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Monday, 21 May 2012
Page: 4892

Mr BRIGGS (Mayo) (12:19): I rise to speak on this motion moved by the member for Fraser. I note the first two points that the member's motion refers to, recognising the important role of the Australian Public Service in upholding and promoting our democracy and its key role in ensuring stable government and, secondly, commending the Australian Public Service on continuing to be one of the most effective and efficient public services in the world. These are both commendable motions, and I think that members of this House would largely agree with them.

However, the third point reflects so much about this member in particular and the way he goes about his argument. The third point of this motion condemns the plans by the opposition to make 12,000 public service jobs redundant. There is no hiding from the fact that the opposition, and the shadow Treasurer and shadow finance minister in particular, have made it very clear that we will return public service levels to reflect what was clear when we left government in 2007.

But where the member is being quite deceitful—and he does this regularly—is where he quotes some facts but leaves important facts out. The government that he is a part of, that he would wish to be a more senior part of—he desires it desperately, and he tries to prove every day why he should be a more senior part of it—is at the moment in the midst of cutting a similar amount of jobs from the Canberra public service. We did not hear a word of that during his contribution! For the benefit of the member, I will table at the end of this contribution an article by Chris Johnson from the Canberra Times. He wrote on 9 May:

Swan slashes 4200 PS jobs: ACT takes biggest hit since Howard years.

Now, if the broader macro argument that this government has tried to make on one hand about this budget that they are somehow reducing the size of the Commonwealth government to a record extent, some four per cent turnaround in the reduction of government expenditures, that would make some sense, if that were true—in an attempt to create a paper surplus to cover over their failed economic management. But, of course, you did not hear a word of that during the member for Fraser's contribution. You heard a turgid attack on the opposition and our plans to get the budget back into some sort of manageable order. You heard the member for Fraser completely avoid the fact that his own government has plans to reduce the number of public servants. And now he sits there and does not acknowledge the fact that his own government and his own local paper made this point perfectly clear.

For the benefit of the Federation Chamber I will table this article at the end of my contribution, because it says:

In the biggest attack on the federal bureaucracy since the late 1990s, when John Howard came to power and put the ACT into recession, more than 4200 fulltime jobs will go in the coming financial year alone, with few government agencies being spared …

He goes on to say:

In 2013-14 another $164 million will be saved from the government's workforce wages bill, indicating total job losses will possibly exceed 12,000 …

His own motion says, 'condemns the plan of the opposition to cut 12,000 from the public service'! If the member for Fraser were being completely truthful and honest with this place, he would stand and amend his own motion to say, 'The member for Fraser condemns plans by the opposition and the Labor government of cutting 12,000 jobs from the Australian Public Service'. But, of course, he will not, because this is a tactic he uses very regularly. He regularly uses economic statistics which, just occasionally, exclude important facts.

Dr Leigh interjecting

Mr BRIGGS: And here is an important fact, if you would like it: you should rise and amend your motion to be completely honest with this chamber, because that would be the right thing to do. But of course he will not because, like with so many in this government, the full story is never told.

The reason that we are being very clear with the Australian public about the difficulty that is facing the Australian budget is because of the decisions that this government has made which have put the Australian economy and the Australian budget into a position of risk. When they were elected to government in 2007 they came across a budget which was in pristine condition. There was no debt, the economy was growing strongly—

Mr Neumann: Structural deficit.

Mr BRIGGS: If the member for Blair wants to, we can talk about a structural deficit. I know that the member for Fraser is sitting there thinking, 'We shouldn't have raised that point.'

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Vamvakinou ): Through the chair.

Honourable members interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! The member will be heard in silence.

Mr BRIGGS: One of the shadow Treasurer's commitments is that when we are elected we will show, in the budget papers, the structural deficit—we will show the structural position of the budget. The member for Blair is right: there are some structural challenges coming at this country like a bullet train. And the person who identified those was the former Treasurer, Peter Costello—the best Treasurer this country has ever had. He identified these issues—

Dr Leigh interjecting

Mr BRIGGS: We know your private view about the current Treasurer, Member for Fraser, that is for sure. What we have before us is a misleading motion in that it excludes an important fact, which is that the Labor government is doing exactly the same thing that he wishes to condemn the opposition for planning to do. But there are some very good reasons why we are planning to do exactly this. A good and effective public service does not have to be a fat public service; it does not have to have too many staff to do a good and effective job. We showed that when we were in government the last time. The Public Service is an important part of ensuring that the country is managed properly, but it does not need to be excessive. We argue—I think rightly—that it has become excessively staffed, that there are too many fat cats, earning too much, in the Public Service. We will start the process of winding this back.

It is not just the amount of public servants; it is their benefits such as credit cards when they get to those executive levels. Since this government came to office, we have seen a 100 per cent increase in the amount of expenditure on government credit cards. That is a 100 per cent increase in four years, not because they are spending more but because there are more credit cards out there. There are more credit cards because there are more SES band staff. We have a genuine commitment to reduce the size of government.

Honourable members interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! The chair is having difficulty hearing the member's speech.

Mr BRIGGS: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, I appreciate your support and protection. This is an important point: the government has dragged us into a terrible position in a budgetary sense, therefore we will have to make some genuine savings to achieve what the Australian public expects. Last week the shadow Treasurer made this point very clearly in his response to the budget at the National Press Club, where he said that the coalition has a commitment, as a major priority, to achieve genuine surplus budgets in the first three years of our term.

I want to raise a serious point in relation to the first two points of this motion before us. As I said at the beginning, the member for Fraser will appreciate this. They are worthy points to make. However, not only do we have genuine concern that the numbers in the Public Service right now too high, and we will move to reduce them; we are also concerned about the standard of information that has been coming out of key departments such as the Treasury. We think, and I know several well-known economists around the country think or believe, that the standard of advice and forecasts coming out of the Treasury are not up to scratch. As a priority, we in government will be seeking to address that. We need a strong Treasury. We need a strong Prime Minister's department. We need a strong Public Service. It is fair to say that we have been disappointed, particularly with this budget, when we have seen what can only be described as extremely optimistic forecasts, particularly when it comes to the revenue side.

With this government's excesses, the waste, the mismanagement, the increasing size of government and the debt it has built up—and the member for Blair made a good point on this earlier—the structural deficit that has now been so substantially built into the budget is so great that it will be a challenge for us coming into government to handle properly. As our population gets older, we will have fewer taxpayers and a larger demand on our services. That is what Peter Costello told us in the 2000s with his Intergenerational Reports. That is the reason that the debt they have built up, with $8 billion a year we now have to pay in interest, will make it harder and harder. That is why the coalition will commit to genuine reform in the Public Service, to reduce the numbers to the appropriate levels to do the job we ask. But we will not stand for this hypocrisy from the member for Fraser in moving a motion when his own government seeks to do exactly what it condemns us for. (Time expired)

Mr Briggs: I seek leave to table the article from the Canberra Times.

Leave granted.