Why the government should think twice before axing comms jobs

Why the government should think twice before axing comms jobs

I attended the budget breakfast at Parliament House a couple of weeks ago now as I attempted to digest what the new budget will mean for me, and what it will mean for contentgroup.

It’s always intriguing listening to politicians explain policy, program and budget decisions and it was no different at the breakfast as the Minister for Small Business, the Honourable Michael McCormack MP, and Shadow Treasurer Andrew Leigh MP each gave an engaging talk. Naturally, questions from the floor came thick and fast.

One major highlight of the event was being served two breakfasts, but my main takeaway from the budget announcement was jobs related – an issue not discussed at the breakfast.

contentgroup’s largest stakeholder, the public service, will feel the strain over the next 12 months as  savings are expected to be made through job cuts.

Measures such as these understandably incite passionate debate. Who should go? Who should stay? And, why? After all, this is people’s livelihoods we’re talking about here.

But who I’m concerned about are the ones who often wind up on the chopping block first – government communicators.

Back in 2015 the ATO slashed the ranks of its marketing and comms staff, focusing on its “top-heavy” structure by ditching a number of EL1s and addressing its shortage of lower-ranked public servants. And it’s not just here in Australia where comms professionals have to watch their backs. The UK government too has had a major shakeup of its communications operations – in 2013 it had cut a whopping 48% of all comms jobs over just a three-year period.

Government communicators make sense of complex messages, such as the budget announcement, for diverse and invested audiences. They interpret intricate policy and programs the governments roll out with the aim of bettering the lives of citizens, and they convert expert policy information into language that you and I can easily and effectively understand.

Journalists are tasked with a similar job, albeit in a (usually) non-biased manner. And look what happened when they weren’t around for the budget announcement and the other news stories of the week they chose to strike in support of 125 of their colleagues facing job cuts.

So why is it that public-service communicators, who work towards the success of the government and its policies, tend to be first to be axed when spending needs to be scaled back?

The headline-grabbing budget points we’ve all been talking about, such as the hike in the Medicare levy, changes to school funding and new measures around welfare, are all complex issues. And without experienced communicators in place to relay the government’s decisions and reasoning behind these changes, the future success of the policies hangs in the balance.

So, as this latest budget is implemented, I hope government communicators are not first in line to have their jobs cut. Instead, departments should turn to their communicators to lead the way in working towards a better life for all Australians.

How do you think #Budget2017 has been communicated so far?


David is the Head of Consulting at contentgroup and possesses a love of writing. While he could write and talk about sport all day, his focus is now on helping public-sector clients tell their stories.

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