Government and Public Sector

The public service implements government policies and provides information and services to support policy decisions. Australia’s government system is based on the British idea of a politically neutral, impartial public service serving the government of the day.

In recent times, the public service has undergone significant cultural changes, with a shift towards a more corporate model of best practice, emphasising cost-effectiveness and accountability. Outsourcing of work previously undertaken by government employees has become more common. As a result of this trend, some public servants move into consultancy after gaining experience in a particular department or field.

The work

Occupation roles within government are diverse. Policy and administrative pathways are common, but there are many other areas of work within the distinct portfolio areas and at different levels of government.

In Australia, different portfolios of responsibility are attached to different levels of government – federal, state and local – although there is often overlap. Contrary to popular opinion, government employs a range of professionals, not just administrators. Accountants, agricultural scientists, economists, engineers, geologists, lawyers, doctors, nurses and librarians are just some of the many occupational roles within contemporary government organisations. Most government departments actively seek graduates from a range of disciplines for their graduate programs.

The public sector represents 18 per cent of the Australian workforce and employment growth has been strong over the last five years. Moderate growth is expected to continue to 2014, encouraged by the significant replacement demands of an ageing workforce. Graduate options will likely remain positive, with particular demand in areas of justice, public order and safety services (

Positions are also available in defence and these are not limited to combat or field-based roles. Administrative, legislative, policy, research and development, science, engineering, IT, health, law and environmental roles exist in most defence departments, including the Army, Navy and Air Force. Scholarships to support work and study are often open to students and graduates working in defence.

What you need

  • Generalist degrees welcomed
  • Australian citizenship usually required
  • Excellence in communication; cultural sensitivity; organisation; flexibility and resourcefulness
  • Willingness to travel (in some cases)

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Graduate salary ranges for selected relevant occupations are as follows:

  • Federal government administration: $46,000– $56,000
  • State government administration: $43,000– $53,000
  • Local government administration: $45,000– $55,000
  • Commissioned defence force officer: $56,000– $65,000
  • Defence force member (other ranks): $46,000– $70,000

(Figures are taken from the Australian Graduate Survey 2008, GCA. Ranges refer to the middle 50 per cent of salaries for bachelor degree graduates with permanent residency, in full-time employment in Australia October 2007 to April 2008.)

Industry at a glance

  • 18% national workforce in public sector
  • 29,000 employed, 2009 (administration and safety roles)
  • Declining outlook (10,800 fewer jobs: local government administration, 2007– 09)

(Sources:; ‘Environmental Scan 2009’, Government Skills Australia.)