The WA public sector

In this section:

The Western Australian public sector comprises a diverse group of over 100 employing authorities. They work together to deliver services to the community, from very small organisations such as the Minerals and Energy Research Institute of WA, which grants funds for minerals research, through to the Department of Education, which employs more than 35,000 teachers, education assistants and school officers.

Public authority employees are based in all corners of the state, as well as overseas. There are 68 employees working in locations such as Christmas Island, Cocos Islands, China, Japan, India, Indonesia, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom.

The most northern WA location where an employee is based is the Kalumburu Community, with a population of about 400 people. In the south, it is Torndirrup National Park, which is home to Albany's natural rock formations such as the Gap and the Blowholes.

The sector creates opportunities for employment in each region through a diverse range of frontline jobs, including very specialised positions such as maxillofacial prosthetists, crematorium supervisors and fingerprint processing officers.

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Staff numbers

As of June 2015, there were 138 440 public sector employees (109 019 FTE) working as teachers, police staff, fire fighters and nurses, as well as professionals from disciplines as varied as planning, conservation, economics, engineering, accounting, human resources and public works.

In line with the operating environment, there was negligible growth (0.02%) over the year in employment. The WA public sector growth was smaller than WA population growth (1.6%) and broader WA workforce growth (1.4%) over the same period.1

The negligible growth in the public sector overall can be largely attributed to staffing in the Departments of Education and Health, with FTE increases of 1.9% and 0.5% respectively. These are increases in the number of frontline employees, such as teachers, nurses and medical interns.

An electrician smiling

In the broader government sector, March 2015 survey results indicated there were:

  • 23 916 staff in local governments (down 5.3% this year)
  • 21 377 university staff (up 0.6%)
  • 10 446 staff in government trading enterprises (down 0.9%).

There were also 6377 sworn officers in the Police Force and 258 employees working in electorate offices across the state.

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Senior executives

The Senior Executive Service (SES) is the executive leadership group of the public sector. The SES provides high level policy advice and has oversight responsibility.

The SES is a relatively small group, with 497 employees this year, compared to 509 in 2014. At 0.4% of the public sector workforce, this is lower than most other Australian states and territories.2

These leaders are predominantly male (67.8%), with a median age of 54.1 years. Close to one in five (19.5%) are aged 60 years and over, and the median retirement age of the SES in 2014/15 is 61.8 years.

The representation of women in management and the SES has generally increased over the last few years. However, women continue to be underrepresented across senior levels. At June 2015, women represented:

  • 32.2% of SES positions
  • 27.3% of tier one managers (chief executives)
  • 37.2% of tier two managers
  • 41.3% of tier three managers.

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Place of work

Geographical isolation creates one of the greatest challenges for the public sector in service delivery to communities and gaining private investment.

More than 30 000 public sector employees worked in regional areas outside of the Perth metropolitan area in June 2015, accounting for just under one-quarter (24%) of the state's public sector workforce. In addition, more than 1000 sworn police officers work in regional areas.3

Only 3% of the SES (representing 16 officers) were employed in regional locations at

June 2015.

Figure 1.1 shows the regional working locations of the public sector. One-quarter of regional staff work in the South West. The non-metropolitan postcodes with the greatest number of staff include Bunbury, Albany, Geraldton, Broome, Mandurah, Kalgoorlie and Northam.

Figure 1.1 Public sector staff by non-metropolitan region, June 2015

Figure 1.1

South West 24.9%, Wheatbelt 13.3%, Great Southern 12.0%, Kimberley 10.7%, Mid West 10.6%, Goldfields Esperance 9.3%, Peel 8.7%, Pilbara 8.3%, Gascoyne 2.3%.

Source: HRMOIR

These regional staff provide a diverse range of services in the areas of corrective services, parks and wildlife, child protection and family support, agriculture and food, education, health, road works, housing, fire and emergency services, and vocational education and training.

Figure 1.2 shows the regional locations of the public sector compared to the broader WA workforce and population.4 Public sector employees are well-represented across locations, with the exception of the Peel region. The share of the regional population located in Peel is close to one-fifth (19%), whereas the share of the regional public sector is closer to one-eleventh (9%).

Figure 1.2 WA public sector, labour force and population in the regions, 2014 and 2015

Figure 1.2

(Approx values only) Gascoyne: Population 1.5%, Public sector 2%, Labour force 1.5%; Goldfields-Esperance: Population 9%, Public sector 9%, Labour force 10%; Great Southern: Population 8.5%, Public sector 12%, Labour force 7%; Kimberley: Population 6%, Public sector 11%, Labour force 6%; Mid West: Population 8%, Public sector 11%, Labour force 9%; Peel: Population 19%, Public sector 9%, Labour force 16%; Pilbara: Population 10%, Public sector 8%, Labour force 14%; South West: Population 26%, Public sector 25%, Labour force 26.5%; Wheatbelt: Population 11%, Public sector 13%, Labour force 10%

Click on the image to enlarge

Sources: HRMOIR, Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, and Australian Bureau of Statistics

In the metropolitan area, public sector employees are also well-represented (75.9%), in comparison to 74.2% of the broader workforce and 73.8% of the population.

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Type of work

Table 1.1 shows that, with a higher percentage of professionals (48.8%) than the WA workforce (20.8%), the public sector is an increasingly professionalised workforce.

The sector also has a lower percentage of managers. Managerial representation has remained steady over the last 12 years.

Table 1.1 Occupations in the public sector and broader WA workforce, 2003 and 2015 (%)


Public sector


Public sector


WA workforce 2015









Technicians and trades workers




Community and personal service workers




Clerical and administrative workers




Sales workers




Machinery operators and drivers








(a) Determined through converting occupations reported under the Australian Standard Classification of Occupations (ASCO) to occupations under the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO).

Notes: Due to rounding, results may not add up to 100%.

Sources: HRMOIR, ANZSCO and the ABS5

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The diversity of the state's population creates opportunities to tap into new and different perspectives and ideas to better target programs and services to community needs.

Table 1.2 shows the representation of diversity groups across government in March and June 2015.

Table 1.2 Representation of diversity groups in public employment, March and June 2015 (%)

Diversity group

Public sector

Local governments


Government trading enterprises

Aboriginal Australians





People with disability





Women in the Senior Executive Service





People from culturally diverse backgrounds





Youth (24 years and under)





Mature workers (45 years and over)





Sources: HRMOIR (June 2015) and EEO surveys (March 2015).

Aboriginal representation in the public sector was 2.8% in June 2015, being the same as the estimate for those of working age in the WA population.6

Across broader government employment, representation of Aboriginal Australians has remained relatively steady, with the greatest movement in local governments.

For the public sector, the representation of people with disability was 2.1% in June 2015. This remains above the level of those needing assistance with core activities in the WA working age population (1.9%).

In general, there continues to be a slight trend downwards across broader government employment for people with disability, including in local governments and government trading enterprises.

In the last 10 years, the percentage of women in the public sector has moved from 63.7% to 72.3%, representing an increasingly female workforce when compared with the broader WA workforce (44.3%).7 Women make up much of the state's large nursing and teaching workforce.

Figure 1.3 shows that public sector positions at lower salary bands tend to be predominately occupied by women. For example, 95.9% of education aides are women, compared to the 80.1% of surgeons that are men.

Figure 1.3 Gender distribution across public sector salary bands, June 2015

Figure 1.3

(Approx values only) Level 1 & below: Women 21%, Men 11%; Level 2: Women 13%, Men 8%; Level 3: Women 10%, Men 9.5%; Level 4: Women 13%, Men 12%; Level 5: Women 13%, Men 15%; Level 6: Women 20%, Men 20%; Level 7: Women 5%, Men 10%; Level 8: Women 2%, Men 6%; Level 9: Women 1%, Men 2.5%; Class 1 & above: Women 1%, Men 4%;

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Source: HRMOIR

Across public authorities more broadly, the representation of women was lower than in the public sector:

  • 63.1% in universities
  • 53.7% in local governments
  • 31.1% in government trading enterprises.

Around 30% of public sector employees (that indicated country of birth) were born somewhere other than Australia. After the United Kingdom and New Zealand, the largest groups come from India, South Africa, Malaysia, Singapore, and Philippines. Some more diverse examples include Niue, Djibouti, Lesotho, Armenia and the Holy See. There are 170 different languages primarily spoken at home by employees, including Bislama, Ewe and Assamese.

People from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds continue to be represented across the public sector at levels similar to that estimated for the WA population.

The WA public sector has one of the oldest age profiles across the Australian jurisdictions. Figure 1.4 shows that mature employees (aged 45 and over) comprise a greater percentage of the public sector workforce (52.5%) when compared with the broader WA workforce (37.9%). Just over one-quarter (25.7%) are aged 55 and over. Meanwhile, youth (aged under 25) made up 4.4% of the public sector in June 2015, compared to of the WA labour force.

Figure 1.4 Age profile of public sector and WA labour force, June 2015

Figure 1.4

(Approx values only) Under 20: Public sector 0.4%, WA labour force 5.6%; 20 - 24: Public sector 4%, WA labour force 9.6%; 25 - 29: Public sector 9.2%, WA labour force 13.2%; 30 - 34: Public sector 10.4%, WA labour force 12.4%; 35 - 39: Public sector 10.8%, WA labour force 10.4%; 40 - 44: Public sector 12.4%, WA labour force 10.4%; 45 - 49: Public sector 13.2%, WA labour force 10.4%; 50 - 54: Public sector 13.6%, WA labour force 9.8%; 55 - 59: Public sector 12.8%, WA labour force 8.2%; 60 - 64: Public sector 8.4%, WA labour force 5.6%; 65 and over: Public sector 4%, WA labour force 3.6%;

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Sources: HRMOIR and ABS

More information about the diversity of the WA public sector is provided in Chapter 4.

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1 Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2014, 3101.0 – Australian demographic statistics, December quarter 2014; ABS 2015, 6202.0 – Labour force, Australia, August 2015

2 Queensland: 0.2%, New South Wales: 0.6%, Victoria: 0.7%, Australian Capital Territory: 1.0%, South Australia: 1.3%, Australian Public Service: 1.6% (see Appendix B for inter-jurisdictional sources).

3 For further information, see the Commission's e-book, Leading for the regions – A resource for agencies.

4 Department of Employment 2015, Small area labour markets Australia – June quarter 2015; ABS 2014, 3218.0 Regional population growth, Australia, 2013-14

5 ABS 2015, 6291.0.55.003 - Labour Force, Australia, detailed, quarterly, May 2015

6 ABS 2012, 2011 Census of population and housing

7 ABS 2015, 6291.0.55.003 - Labour force, Australia, detailed, quarterly, May 2015

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Page last updated 18 November 2015