A Strong Public Service

I spoke in parliament today about Joe Hockey’s extraordinary attacks on public servants.

A Strong Public Service
8 February 2012

I rise today to speak about the importance of a strong Australian Public Service and the threats to Canberra public servants. On Q&A on Monday night, the member for North Sydney said:

‘They’ve increased the public service in Canberra by 20,000 since they were elected and we’ve said, and I know it gets me in trouble with my colleagues in Canberra, but I’ve said that 12,000 will be made redundant within the first two years as a starting point and that’s hard but we’ve got, for example, six and a half thousand people in the department of health that has no patients, no doctors, and no nurses and, I'm sorry, you can't live outside of your means.’

Three minutes is barely enough to do justice to the many wrongheaded statements contained within that quote, but let me do my best.

Firstly, the member for North Sydney has for the fifth time misrepresented Public Service numbers. As the Special Minister for State has noted, official figures show that the public service has increased from June 2007 to June 2011 by 11,072. In terms of number and percentage increases, that is the smallest increase since 2003-04. I am informed by the Special Minister of State that the member for North Sydney has been offered a briefing by the Australian Public Service Commission, but has declined that briefing and continues to cite incorrect public service numbers.

Secondly, the member for North Sydney seems unaware that public servants are people too. Ironically, later in the Q&A program the member for North Sydney said:

‘What we’ve got to do is make sure there are more jobs in the community …’

He has an odd way of showing it, given that in the ACT he intends to get rid of 12,000 public servants. The member for North Sydney has in the past said that he will put the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency on the chopping block. Now the Department of Health and Ageing is on the chopping block, and surely the remainder of the Public Service is not far behind.

What do those people in the Department of Health and Ageing do? For starters, the member for North Sydney might try asking the Leader of the Opposition, who was, after all, the minister for health when the Howard government left office. In fact, the size of the Department of Health and Ageing is basically the same as it was when the Leader of the Opposition was minister for health: 5,164 as of 31 January this year; 4,818 when Mr Abbott was the minister. Those people work on preventive health, health research, pharmaceutical benefits. The Liberal Party's plan for the public service is damaging not only to Canberra but also to all of Australia. Public servants do tremendously hard work. Three-fifths of them are female. They work on issues like managing our response to disasters, helping Australians who are in trouble overseas and implementing the fiscal stimulus that helped all Australians in the global financial crisis.

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8/1 Torrens Street, Braddon ACT 2612 | 02 6247 4396 | Andrew.Leigh.MP@aph.gov.au