This morning I spoke with Mark Parton on 2CC's Breakfast program about the government's moves to force up to 40 Treasury workers to accept involuntary redundancies. Here's the transcript:
THURSDAY, 31 JULY 2014
SUBJECT/S: Forced redundancies at The Treasury
MARK PARTON: The Canberra Times is reporting this morning that The Treasury is forcing nearly all of its staff – including newly-recruited graduates and women on maternity leave – to reapply for their jobs. They've gone with this so-called 'spill and fill' to dismiss about 40 staff, with the central agency conceding that its voluntary redundancy process has run out of steam. We always thought that would be the case!
Andrew Leigh is the Federal Member for Fraser and he's on the line right now, morning Andrew.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good morning Mark.
PARTON: There was always talk about this being done naturally, but the plans of this government – and indeed, it must be said, the plans of you blokes when you were in power – there was always going to be a point where the voluntary stuff just didn't cut it.
LEIGH: Mark, we were always clear before the election that there wouldn't be forced redundancies, as were the Liberal Party. It was their pledge beforehand, and when we said there was going to be more than 12,000 jobs cut and that we'd see forced redundancies, they called us liars. But frankly this is another broken promise from Mr Abbott, who is now making all the Treasury staff re-apply for their jobs. Including women on maternity leave, new graduates who have just been hired - it's a pretty shocking way to treat some of Australia's best economic minds.
PARTON: It's an interesting one, and it will be dealt with differently, in terms of the perception, in different parts of Australia. Imagine, you know, in Perth or in Townsville or wherever, they'll just look at it and say: 'these are bureaucratic fat cats and there's obviously too many of them'.
LEIGH: These are the public servants that helped save Australia from recession. One of the reasons that we are one of only a couple of developed countries that dodged the Global Financial Crisis is because we have a great Treasury department that was able to act quickly in a crisis. These are world-class economic policymakers and they're being treated abysmally by the government, from the top down. Martin Parkinson, a great servant of both sides of politics, being fired by Tony Abbott...
PARTON: So what's your message to the individuals who are working in Treasury, some of whom have no doubt got the radio on this morning?
LEIGH: I think the important message for them is that Labor believes in the strength of the public service and believes in the value of great Treasury officials. I've only spent six months in Treasury when I was seconded there as an economics professor, but I had great admiration for the quality of Treasury staff. The sorts of attacks we've seen on Treasury staff are entirely inappropriate. This is a great department of which Australians should be proud.
We don't have a bloated public service, and the number of public servants per Australian didn't rise under Labor. Cutting back on the public service just so we can have a bit more money to give $50,000 to millionaires when they have a baby is the wrong priorities for Australia.
PARTON: You say that the number of public servants per Australian didn't rise under Labor, but the number of public servants did rise, didn't it?
LEIGH: Well absolutely. You need people to staff Centrelink offices, Family Assistance offices. A lot of what the public services does scales according to the population. So if a new town grows, you would expect there to be more public servants there; if tourism grows, you'd expect more Customs officials. A key metric is how many public servants per Australian we have, and it didn't go up under Labor. For all of the crowing and crying from Joe Hockey, the fact is we've got a lean and efficient public service and attacks on it like this are just pure ideology.
They're also a real attack on the attempt to get more women into Treasury, and to get women moving into the senior ranks of Treasury. We saw a big improvement in those numbers under Labor, but if you're going to ask women on maternity leave to apply for their jobs back, that's going to send us back into the dark ages.
PARTON: Now, what we're being told is that Treasury staff are being told they can submit documents of up to 450 words stating their case for survival; senior executives and middle managers have been banned from reading applications or coaching junior staff on how to defend their jobs. Why would you do that?
LEIGH: It sounds positively Soviet, doesn't it? I mean this is a very odd way of treating people that you ought to be respecting.
PARTON: Because there will be some juniors, some people who haven't been in the business for very long, who will be a bit miffed by this and looking for guidance from someone. But they can't go to senior staff to get that guidance.
LEIGH: That's right, and I think that what the government has missed is that successful conservative governments - if you go back to a government like the Menzies Government or the Howard Government - ultimately came to respect the public service. It took the Howard Government a bit of time, but ultimately they realised that public servants are committed to the wellbeing of Australia and will work well with whatever government is in power. So I think this is not only bad for Australia, but it's actually bad for the government's own political interests to be treating the public service so appallingly.
PARTON: Andrew, thanks for your time on it this morning, I appreciate it.
LEIGH: Thank you, Mark.
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