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Transcript of interview with Alex Sloan: ABC 666, Canberra: 6 August 2010: Public Service jobs.

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Senator Gary Humphries  Liberal Senator for the ACT 

Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Families, Housing & Human Services,  Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Citizenship       

  6 August 2010


Issues: Public Service jobs

ALEX SLOAN: Senator Gary Humphries joins me this morning, and we also have Andrew Leigh who is Labor’s candidate for the Federal seat of Fraser - Senator Kate Lundy is unavailable this morning. First to Gary Humphries, Senator Humphries good morning.

GARY HUMPHRIES: Good morning Alex.

ALEX SLOAN: You’re leaping on an address by Senator Joe Ludwig.

GARY HUMPHRIES: Yes, I’m leaping on the fact that the ALP is only now unveiling what it plans to do to Canberra and to the public service. And the picture doesn’t look very pretty. This is the party that portrays itself always as being the friend of the public service and the friend of Canberra. Only a few weeks ago it affirmed that it wouldn’t make any across the board cuts to the public service, in fact

on the day the campaign was launched I think Julia Gillard said there’ll be no cuts across the board to the public service. They’re obviously having policy come apart at the seams, because we heard yesterday that the plan is in fact to make across the board cuts in IT, and retain the efficiency dividend at 1.25%.

ALEX SLOAN: Efficiency dividend or cut that was put in place under the Coalition.

GARY HUMPHRIES: That’s right, and which the Labor Party railed against constantly as being lazy decision making, a blunt instrument, they didn’t like it, they didn’t want it, but when Rudd …

ALEX SLOAN: But can you complain about it when …

GARY HUMPHRIES: The point is, who is telling the Canberra electorate the truth here? Who is actually prepared to stick by their word? Canberra was told that the Labor Party would back away from this horrible efficiency dividend. In its first year in office they actually increased the dividend from 1.25 to 3.25 per cent. They announced a few weeks ago that they’d be reducing the dividend. They’re now announcing the dividend will be retained at its present level. And again, this is the party

that said before the last election they’d take a meataxe to the public service when it suited Kevin Rudd’s particular position at the end of the campaign. Alex, the point I’m making is I don’t think anyone can trust the ALP or its intentions with respect to the public service at this election. The fact is …

ALEX SLOAN: The Chief Minister was there at the same event yesterday and said Canberra would suffer far worse under Tony Abbott, he told the forum that Tony Abbott had a plan to save $3.8

billion by freezing Commonwealth recruitment for two years and this would devastate Canberra for years.

GARY HUMPHRIES: We’re prepared to be honest about what our plans are. We’re prepared to say to the people of Canberra that we will reduce the size of the public service. Here’s the number by which we’ll reduce it, and we’ll do it in a way which leaves no public servant’s job …

ALEX SLOAN: And that number’s twelve thousand?

GARY HUMPHRIES: … twelve thousand yes, and no public servant will lost their job as a result of our policy. We will take those numbers down by natural attrition - that is by resignation or retirement. Now what is the Labor Party’s commitment in this area? They’ve already announced a change in policy in the last 24 hours which will make across the board cuts. If you’re going to make cuts of this size, will people be sacked? That’s the critical question - will they be sacked? I’ll make this commitment Alex that there will not be any person’s job taken away from them while they’re in the public service under us. But I want to know where Labor stands.

ALEX SLOAN: That’s an iron-clad commitment is it?

GARY HUMPHRIES: Yes it is. That’s what I asked Tony Abbott to commit to when he talked about having to make savings, I don’t want there to be people fearful for their jobs in the public service. If we have to reduce the size of the public service, do it in a way which doesn’t leave Canberra families wondering whether they’ll have a job the following day or the following month. And I got that commitment and I’m very proud of that commitment, and I think that if the ALP really are defenders of the public service let them match that commitment. Let them say to people now we will not let Canberra public servants be sacked.

ALEX SLOAN: Let’s bring Andrew Leigh into the conversation, as I said Senator Kate Lundy is unavailable this morning, and Andrew Leigh is the Labor candidate for the Federal seat of Fraser. Andrew Leigh good morning.

ANDREW LEIGH: Good morning Alex.

ALEX SLOAN: Can you match that?

ANDREW LEIGH: Oh, look Alex if I was Gary Humphries I’d be doing my best to run away from this 12,000 job cuts promise that is sitting on the table. The thing about the Coalition is that we have very clear evidence from history from what happens when a Coalition Government comes in to power, and that is that the ACT goes in to recession. We saw this in 1996, a promise from then Prime Minister John Howard to only 2,500 jobs, turned in to job cuts in the order or 30,000, and I suspect that that’s exactly what we’re going to see this time around. House prices will fall …

ALEX SLOAN: And what about the revelation that Labor will cut $840 million out of the public service? Cut IT spending by $447.5 million and continue the so-called efficiency dividend, the cut, at 1.25 per cent after promising to drop that to 1 per cent?

ANDREW LEIGH: Well the efficiency dividend is not a policy that anybody absolutely loves, but it’s had bipartisan support for over 20 years now. It was brought in in 1987, and you know there’s a little tweaking we want to do around the edges, looking at the effect of the efficiency dividend on small agencies. You might want to tinker around the edges with that, but fundamentally Labor’s committed to getting the budget back into surplus in 3 years.

ALEX SLOAN: But Senator Humphries is challenging you to say he has got this commitment out of his leader, and that there will be 12,000 jobs to go from the public service by attrition, no-one will be sacked, can you make that same commitment from Labor?

ANDREW LEIGH: Look Alex, if you’re a small business person that works tied in with Government, whether you run a café, whether you run a taxi business, whether you’re integrated with the public sector in any other way, it doesn’t matter whether these jobs are through natural attrition or whether they’re through firings. The effect on Canberra’s economy is going to be the same. And this isn’t real public service reform, I mean if you’re serious about doing public service reform you don’t say if someone leaves they won’t be replaced. This is a policy that says if Ken Henry were to retire tomorrow we wouldn’t take his successor from anywhere but within the Treasury.

ALEX SLOAN: If you cut IT spending by $447.5 million that represents a lot of jobs.

ANDREW LEIGH: Look IT spending goes up and down, and as we know a lot of IT spending is on machinery rather than on jobs. So this is very much a question of ebbs and flows, and I think what Senator Humphries is trying to do - frankly I would if I were in his position - is try and change the topic of conversation. Let’s not talk about 12,000 jobs, let’s talk about something else. They’re playing quite a clever double game there. See if you go across the border you’ve got Andrew Negline the Liberal candidate for Riverina saying ‘all the ACT produces is bureaucrats’. Now that’s the line they run outside Canberra, and within Canberra Senator Humphries wants to say he’s a friend of the public service.

ALEX SLOAN: How are you going on that Senator Humphries? 12,000 jobs to go, are you a friend of the public service?

GARY HUMPHRIES: I maintain that I am Alex. I maintain that nobody who brings down next year’s budget in May 2011 can afford not to deal with the Runaway spending and the enormous debt that Labor has accumulated. Whoever’s in Government, whether it’s an Abbott government or a Gillard government is going to have to deal with that question of debt and waste and deficit. We’ve promised to do that in a way which doesn’t take out public service jobs, and I note that Andrew today after questioning from you cannot match that commitment. If you’re the friend of the public service, as Labor claims to be, wouldn’t you be saying ‘we won’t sack any people, we won’t take anybody’s job away from anyone who has it’, wouldn’t you make that commitment if you really believed that? Clearly what Labor are promising with a cut of $800m is to selectively target agencies and take people out. As I say they have done in the last three years. Don’t forget Kate Lundy promised there would be no involuntary redundancies under a Rudd Government. But over 700 people have been targeted to lose their jobs. 300 in CSIRO, a couple of hundred else in other agencies. These are

people who’ve actually lost their positions because of Labor’s decision. And incidentally there’s not been bipartisan support for an efficiency dividend, Labor’s attacked the efficiency dividend consistently while it was in opposition. It’s only discovered the merits of it when it came to Government.

ALEX SLOAN: Andrew Leigh, what do you say to Canberra public servants listening about their jobs? Can you guarantee that they won’t lose their jobs.

ANDREW LEIGH: Well certainly Labor is committed to a strong public service, and we don’t have cuts to the public service down on the table. This is really mucking around …

ALEX SLOAN: Have you got it under the table?

ANDREW LEIGH: No Alex, all I’ve got under the table is my one year old!

ALEX SLOAN: We can hear that Andrew Leigh and we appreciate you coming on.

ANDREW LEIGH: And frankly he’s just as concerned as I am about these 12,000 job cuts, he’s just having trouble articulating it right now.

ALEX SLOAN: What does that represent, that cut of $447.5 million to IT and continuing the efficiency dividend at 1.25% which will save $390 million, that means more jobs. So what can you say about jobs, you’re not making the guarantee that Gary Humphries is, what can you guarantee?

ANDREW LEIGH: Well the efficiency dividend is across the board, so obviously agencies spend on things other than staff, and often they find efficiencies through capital expenditure as well as through staff. But the point I think that’s being made today is that Labor is committed to getting the budget back in surplus in three years. Why do we have a big debt? Because when the big flood came along Labor decided it was worth putting a row boat on the credit card. Turns out Senator Humphries’s view is that we shouldn’t have done that, we should have allowed two hundred thousand Australians to lose their jobs, so that we could make sure the budget never took on an ounce of debt. That’s not good economic management, that’s gross irresponsibility.

ALEX SLOAN: Back to you Senator Humphries and I don’t know if we can balance this on the family man side …


ALEX SLOAN: … but your response?

GARY HUMPHRIES: Look I note that Andrew has had three opportunities to rule out people being sacked and he’s failed to take any opportunity. And on the record of Labor, it is true that they are more than capable of cutting the public service. Here’s a quiz question for anybody listening. In what year in the last 20 years was the public service reduced by the most number of people, 14,000 positions were removed from the public service. No the answer’s not 1997 or 1996, it’s actually 1995 when Paul Keating was the Prime Minister. Labor have shown time and again that they’re prepared and able to take a meat axe to the public service.

ALEX SLOAN: When John Howard won office in 1996 more than 30,000 public servants were retrenched in three years.

GARY HUMPHRIES: Indeed they were, but the point I’m making …

ALEX SLOAN: Including 14,000 Canberrans, and we lost a seat.

GARY HUMPHRIES: Indeed, but look, can I make the point that people are being told that Labor’s good for the public service and the Liberals are bad for the public service. Today, the only difference between the two major parties is that both intend to cut the public service in the future, but only we are prepared to be up front about how we’re going to do that. Labor are not prepared to make a commitment as to how this will impact on Canberra. We are taking out 12,000 public service positions, but don’t forget Alex that two thirds of those positions are based outside the ACT. Only a third of Commonwealth public servants live in the ACT. So on the basis of the numbers we’re looking at Canberra would be, the effect on the public service in Canberra itself, the reduction would only take the ACT to the same size that the public service was in 2007. It wasn’t a smoking ruin in 2007, it was a thriving economy at that stage.

ALEX SLOAN: Andrew, just to jump back to you, what commitment can you give about jobs?

ANDREW LEIGH: Certainly I can give a strong commitment that Labor has no plan to slash 12,000 public servants, that’s the core of what we’re talking about today. What happens to the ACT economy when 12,000 public servants are taken out. And we just have this historical example - when a Coalition government is elected Federally, Canberra catches a cold. Canberra house prices tumble, unemployment goes up, our local economy slumps. That’s not just because of the direct effect on the public service, it’s also because of all the ancillary business that deal in with the public service. There’s not a business in town that won’t be affected by these 12,000 job cuts.

GARY HUMPHRIES: How many jobs will go under Labor? That’s the question I’m asking today. We’ve told you what we plan to do, how many jobs will be lost under a Labor government if elected on the 21st August.

ANDREW LEIGH: Gary as far as I know there are no plans to cut jobs under Labor.

GARY HUMPHRIES: Well does that mean that there won’t be any, or that you don’t have any plans that you’re prepared to reveal today to the ACT?

ANDREW LEIGH: I know of no plans to cut jobs unlike your party which has a confirmed commitment to cut 12,000 jobs out of the public service. Labor’s committed to getting the budget back in to surplus in three years, we’ll do that with sensible economic management and by continuing to invest in schools and hospitals. The reason Kate couldn’t be on the program this morning is because she’s at the opening of a Building the Education Revolution project. More quality school facilities which are investing in a better education for our kids. That’s sensible economic management.

GARY HUMPHRIES: I note that Kate’s never available when there’s a difficult issue like this to be dealt with on the radio. She does tend to disappear and find something else to do. But I come back to the question - what can people expect? What will they get under a Labor government? We’ve told people how many jobs we’re going to take out. You can’t take $840 million out of the public service - which you’re prepared to confess to at this stage - $840 million without there being some loss of jobs and very serious loss of jobs. Sorry Andrew, it simply can’t happen.

ALEX SLOAN: Andrew Leigh and Gary Humphries, thanks for joining me this morning.

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