The Liberal's Plan to Decentralise the National Capital
Monday 22 May, 2017
Prior to the 2013 election, the coalition pledged that no more than 12,000 public service jobs would go. We heard very clearly from the member for Sturt:
There is no ambiguity about the coalition's position … if elected, we will reduce the Commonwealth Public Service by 12,000 through natural attrition.
The then Leader of the Liberal Party, the member for Warringah, said:
I really want to stress that we are not talking about forced redundancies. We are talking about not replacing everyone who leaves; that's all.
Since the election of the coalition we have seen anything but. We have seen people forced out of their jobs, agencies sent interstate—in the case of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, to the electorate of the minister responsible for managing that agency, despite the fact that a cost-benefit study showed it was a bad deal for the taxpayer. According to figures from the Community and Public Sector Union, the latest budget sees staffing reductions in 17 of the 25 agencies that they analysed.
It is often said that under Labor there were public service job cuts and that under Labor there were secret plans for public service job cuts. The only way of setting that straight is to clearly go through the data. I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard a table of public service job numbers from 2007 until 31 December 2016.
The figures that have now been incorporated in the Hansard show that from 30 June 2007 through to 30 June 2013 public service job numbers grew steadily, in line with the Australian population. That is as it needs to be, because, as our population grows, the demand for the work that most public servants do—in Centrelink and Medicare—grows along with it. In every year, except for Labor's last year in office, public service job numbers measured on the June survey increased. In that final year, the decrease was a matter of hundreds. But if we compare figures from 30 June 2013 to 31 December 2016—the most recently available figures—public service job numbers are nearly 14,000 down. That is well in excess of what the coalition pledged before coming to office. More than 12,000 public service jobs have been cut—a clear breach of promise.
The public serves Australia. Six out of 10 public servants work outside Canberra. But those who work in Canberra are no less valuable for that. They are citizens of Australia. They work hard to serve both sides of government, and yet they have been abysmally treated by this government.
At one of my regular street stalls in Gungahlin a young couple came up to me. They said that she worked in a federal government department. She had three degrees, had volunteered overseas and had many years of experience in the Public Service, gained by working on short-term contracts. But, due to the Public Service freeze that was in place, they did not feel that they were able to start a family. As the woman of the couple—let us call her Jess—said to me: 'I just do not have the confidence that I can sport a seven-month belly and negotiate an extension of contract.' So they are putting off starting a family until they can find a job that offers more certainty.
The decimation of the Public Service—and that is literally what it has been—has been enormously damaging for the great people of Canberra. The cuts to the Public Service have occurred in almost every area but two: non-ongoing numbers have increased under the Liberals, and the volume of contracts has increased. So uncertain, short-term work has taken the place of sustainable, ongoing public sector work.
The last budget saw severe damage done to Canberra. The cuts to schools were disproportionately high in the ACT. The cuts to universities disproportionately hurt us. The jump in out-of-pocket costs has been the highest in the ACT, and the underfunding of ACT infrastructure has been disastrous for this city.