Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Battle for the Federal election begins.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Finally, the phoney war is at an end and the battle proper has been joined. In Canberra, the battle for the 13 March election will be fought out in the seat of Canberra between Cabinet Minister, Ros Kelly, and former ACT MLA, Bill Stefaniak. In the seat of Fraser, it's between the Left's John Langmore and public servant, Martin Dunn; John Langmore from the ALP, of course; Martin Dunn, a Liberal.

We'll mount a series of debates over the campaign between the candidates and we'll be previewing all the key seats and Senate positions this week, before nine, and that will include, of course, the ACT Senators - the Liberal's Margaret Reid and the ALP's Bob McMullan.

But today, first up, we thought we'd look, in detail, at the seat of Canberra. It is currently held by the Labor Party and has a solid margin of 5.8 per cent. If the swing needed to oust Ros Kelly is reflected nationally, the end result would be a massacre for the Labor Party.

Ros Kelly, the Member for Canberra, is with me now. Good morning.

ROS KELLY: Good morning, Matt.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: And Bill Stefaniak, her Liberal opponent. Good morning.

BILL STEFANIAK: Good morning, Matt.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Ros Kelly, to you first. What is the most important issue for Canberra?

ROS KELLY: I think it's about the very nature of Canberra, because John Hewson, in his Fightback package, has made a clear commitment to cut back the numbers of public servants in Canberra. In his own document, he says he's going to reduce staff in the Public Service by 4,400. Now, that would be devastating because, in Canberra, we employ 71,500 public servants in total. To take 4,400 - which are his own figures - would have a devastating impact on the ACT. Plus, of course, that would take salaries out of the ACT economy and would also bring about a big reduction in administrative expenditure.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Bill Stefaniak - if I can come to you. What is the most important issue from your perspective?

BILL STEFANIAK: I think the most important issue for Canberrans - and, indeed, all Australians - is jobs and unemployment, and indeed, surveys we've done in Canberra show that that's so. We did a survey in November that showed that 38 per cent were worried about unemployment and jobs; and a further 12 per cent were worried about the economy. I think that also largely translates into jobs, so clearly, a very substantial proportion of the electorate are concerned about jobs - and little wonder, because we have, effectively, approximately one million unemployed in Australia and that's reflected in Canberra. I'm concerned in the electorate that some of the figures I see, which have been quite consistent now over the last few months, show that some suburbs have 11 or 12 per cent unemployment, and certainly, that's the case in Tuggeranong which is very much in the centre of the electorate.

ROS KELLY: What impact will the Fightback job cuts have on unemployment? I mean, I agree with you - unemployment is a big problem - but what I'm concerned about is that Mr Hewson's own package says he will cut 4,400 out of the Public Service and then, of course, that would have a flow-on to the ACT in terms of the private sector. As well, the big fillip we got for creating more jobs in the ACT was York Park where we create 1,700 jobs, both direct and indirect, and he says: No way, that is not going to go ahead.

BILL STEFANIAK: Well, I don't know if he said it was not going to go ahead, Ros ....

ROS KELLY: He did! He did!

BILL STEFANIAK: .... but what's been happening over the last five or six years? We've had a substantial number, thousands of public servants cut by Labor. DAS has gone done from 18,000 down to about 13,000 and your government said you'll cut a further 2,300; 14,000 people are going to lose their jobs in Defence as a result of the Force Structures Review. I've seen 1989, 1990 and '91 figures showing that the loss of public servants has been over 5,000 there ....

ROS KELLY: Now, that's not correct.

BILL STEFANIAK: .... further figures indicating that, in fact, there's about 6,500 in five years.

ROS KELLY: In the ACT, the number of public servants in the ACT has increased - increased - from 1989 to March 1992, it has increased and it is now at 71,500. Sure, there've been efficiencies, but governments have taken on more functions and the numbers of public servants employed in the ACT has actually increased.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Bill Stefaniak, perceptions are very important in politics, and you would have to concede that a perception in Canberra is that the Liberals are going to use, I think, Peter Reith's expression, chop it off at the knees?

BILL STEFANIAK: That was a particularly unfortunate thing for Mr Reith to say, and I think if you looked at his whole statement, it has been taken out of context and he certainly hasn't said it again. But whilst there has been some rhetoric by a couple of my Federal colleagues some time ago, Labor's been busily cutting away at the Public Service for about a five-year period, and indeed, one thing I would say is that Mr Hewson has indicated that there will be increases in certain areas in Canberra, notably Treasury. Now ....

ROS KELLY: Yes, for tax collections.

BILL STEFANIAK: ... initially, the figure was about 474 extra public servants in Canberra in Treasury, and that has now been increased further.

ROS KELLY: Yes, but overall ....

BILL STEFANIAK: So I think think you'll find that, overall, probably there will be about 500 extra public servants staying in Canberra under a Liberal government than there will under a Labor government.

ROS KELLY: That is not correct. I have been through, in detail ....

BILL STEFANIAK: Well, I've been in the Public Service, Ros.

ROS KELLY: ... but I have analysed your leader's figures. I have been through what he said he would do to every single department. I have added up how many he said he would take off. I have then deducted, then, the number he said he would increase in the Treasury area and the Taxation area so he can establish his GST. I have done all that, and the figures, on his own figures, come out at 4,400 job loss in the ACT, in the ACT.

BILL STEFANIAK: You've said you've analysed it. I've had a pretty good look, too, and I'd be very surprised ....

ROS KELLY: I've had mine checked also by the Department of Finance.

BILL STEFANIAK: ... if there was a huge difference between our respective governments - if you get in or if we get in - and I think you'll find there'll be a few hundred extra public servants in Canberra under a Hewson government. We've actually got a lot of policies we want to implement and they take public servants.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: You're saying that there'll be a net gain in the numbers of public servants in Canberra.

BILL STEFANIAK: I would think there would be, Matt.

ROS KELLY: You would just think there would be, but have you analysed the document?

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Bill Stefaniak, can I just get that clear, one way or the other. Are you saying that a Liberal government would increase the number of public servants, the net number of public servants in Canberra?

BILL STEFANIAK: I would think that in the first three years of a Hewson government I would say this, Matt - I would say that both governments are currently pruning certain areas of the Public Service. But Dr Hewson has said he is putting a number of extra public servants into Treasury. I have worked in the Public Service. The Fightback package is a very detailed document, will require a number of government areas to implement it. Dr Hewson has been saying, recently, that he appreciates the efficiency of the Public Service. I think we will need a large number of public servants in Canberra, and I would think that there will probably be several hundred extra public servants as a result of Fightback, staying here, who would go if the Labor Government is returned.

I think this is probably one of the great furphies of the campaign. It's a natural one for Labor to put out.

ROS KELLY: Well, I have got a document which I got from his own figures, attached to his own figures, which go by each department and tell you how many he'll cut out. Look, the key thing is: What will this change of government, if it occurred, do to Canberra? We know, on his own figures, on everything they have said. I am sure that the information Mr Stefaniak has just given to the people of Canberra is really news to Mr Hewson, but the truth of the matter is he will cut numbers. He says in his own figures it's 4,400 direct jobs.

BILL STEFANIAK: So will you.

ROS KELLY: He then says, then, obviously that will have an indirect impact. The other thing he said - and this is another issue that I think is very important, when we think about the nature of the ACT - he's also said clearly he will cut 5 per cent directly out of the ACT budget. He will do that, of course, to each State as well. Now, that's $20 million in one year in the ACT. The impact that will have on our services will be very dramatic.

BILL STEFANIAK: Ros, I think your government has cut a lot out of the ACT budget. Back in 1990, I worked out that the Commonwealth Government, the Labor Government, owed the ACT $792 million. It continues to cut the ACT Budget by substantial amounts. I think we started off with about 600 million; we were down to about 420 million in the last Grants Commission. Really, I don't think - Dr Hewson's 5 per cent would pale into insignificance compared with what, about the 18 to 20 per cent that's already been cut over a couple of years by your own Federal Government.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Ros Kelly, we've heard John Langmore and you, this morning, on 2CN News, pushing this line about jobs in Canberra. Isn't that a bit too easy? I mean, there's more to this Federal election campaign than Canberra and to jobs. We've got an economy; we've got huge unemployment problems. Isn't it a bit too pat to run a scare campaign for Canberra?

ROS KELLY: Oh, and look, and I don't want to do that.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: You're doing a very good job.

ROS KELLY: No, no. But I do think it is important, first of all, we understand what we've got in this town. And look, I have fought for this town for a very long time, and I've fought to get swimming pools, I've fought to get centres, community centres; I've fought to get shopping centres, and I think I've succeeded in that. But what I'm concerned about is the very nature, the future of this town. What impact will these devastating cuts have?

Now, obviously, there are positive things that we're fighting for, like you know, health policy, education policy. These things are very important, but it is also important that my constituents understand that there is a clear choice. Do we want the sort of secure and good quality of life in this town that we've had previously, or do we want this place cut down at the knees? And everyone around here who has heard the Liberals speaking, know they're the very words they've been using.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: What are you going to do for youth unemployment which is very high in this city?

ROS KELLY: Right. Well, obviously, we want to create some more jobs and that's one of the reasons we, for example, went ahead with York Park, the Scarborough House building, so construction is important. Confidence is important in the private sector. We've got to keep construction industry going. It's also very important with youth that we continue our training programs and, I think, education is very important here, as well. So I mean, we've got to be positive about these issues and I'm very concerned about youth unemployment.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Bill Stefaniak - youth unemployment; you raise that as an issue in your opening remarks.

BILL STEFANIAK: Very much so. Youth unemployment has fluctuated from between about 35 per cent to 50 per cent in Canberra over the last six months, and I think that's just quite an intolerable situation. We also have a lot of other people unemployed and it is very difficult for the over forties to get jobs, especially when they're thrown on the unemployment scrap heap. That's what Fightback is all about.

It's about creating jobs, and real jobs - not some of these Mickey Mouse training programs that the Labor Government has done which don't create lasting jobs. And because we're getting rid of seven taxes that cause a great deal of strain for business, especially small business, and putting on in place of that a GST, putting more money in everyone's pockets as result of the whole Fightback package, and that affects lower and middle-income earners especially because they'll have more money to spend. Businesses will have more money to spend to create real jobs. That will see a huge boost in Canberra in real jobs for people, and especially for our youth unemployed.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Okay, let's wrap up, now. Ros Kelly - just closing remarks.

ROS KELLY: Well, I don't think anyone really believes that you can create jobs by taking away taxes and putting on a giant GST on almost everything that moves, including your water, including your electricity, including your school uniforms. I mean, it is nonsense to think that that is going to generate jobs. What Hewson will do to Canberra is he will chop it down at the knees. They don't care about Canberra; we do. We want to have continued secure growth in the ACT and the beautiful environment we currently have.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Ros Kelly, thank you for coming in.

ROS KELLY: Thanks very much.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: I know you've got a plane idling on the runway.

And Bill Stefaniak - your closing remarks, please?

BILL STEFANIAK: My closing remarks are that we certainly do care about Canberra. The Liberal Menzies Government, in fact, largely created Canberra and the large Public Service here, and that's not going to change under this particular Liberal government that will come in. I care about Canberra. I was born here and I grew up here, went to school here, and certainly, I'd like to be very much available as the local member for Canberra and I'll certainly fight for Canberra and for things within the electorate.

But might I also just say this. Ros mentioned the GST. The GST is just a small part of Fightback, it makes it all work, and for Mr and Mrs Average out there on $30,000 a year, struggling with two kids, you are going to be about 40 bucks a week better off because of Fightback.

ROS KELLY: Let's bring back Menzies.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Ros Kelly, thank you for coming in. Bill Stefaniak, thank you for coming in.