Public sector workers’ paradise


How many people are employed in Australia by all three levels of government?

If you have answered “too many”, you are correct. If you have answered “almost 2 million”, you’re also correct. The exact number as of June last year is 1.956 million. As Catalaxy Files notes, this number does not include private sector workers contracted for government work. Still, the number seems pretty scary – again, as Catalaxy notes, it’s more than the total population of South Australia. Mind you, I thought that the entire population of South Australia were de facto public sector employees, considering how much money the federal government sinks in the “Mendicant State”, but that arguably doesn’t technically count.

Seeing that there were 12.16 million Australians employed (by others or self) in June 2017, those receiving their salaries from the public purpose accounted for 16 per cent of the workforce.

Is that a lot? The most current OECD numbers unfortunately are from 2013 so a few years behind, but the average across the developed countries was 21.3 per cent. You won’t be surprised that Scandinavian countries lead the rankings, with Norway at an astronomical 35.6 per cent, Denmark at 32.9 per cent and Sweden at 29.9 per cent. Now you know where all the high taxes go – the wages of social democracy, literally. At the other end are the Asian lean machines of Japan and South Korea, both well below ten per cent.

So while Australia’s nearly 2 million public sector employees sounds like a lot, is significantly below the OECD average. This, however, says more about the developed economies as in general than about Australia specifically. If 16 per cent of the workforce is scary, then surely 35 per cent will leave you sleepless for days.

How do we compare to other English-speaking democracies? We are significantly better off than the United Kingdom, which is 0.2 percent above the OECD average at 21.5 per cent and Canada at 22.4.  We’re even better than the land of the free and the home of the brave, where 17.6 per cent are in government employ – or were, since according to 2018 figures, some 22 million out of the total workforce of 160 million are in public service, which is only 13.75 per cent. New Zealand, meanwhile, beats us with 13.4 per cent.

As it’s so often the case, one has to have a comparative look around the world to realise that while the situation in Australia is bad it’s much worse elsewhere. This might be a consolation, but a pretty small one.  Particularly if one takes a broader picture: the bottom 60 per cent of households now receive more in government benefits than they pay in taxes. There is no doubt some overlap between that 60 per cent and the 2 million government workers, but essentially more than 60 per cent of households in Australia directly benefit from tax money, either through wages or through benefits. No wonder government keeps growing – too many people now have a direct personal interest in seeing the public cash cow swelling.