In this article I am going to touch on two threads: the results of the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) labour force survey for February, 2021; and, the vexed issue of the role of the public service in Queensland.
Having worked as an eager worker within the Queensland public service during the brief Newman years of Government, and more recently as the former Chief Economist at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland (CCIQ), I have always held a critical view toward the role and delivery of public services in Queensland.
That view is drawn from my own experiences working for the Queensland state government; in seeing firsthand the two impulses of how public managers are forever counting paperclips and staples to preserve their current annual budgets, while at the same time trawling for new sources of public funding that of course must by exhumed from the private sector by means of new taxes and levies on business.
My key role at CCIQ was to analyse and report on the quarterly findings of the Suncorp/CCIQ Pulse survey of business sentiment in Queensland, which I oversaw from September 2018 to March 2020 and I read every response by business respondents across the state.
Accordingly, one common thread that emerged as an incendiary topic of frustration for the state’s business community, for each-and-every quarter, was concerns regarding the size of the public service in Queensland, the inefficiencies within service delivery (loosely defined as red and green tape), and the level of state government debt that has been accumulated in providing those services.
Addressing the former issue of red and green tape, Robert MacDonald produced an article that was recently published in InQueensland. The article highlighted the specter that bureaucracy has effectively gone mad in Queensland, with a simple corner shop requiring over thirty permits to operate, and the Productivity Commission of Queensland estimating it was costing Queensland business around $7 billion per year.
Regarding the latter issue of the state’s fiscal position, one does not need to go further than the Queensland Auditor’s General annual reporting on the Queensland Government’s public finances, which for at least the past two years (i.e. even prior to the COVID pandemic), has raised concerns about public expenses outpacing revenues in the state and the sustainability of the public debt being accumulated in the meantime.
Now on to the ABS labour force statistics and what these have tended to indicate was going on in the state’s jobs market up to February, 2021.
First, quarterly, detailed labour force data compiled by the ABS for the previous November 2020 quarter print indeed showed that year on year the largest increase in employment was in public administration and safety at over 18,500 persons, illuminating that public sector hiring was effectively leading employment growth in the state during 2020.
And this was further evident in the single touch payroll statistics introduced by the ABS released monthly to provide another useful indicator in which to compare with the labour force survey and to gauge how the jobs market in the state was travelling through the COVID-19 pandemic across the 19 ANZSIC industry sectors.
Yet, fast forward to the latest drop, and a comparison to employment at February last year indicates that some green shoots emerged within Queensland’s private sector, particularly in retail trade, financial and insurance services, wholesale trade and manufacturing.
Comparing employment within both the private and public sectors, as a colleague and top Regional Economist, Pete Faulkner from Conus Consulting has pointed out in a recent blog article, the statistics indicate that the key driver of Queensland’s labour market performance has indeed been within the private sector and not the public sector.
Or course, economists are eagerly waiting in anticipation for the Queensland Government’s own biannual workforce statistics to be released for March, 2021 to be able to glean just what has been happening within the Queensland Government’s various departments.