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Thursday, 5 December 2013
Page: 985

Public Service

Senator SESELJA (Australian Capital Territory) (14:42): My question is to the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Senator Abetz. Has the minister seen claims that the coalition government has plans for mass and ruthless cuts to the Public Service—that it will cut a Public Service job every hour and that it has intentionally wreaked havoc on the ACT economy? Are these claims correct and, if not, is the minister aware of any new evidence which refutes them?

Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:43): I thank Senator Seselja for his question and acknowledge his commitment to the people of the ACT, including amongst them the many Australian public servants. That is, of course, in contradistinction to the Leader of the Opposition, Labor representatives and Senator Lundy, who have been disingenuously making claims to the effect that the coalition has been wreaking havoc on the Public Service with job cuts.

These dishonest claims have been debunked by the Secretary of the Department of Finance who confirmed at Senate estimates that Labor's money shuffling, implicit in the 2013 Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Outlook, would result in a reduction in the size of the Public Service by 14,500—something deliberately hidden from the Australian people and the Australian Public Service by the Australian Labor Party. At the same time as they were hiding these figures they were duplicitously accusing us of cutting the Public Service. We were honest. We said there would be 12,000 by natural attrition and the Labor Party attacked us for that policy whilst at all times they knew, and must have known, that they had a hidden agenda of 14,500 cuts. There has been further information that comes from the Public Service Commissioner himself. He said in the State of the Service report released earlier this week:

The forward estimates of the previous government contained considerable downward pressure on Public Service numbers partly because of the accumulating impact of efficiency dividends, additional efficiency dividend and similar measures.

Senator SESELJA (Australian Capital Territory) (14:45): Mr President, I have a supplementary question. Is the minister aware that despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary there are still claims that the former Labor government's large Public Service staff cuts were not hidden? In particular, is he aware that there are still claims that Labor could have achieved its budget savings without large staff cuts by prioritising non-staff cuts? What is the minister's response?

Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:45): Indeed, at the recent Senate estimates, Senator Wong, the leader of the opposition in this place, sought to perpetuate the myth that Labor could increase cuts to the Public Service without staff cuts. That was despite the fact of the evidence provided by the Secretary of the Department of Finance, who said

There was also … a series of other savings that … cut into the opportunity to get more savings from non-staff costs

So, having already dug herself a hole, Senator Wong kept digging and sought to assert that these cuts would be less than 55 per cent of the savings that could come from non-staff cuts. This was specifically repudiated by the Secretary of the Department of Finance and yet Senator Wong kept digging. It is very rare that honourable senators would hear me quote Nadine Flood but she said, 'There are no easy— (Time expired)

Senator SESELJA (Australian Capital Territory) (14:46): I have a further supplementary question, Mr President. Has the minister heard of previous threats to ruthlessly cut the Public Service? What is the government's preferred approach to achieving a sustainable Public Service?

Senator Cameron: You know about coalition cuts!

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Abetz, I will not give you the call until there is silence. You are entitled to be heard in silence.

Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:47): It appears from all the interjections opposite that they forgot that the leader they elected, dumped and then re-elected, namely Mr Rudd, said before the 2007 election that he would take the 'meat axe' to the Public Service. Where was Senator Lundy at the time? Not a squeak out of her. What about Senator Cameron and all the others who were interjecting on Senator Seselja's question? They were deathly silent.

Senator Cameron: And so was he! He was too busy cutting.

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Abetz, you are entitled to be heard in silence.

Senator Cameron: You were still trying to pay your postal allowance.

The PRESIDENT: Order! On my left. Senator Cameron, the time to debate this is after three o'clock.

Senator ABETZ: Despite racking up deficit after deficit, the biggest deficits in Australia's history, the Labor Party increased the Public Service by 8.2 per cent, growing it to a figure of 168,000. We are cleaning up the mess that Labor have left behind. (Time expired)