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Senator Margaret Reid discusses the selling of the Fightback package

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: The big hard sell is on after the Wills by-election disaster - a disaster for the two main parties. It became clear to the Opposition that it had not successfully sold its Fightback program yet. So, in my letterbox this week, I received a Dear Mr and Mrs Abraham letter from our Liberal Senator for the ACT, Margaret Reid, along with an invitation to attend some Fightback sessions with Senator Reid at Parliament House. Along with those were some claims about Fightback and the assertion that the Government had attempted to misrepresent the package. Senator Reid is with me now. Good morning.

MARGARET REID: Good morning, Matthew.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: I presume there's a fair bit of concern in Liberal ranks about misrepresentation and the inability, really, to sell Fightback.

MARGARET REID: I don't think so. I think people realise that it was something that was going to take a good 12 months, and that was why it was launched at the time it was. Those who understood it quickly .. I mean, some people felt that we should have left it longer, but I think John Hewson, in particular, knew that it would take time to sell; and also, he was very aware of the sort of simplistic slogans that the Labor Party would use to try and sort of put it down.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: You were on a roll there for a while though. Was there a perception that you had sold it, that the job was almost done, and then we had the Keating leadership change and you're effectively having to go back to square one.

MARGARET REID: I don't think so. I don't think anybody thought we had it sold. I think we were quite pleased with the initial response, but we knew that the detail of it and the substance still had to be done and that it was a job to be done over a long period of time. And I am now pursuing the plan that I prepared for myself, last year, when it was launched. I deliberately did not start letterboxing, writing letters and campaign, during the time of the ACT election because I thought it would be confusing for people to be getting material from me at the same time as the ACT campaign was being run, and I'm now proceeding. And of course, as far as seminars in Canberra are concerned, I have to do them when Parliament's sitting and when I have the Shadow Ministers here and available for it.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Yes, there is quite a nice touch in your letter. With the ACT Assembly election just behind us, I'm sure the last person you want to here from is another politician, but having heard from you, I'm wondering whether you're getting hardship pay in Canberra as a Liberal Senator selling this...

MARGARET REID: No, not really.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: ...because there must be a fair bit of paranoia in Canberra about what Fightback is going to do. We had Labor Senator, Nick Bolkus, yesterday, saying that it would gut DAS, for instance.

MARGARET REID: I heard a little of that, of course, and I regarded what he said as nonsense, and I suspect he knows it's nonsense as well.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Why?

MARGARET REID: The total budget for the public service is about $100 billion altogether. The cuts which the Fightback package envisages amount to about 4 per cent. In terms of numbers, the total population of public servants in this country is just under 170,000 public servants, and less than a third of those are in Canberra. Now, certainly, that's a higher proportion than in any other electorate, but when you study the document and realise the advantages for Canberra, the advantages for people in Canberra and the opportunities for business, there isn't any reason for Canberra to be concerned about it. But it's pretty easy for Labor to make that sort of comment. I recognise that.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: All right. The question of public servants, though, do you have a figure on how many public service jobs would be lost from the public service, as public service jobs in Canberra?

MARGARET REID: Not precisely, but it's my impression that overall there are probably about 4,000 jobs over a period of time.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: In Canberra?

MARGARET REID: No, not precisely in Canberra - which, of course, is little different from what in fact has happened with Labor. If you actually study it and look at the graphs of Labor's impact on the public service and, of course, the way they've shifted things out of Canberra every time it suited them to do so - if it wanted to put something in another electorate, they've done so. So you really need to analyse it. We've been very open with what we're saying but, of course, a lot of the jobs that may shift from the public service will be able to become private jobs as well and give opportunities there. The same people would be able to do the cleaning job, whether they're employed by the public service or by a private contractor.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Now, Senator, the first one is tonight, isn't it - your first session? You've broken down to self-funded retirees and pensioners tonight. Now, is it too late for people to get in on these sessions?

MARGARET REID: It's fairly fully booked, but if they rang my Parliament House office today, it would be possible still to get in, as I understand it, but it's a pretty big session.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: And it's in the committee room in Parliament House, in Canberra.

MARGARET REID: The main committee room.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: So people need to get a security pass and so on.

MARGARET REID: The main committee room is a public area. Oh, yes.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: All right. Okay.

MARGARET REID: Oh, yes. No, it's definitely a public area.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: And the next one is on 6 May, and so on.

MARGARET REID: Yes.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: I suppose many of these details are out.

MARGARET REID: Yes. They're just the first group during this session, and I will run others later in the year.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Are you sure you're not getting hardship pay?

MARGARET REID: I'm definitely not getting hardship pay.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Liberal Senator, Margaret Reid. Thank you for coming in.