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Size and Shape of the APS

At 31 December 2018, there were 147,163 employees in the Australian Public Service (APS). This was a drop of 2,858 employees (1.9%) from the data snapshot of the same time last year. From 31 December 2017 to 30 June 2018, there was an increase of 397(0.3%) APS employees followed by a decline of 3,255 (2.2%) APS employees from 30 June 2018 to 31 December 2018.  

APS employee numbers have fallen by 11.7% from their December 2011 peak of 166,583.


At 31 December 2018, the APS included:

  • 132,446 ongoing employees (90%)
  • 14,717 non-ongoing employees (10%):
    • 7,430 employed for a specified term or task
    • 7,287 employed on an irregular/intermittent basis (known as ‘casual’ employees).

Fluctuations in the overall headcount occur for many reasons including seasonal patterns, business and government requirements and demand. The majority of decreases over the last calendar year were within three agencies:

The Department of Human Services had a total reduction of 1,627 (decrease of 1,354 ongoing and decrease of 273 non-ongoing).

The Department of Defence saw an overall reduction of 1,551 staff. This is a net figure that takes into account the movement by the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), out of the Public Service Act 1999 (the PS Act).
The Australian Taxation Office also had a total reduction of 442 (decrease of 896 ongoing and increase of 454 non-ongoing).
Figure 1: APS employee headcount December 2000 to December 2018

Source:  APSED December 2018 Table 1

At 31 December 2018, the largest four agencies in the APS accounted for 55.7% of the total APS workforce. This includes the Department of Human Services (21.5%), the Australian Taxation Office (13.1%), the Department of Defence (11.4%) and the Department of Home Affairs (9.7%), (APSED December 2018 Table 2).
During 2018, there were 517 employee movements between APS agencies due to Machinery of Government changes. The majority of these transfers were into:

  • Department of Social Services from Department of Health (283).
  • Department of Home Affairs from Attorney General’s Department (82).
  • NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission from Department of Social Services (35).
  • Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (34).

During 2018, a number of other changes occurred to the structure that had an effect on the spread of headcounts across the APS. See Appendix 2 for details of these coverage changes, along with a historical breakdown of employee numbers moving in and out of coverage under the PS Act since 2001-2002.


Ongoing employees make up 90% of the APS workforce. The number of ongoing employees has dropped by 3,923 since December 2017.  

While there was an overall decrease in ongoing numbers, agencies that saw an increase in ongoing employees during 2018 were the National Disability Insurance Agency (652), the Department of Social Services (205) and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (106). A new agency, NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission, was also established on 1 July 2018 with 88 ongoing employees, (APSED December 2018 Table 2).


Non-ongoing employees have increased by 1,065 over the 2018 calendar year, and in December 2018 equated to 10% of the APS. Non-ongoing employment consists of three distinct sub-groups: specific term, specific task, and irregular or intermittent (casuals). Of the non-ongoing employees, casuals represented 49.5%, while specified term employees made up 46.7% at 31 December 2018. 

The number of casuals within the total APS workforce has risen considerably since 2000 (0.5%) and peaked in 2016 (6.0%). In the last two years, the proportion of casual employees has fallen slightly, down to 5.0% at December 2018.

Figure 2: APS non-ongoing employess, December 2000–December 2018 (%)

Source:  APSED December 2018 Table 1

During 2018, agencies that reported a large increase in the number of non-ongoing APS employees were the Australian Electoral Commission (529) and the Australian Taxation Office (454).  

APS Characteristics

Age Profile

The average age of the APS workforce was 43.6 years at 31 December 2018. (APSED December 2018 Table 77).

Average age has increased steadily from 40.3 years in December 2002. This is in line with the trends in aging across the general Australian workforce, (ABS 3101.0 – Australian Demographic Statistics, June 2018).

The proportion of the APS population that is 50 years or older has increased from 20.1% in 2000 to 32.8% in 2018. Conversely, the rate of employees under the age of 30 has declined from 17.5% in 2000 to 12.2% in 2018,  
(APSED December 2018 Table 26).

Classification Structure

At 31 December 2018, the most common classification across the APS was APS 6 (22.3%). This has grown from 18.2% in 2000. The most common classification was APS 4 (24.0%) in 2000, but this has dropped to 19.6% in 2018.  APS 4 and APS 6 classifications are the most common levels at which engagements across the APS take place. (APSED December 2018 Table 11).

Figure 3: Proportion of APS employees by Classification, 30 June 2018

Source: APSED December 2018 Table 8

Geographic distribution of the APS

Figure 4: APS employees headcount and proportion by States and Territories at 31 December 2018

Source: APSED December 2018 Table 10

Of all states and territories, the largest number of APS employees was found in the ACT (55,213) although this represented only 37.5% of the APS. The three largest states by population (New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland) made up almost half (47.0%) of the APS workforce with a total of 69,173 employees.

A total of 1,376 APS employees were located overseas. Agencies that employed large proportions of overseas staff included the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (67.7%), Department of Home Affairs (14.6%), Department of Defence (9.5%) and the Australian Trade and Investment Commission (5.2%), (APSED December 2018 Table 15).

Regional distribution of APS

Almost one in seven,13.9% or 20,467, employees of the APS workforce was located in regional areas (outside capital cities) at 31 December 2018. This has steadily increased since December 2011 (12.1%). The growth in employee numbers outside of capital cities has occurred in Victoria and the Northern Territory (APSED December 2018 Table 13).

In regional areas, NSW had the highest proportion of employees at 41.8%, followed by Queensland (25%) and Victoria (21.4%). The proportion of the APS working in the capital cities (other than Canberra) has shown a decline from 52.8% in 2003 to 47.6% in 2018. The proportion of employees based in the ACT increased from 33.4% in 2003 to 39.7% in 2012 before falling to 37.5% in 2018, (APSED December 2018 Table 13).