If, by some miracle, you know someone in Canberra who isn’t on the public payroll, it doesn’t take much to wind them up and set them going on about the staggering self-regard of the public service. Why, to hear the locals tell it, Australia’s public servants are nothing but conceited, work-shy grifters.

Which seems a bit unfair, really. After all, Australia must have the best public servants in the world, if the amount of money we pay them is any guide.

Here’s a bad idea: the Reserve Bank governor is calling for 3 per cent wages growth across the public sector, apparently to help the rest of us.

Because, as anyone knows who’s stood for hours in the queue at a government service building, watching what looks suspiciously like a whole lot of people playing Solitaire in their cubicles, the public service are practically falling over themselves to help. Why, they’re so desperate to help that they sometimes shut their doors just after three, just to make sure the queues don’t get too long. Isn’t that thoughtful of them?

Our public servants do such an amazing job that we feed more of our taxes into their deep pockets than any comparable nation.

Our public servants are well paid, especially at the top, where pay is frequently double — in some cases almost triple — their British counterparts. Our Treas­ury secretary, on more than $893,000, receives 170 per cent more than his British equivalent, who presides over a considerably bigger department and a G8 economy almost three times the size.

Scott Morrison earns more than twice that of Boris Johnson (who makes do with less than £150,000 or $265,500), who argu­ably has a more difficult job, especially now as he walks the political tightrope to extricate Britain from the EU. Our chiefs of the army, navy and air force, on about $580,000, earn 90 per cent more than their British equivalents, who oversee a nuclear arsenal.

Our chief statistician, on more than $700,000, earns 90 per cent more than his British equal. And London is much more expensive than Canberra.

There were 3405 “senior executives” in the federal public sector alone last year, up from 2701 a year earlier, according to the Public Service Commission’s latest data. They earn more than the chairman of the US Federal Reserve.

Pfft. As if the chairman of the Federal Reserve of the world’s biggest economy has it tough. I bet he never has to juggle his hours so he can flexi-time Friday afternoons off for golf.

There’s a deeper problem with these sky-high salaries beyond the cost and public contempt they generate. They align the top echel­ons of government not with the public, who earn vastly less, but with that sliver of private sector interests whose outlandish pay is used to justify ever higher public sector pay at the top. Thus, reforms that might boost competition or curb rent-seeking will not be favoured by the bureauc­racy in a way they once would have.

So the public service and the government are echo chambers of the elites? Well, gosh, there’s a surprise.

Workers in the federal public service took an average of nine sick days a year — almost two weeks — in 2017, a number that’s changed little in recent years.


Well, obviously the poor dears are just exhausted and overworked. I mean, some of them even get asked to work on a Saturday!