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Monday, 21 May 2012
Page: 4896

Mr FLETCHER (Bradfield) (12:35): We have just heard from the previous speaker that public servants are people too. If you cut them, do they not bleed? Thank you for that blinding insight, but the critical point is that the people who pay for the public servants are people too. The Public Service is paid for by the private sector and, while it may not have permeated the consciousness here in Canberra, the private sector around Australia is doing it tough. There are organisations throughout the private sector of every scale which are going through the painful but necessary process of finding efficiencies. I have worked in business, as have many of the people on this side of the chamber, and that in itself distinguishes this side of the chamber from the other side of the chamber. All of us who have worked in business can tell you that you need to cut your cloth to suit the circumstances. When times are tough, you need to look at your expenses and ask, 'Can we justify spending as much as we presently do?' One of the indicators of the need to ask, 'Can we justify spending as much as we presently do on the number of people we have employed at this organisation?'—whichever organisation it is—is the rate at which your staff numbers have grown.

What we have seen in the Public Service under the Rudd-Gillard government is a steady increase in the number of people working in the Public Service, a steady increase in the number of people who are employed by taxpayers. Let us remind ourselves that their salary bills are paid for by taxpayers, and all taxpayers have a right and an interest in demanding that we get value for money from the money we spend on the Public Service, as all taxpayers have a right to demand that we get value for money in every dollar which is spent by the Commonwealth on behalf of taxpayers. Despite the complacent assumption of the member for Fraser, playing to his home gallery and his collection of public servant constituents, the reality is that it is not good enough to simply or complacently say, 'Oh, the Australian Public Service is "the most efficient and effective public service in the world".' Quite frankly, that is like saying they are some of the tallest short people around.

The reality is that government employees around the world are known not to be as efficient as the private sector. What the public sector can learn from the private sector is the need for a constant focus on efficiency, a constant focus on asking ourselves: 'Do we need all of the people who are employed? Are they doing the things we expect them to do? Are they doing things efficiently?' And reality and experience tell us that when an organisation grows, as the Public Service has grown steadily over the last five years, there are going to be opportunities for efficiencies.

Based upon the latest budget papers, since the last full year of the Howard government, in 2006-07, there has been an increase of approximately 20,000 government employees. This trend continues across just about every aspect of the Public Service. I have asked a question on notice in parliament of every cabinet minister as to how many new departments, agencies, commissions, government owned corporations or such bodies have been created within their portfolios. From those who have come clean so far, who have been prepared to fess up, there are 34 different new bodies established just since 2007. It is as if we have two Australias. There is one Australia where business is facing tough conditions and is taking tough but necessary decisions to reduce headcount. Then we have the comfortable, complacent, cosy, cosseted Public Service, which, under Labor, would march on regardless if we were to accept the terms of the motion moved by the member for Fraser. Apparently we have the best Public Service in the best of all possible worlds and there is something about the present number which is absolutely ideal and there is absolutely no scope for efficiency. That is a ludicrous claim. The Public Service is of course full of good, hardworking people but that does not mean there is no scope to look for efficiencies.