Public service cuts and Abbott's disregard for Canberra
19 March 2015
Prime Minister Abbott told a press conference this week that the upcoming budget would be 'much less exciting' than last year's. This suggests to me that the Prime Minister found it exciting to end the jobs of 11,000 public servants. Many of them reside in my electorate. This cut to the Public Service is the deepest yearly cut since John Howard's first term as Prime Minister.
Many Commonwealth agencies are currently reluctant or unable to take on full-time permanent staff, due to restraints on recruitment. But they are spending more on hiring contractors. I have spoken in this place before about a couple who approached me at my mobile office in Gungahlin. They said that the only thing holding them back from starting a family was the fact that due to the hiring freeze she had not been granted an ongoing job, and without the security of maternity leave, they did not feel they could start a family. So much for a family-friendly government.
The government of course makes up claims that Labor had a secret plan for job cuts. There was no secret plan. When Labor was in office Australian Public Service numbers increased in line with population in every year except the final year in office. That is because the Public Service is mostly made up of people who staff offices such as Centrelink, Medicare and the family assistance offices—work that needs to expand as the Australian population expands. Labor had an efficiency dividend, it is true, but our policy was always to focus on cutting jobs last. By contrast, the Liberals focus on cutting jobs first. Despite the fact that he is saying that the budget will be less exciting, we have the Prime Minister refusing to rule out additional cuts beyond those already announced. There is a long-awaited review on to the nation's Department of Defence and bosses of the department in Canberra have begun telling staff that the 'First Principles Review' is gong to require between 1,000 and 1,500 job losses in the next 12 to 18 months.
In the town centre of Belconnen we have significant uncertainty as a result of cuts to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Australian Taxation Office and the possible closure of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection in that town centre. Moving 4,000 staff out of Belconnen would cause many small businesses to shutter their doors. They simply could not stay open if you took that demand out of the Belconnen Town Centre. The department gave itself 15 weeks from the close of tenders last year to make a decision, and that self-imposed deadline has now passed.
I am going to be holding a forum in Belconnen tonight, along with local MLAs Chris Burke, Yvette Berry and Mary Porter, and we will be speaking to many concerned residents in Belconnen. The forum is being convened by the Belconnen Community Service. They are giving a platform to the great concerns about what will happen to Belconnen if Immigration is to shutter its doors in that town. More than 2½ thousand people have already signed a petition to keep the Department of Immigration and Border Protection in Belconnen.
Local businesses need the department to stay, but they are already feeling the pinch as a result of the uncertainty about the government's plans. As in so many other areas, the government's lack of vision and their ad hoc decision-making processes are hurting business. So I will be joining local business representatives, community spokespeople and other political representatives for the area to give voice to those deeply felt public concerns about the possible move. My petition encouraged respondents to include a personal message to the minister—one of the most resonant stated very simply: 'People make up our community; don't take the people away.'