing about Ministerial staff numbers are both futile and juvenile. Every Opposition going into Government promises to cut numbers. Heck, this year we had a Government going into Opposition promising to cut numbers. (But I suspect that was a too cute by half attempt to lock the Coalition into the routine promise of cuts).

But with the effluxion of time, when Ministers start to realise the breadth and complexity of their portfolios, and have to deal with the inevitable burnout and turnover that happens within small Ministerial staffs, numbers start to settle at a more realistic level.

There are many motivations for people wanting to join a Ministerial staff: some noble, some less so, some much less so. But of the many charges laid against staffers, indolence and somnolence are rarely among them.

No one becomes a staffer to enhance their quality of life, minimise stress, achieve a healthy work/life balance or spend more time with the family.

It’s worth noting that while there are 100 more staffers between 2009 and 2011, the proportion of lower graded staffers (receptionists, administrative assistants, researchers) is equally about half the total allocation for both the Rees and O’Farrell governments.*

We are not talking about a battalion of spin doctors, delegating half a dozen spinterns the task of monitoring the Tiny Town Trumpeter for news of impending community meetings on fracking or speed cameras.

People who deal with staffers such as public officials, stakeholders, lobbyists, community representatives, journalists and visitors from interstate and overseas rarely bemoan the numbers of staffers.

(Well, maybe the public officials, what with incessant demands and commands…and backbenchers, who are sure that staffers are the praetorian guard preventing access to the Minister to share some blinding insight into the administration of their portfolio.)

But, whatever, what should be given scrutiny is not the overall number but how they are allocated. And to there we go ….

*The Rees ministry seems to have actually had 20 more staff than that reported for the Keneally period. I’ve used the Rees profile, because it appears impossible to obtain a web copy of the Keneally profile.

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