Are all Canberrans really public servants?

Kate Costello is a public servant in Canberra. Her parents were public servants and many of her friends are too.

She wonders if that makes her a typical Canberran — wearing a lanyard and working in an Australian Government department.

“I am interested in finding out what the reality is.”

Her feeling? It’s probably not as high as people think.

“There’s going to be a lot of essential public service jobs like doctors and nurses and parking inspectors … there will be more of them in the bigger states and territories,” she said.

So, how many Canberrans actually work in the public service, and is it the biggest employer in the territory?

Here’s the state-by-state breakdown

According to the Australian Public Service Commission, 152,095 people work for the Australian Government nationwide, which excludes the Australian Defence Force.

A large chunk of that workforce — 38 per cent to be exact — is based in Canberra, meaning you’re much more likely to bump into a public servant in the ACT than elsewhere.

New South Wales comes in second, housing 19 per cent of the Australian Public Service (APS).

Victoria has 17 per cent, followed by Queensland with 11 per cent.

But ACT Public Sector Standards Commissioner Bronwen Overton-Clarke said these numbers used to be quite different.

“Because Canberra was founded on bringing public servants from other places … people who knew Canberra in the old days would still probably think there were more public servants than other workers,” she said.

And while the public service makes up a considerable amount of Canberra’s workforce, it’s not the majority.

The public service accounts for 42 per cent of the ACT’s total workforce, with 32 per cent of jobs in the federal public service, and ACT Government positions accounting for the remaining 10 per cent.

Stephanie Foster, acting commissioner of the Australian Public Service, said Canberra’s workforce had one defining feature — age.

Due to the higher proportion of public service graduates in the ACT, public servants are younger than their colleagues elsewhere.

And once they’re in Canberra, Ms Foster said they tended to stay and settle down, quite often with a fellow public servant, possibly bolstering APS numbers into the future as well.

Who is the ‘typical’ public servant?

The Australian Public Service Commission say the “typical” federal public servant is a woman in her mid 30s.

Typical public servant

The ‘typical’ public servant

  • female
  • mid 30s
  • Executive Level 1 (EL1) project manager
  • Department of Defence
  • Bachelor of Arts degree

Source: Australian Public Service Commission

She’s an Executive Level 1 (EL1) project manager at the Department of Defence, where she’s been working for 10 years.

She has a Bachelor of Arts degree and takes home about $100,000 per year for a full-time position.

She is probably based in Canberra, given Defence employs almost 8,000 people in the ACT.

She also bears a striking resemblance to the “typical” Canberran according to the most recent census data.

Last month, in an attempt to track down the “typical” Canberran, the ABC spoke to Kirsten Davey — a public servant who lives with her husband and two children in the city’s north.

What kind of jobs do public servants do?

Ms Foster said that, despite perceptions, there’s a lot of variety in government jobs.

“So they’re working in Centrelink and places like that all around the country.”

She said the government employs marine biologists, curators, digital forensic officers, engineers, statisticians, climate experts and even food and wine scientists.

That said, some of the most common roles involve call centres, corporate support, and project management.

Ms Foster said only one per cent of APS employees worked overseas.

What about the territory government?

Of course, 100 per cent of ACT Government jobs are located within the territory.

Ms Overton-Clarke says the ACT Government employs 21,950 public servants.

“The largest proportion of our workforce are nurses and teachers, so about 67 or 68 per cent comprises of women, mostly in those frontline services,” she said.

She said Canberra is also unique because it’s a city-state, meaning the ACT Government performs municipal functions as well as state functions.

“We have all the services like mowing the grass and looking after parks that you would traditionally get in councils across Australia,” she said.

“As someone’s who’s worked in ACT Government for 31 years, there’s a huge amount of variety.”

Who asked the question?

Kate Costello has lived in Canberra for most of her life.

She followed in her parents’ footsteps to become a public servant and was a little surprised by what we found.

She said it was interesting to know most Canberrans don’t work for the federal or territory government, but suspected some other popular jobs in the ACT might still have a connection with government.



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