8 November 2022

Dutton should learn from Morrison's gaffe: there's no easy win bashing the APS

| Chris Johnson
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Scott Morrison in Hawaii

PM Scott Morrison snapped on holiday in Hawaii late in 2019: when the APS was responding to disasters, the PM went missing. Photo: Ben Downie/Twitter.

Peter Dutton appears to have learned little from his predecessor about knowing when it’s really not the right time to bash the public service and those ‘bureaucrats’ in Canberra.

Scott Morrison discovered the hard way during this year’s election campaign – after a long stretch of natural disasters and a devastating pandemic – that criticising public servants wasn’t a vote winner. Quite the opposite.

Public servants stepped up during these challenging events. Morrison went missing.

He was grilled during the campaign about the sports rorts saga in which the Coalition government, in a hugely pork-barrelling manner, bypassed Sports Australia and official recommendations when allocating funds for community sports facilities.

READ ALSO Federal Budget: Spotlight on public service jobs and spending

Morrison’s defence was that the government decided where the money goes, not some “public servant in Canberra”.

And by saying that, he only confirmed what we already knew – that his government did the rorting, not the public service.

An own goal if ever there was one.

Yet, the APS bashing continues under Morrison’s replacement as Liberal leader.

Dutton is doing his best to exploit Labor’s decision to cut the consultancy spend in the Australian Public Service and employ more actual public servants.

The recent Federal Budget laid out a plan to employ 8000 more public servants.

A considered and measured start, one might think.

But the Opposition Leader must have heard a different figure because he and his treasury spokesman Angus Taylor have been confecting outrage over the ‘20,000’ extra bureaucrats Labor is about to employ in Canberra.

READ ALSO Steady as she goes won’t cut it, Albo. Get on with it!

The comments have been made in parliament and in media interviews since the budget’s delivery.

But nowhere in the budget papers is there mention of 20,000 additional APS members.

It’s 8000, and two-thirds are headed to the regions.

But the truth rarely keeps a good politician down – and 20,000 has so much more of a dramatic ring to it than 8000 (or a mere 2,700 or so if we’re talking about Canberra alone).

There are all sorts of reasons that an extra 20,000 public servants in the capital could be a good thing, however.

Perhaps the Coalition should consider running with the number as a positive. Take it to the next election as a policy? Hardly.

Regardless of the intent behind pulling a random number out of a hat and running hard with it, the Opposition Leader should be wary of attempting to paint public servants as the bad guys.

The days of elections being won on a platform of APS bashing are over.

Just ask Scott Morrison.

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HiddenDragon7:25 pm 08 Nov 22

The Albanese government has enthusiastically used the relatively high profile option of House of Reps Question Time to attack other things said by Dutton in his Budget in Reply speech, but has not (so far as I am aware) used that means to debunk the claim of “20,000 extra bureaucrats in Canberra”.

Perhaps that’s because they know there’s not much mileage in the issue (beyond the borders of the ACT), and also because they might be a bit sheepish about what’s coming for the APS in future Budgets.

Let’s have a public service which has some emphasis on ‘service’. Making everyone do the work of 3 employees, having stored knowledge not being retained, and having a deficit of actual service, is what we can thank the Liberals for. Everytime they were elected they knocked off a couple of thousand PS jobs and made those left standing fill in the gaps. What was the long term thinking on that! Consultants are just jobs for the boys!

Does the author actually believe that Morrison’s position on the APS affected the result of the election to a significant degree?


My recollection was that the election result was caused by a “Teal-slide”, partially funded by some wealthy businessmen.
I thought the “Teal-slide”was about people losing trust in both major parties, and wanting some accountability and action on climate issues.
But, it seems I was wrong. I wasn’t aware that the election outcome was about the number of permanent public servants vs the number of contractors.

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