22 March 2024

Government does a 'slash and burn' on the Opposition over APS jobs

| Chris Johnson
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Senator the Hon Katy Gallagher

Public Service Minister Katy Gallagher jumped on Opposition comments about APS jobs. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The Coalition has handed the Federal Government a free kick by questioning the value of extra public servants detailed in the last budget.

The government said about a third of the 10,000 new Australian Public Service jobs highlighted in the May budget were to replace contractors.

But this week, the Opposition’s newly appointed assistant shadow minister with responsibility for government waste reduction, James Stevens, dared to raise the issue.

Despite saying he wanted to ask questions of the government about the 10,000 jobs – not to get rid of them – the comment allowed Labor to remind everyone of the Coalition’s track record in attacking the public service.

Government ministers have lined up this week to label Mr Stevens as the shadow minister for “slash and burn”.

“If we’re talking about the public service … it’s always the area where, particularly the Liberal Party, think they can slash and burn,” Public Service Minster Katy Gallagher told ABC radio.

“I’ve just spent nearly two years trying to deal with the decimated public service that we inherited and putting it on a much more sustainable footing.

“And I think… the former government, the Coalition, haven’t learned anything about why you need a public service and why you need to make sure it’s adequately resourced.”

Senator Gallagher said the Coalition was “being ideological” and “lazy” by immediately linking waste to the public service.

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And she pointed to Opposition Leader Peter Dutton having referred to “wasteful” public service jobs.

“What you need is a public service that can deliver the services the Australian community expects, and accept that it is an important institution in our democratic system,” she said.

“When you look at the jobs where there has been jobs growth… it’s in departments like Vets’ Affairs, the NDIA, Centrelink, Home Affairs, Defence. All those front-facing, big areas where there is a level of frontline service delivery.

“And we inherited quite a mess in all of those areas, and we’ve been trying to rebalance that and move away from expensive consultants and external labour hire.

“We converted 3000, or just over 3000, labour hire positions in the last budget to permanent public servant roles and we saved nearly a billion dollars.

“It was $810 million that was saved by that simple conversion. So yes, we need to look at efficiencies, but we need to make sure and we need to be realistic about the resourcing and the important role the APS plays and the value we place on those jobs.

“And certainly here in Canberra, it’s important for our local economy.”

When asked if it wasn’t a reasonable expectation for the Coalition to ask about the extra 10,000 public service jobs, the minister seized the opportunity for a further swipe.

“All of that information is published in public documents. So, I don’t see there’s any reason why an Opposition that’s doing their work wouldn’t be able to understand that,” she said.

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On Thursday (21 March), Assistant Minister for the Public Service Patrick Gorman also delighted in throwing the Opposition’s words back at them.

“We’ve seen the new frontbench from the Coalition and I was very interested to see the comments yesterday from, who I would say is the ‘shadow minister for slash and burn the public service’ who is now saying they want to axe 10,000 public servants,” Mr Gorman said.

“That’s the only actual policy idea we’ve seen put forward by the Coalition this week … a plan to axe 10,000 public servants.

“Making the pension queues longer, going back to the bad old days of huge delays in the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, which was what we inherited when we came to office.

“Going back to the bad old days of Robodebt, where you’ve got machines – not people – deciding on important things for the Australian public when they’re applying for payments from Centrelink.

“And I think it is very concerning that we saw this week, Peter Dutton’s new frontbench, putting out plans to slash 10,000 public servants.

“People who are our family, friends and neighbours, people who serve the Australian people. But at least we’ve actually seen some detail from them.”

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HiddenDragon8:27 pm 22 Mar 24

“Senator Gallagher said the Coalition was “being ideological” and “lazy” by immediately linking waste to the public service.”

Which is precisely what she is doing in pandering to her Canberra constituency by responding so defensively to any questioning of the size and scope of the federal bureaucracy.

Australia is a seriously over-governed country, with far too much public money spent on activities which do little to advance the welfare and well being of the public. The costs of that are unsustainable, and are already showing up in federal, state and territory budgets in spite of pumped up revenues from the booms in commodity and property prices and a high rate of immigration-driven population growth.

If the Liberals are genuine about reducing the latter, and realistic about how much longer the commodity and property price booms will last, they will need to come up with workable ideas for governing the federation in a somewhat more efficient manner.

A fair observation that Australia is over-governed – especially when you consider the duplication of bureaucracy across many portfolios at the federal and state/territory levels – e.g. health, education and transport to name a few.

The issue is that an obvious (IMHO) path to “… governing the federation in a somewhat more efficient manner” would be standarisation by abolishing the states (or at least removing their role in areas of duplication with the feds), however this would be massive and require a change to the constitution – a very difficult process, especially as the states and territories would highly likely not support such a change.

William Teach8:04 am 24 Mar 24

It would be better to remove the duplication by removing federal interference in state matters and ending the vertical fiscal imbalance (replacing S96 grants with a fixed formula, removing or relaxing restrictions on state taxes, explicitly allowing states to reclaim referred powers, and so on). I’d also grant full statehood (except perhaps the full 6 senators) to ACT and NT, excluding only parliament hill itself. That would give local control of local matters to Perth, Adelaide, Darwin, and Canberra (restructuring NSW, VIC, and QLD would be a job for later, should their people want to).

I wouldn’t be averse to moving health to the federal government if there was a constitutional mandate to make a fully-integrated Medicare happen and monotonically improve. Likewise there’s some sense in centralising education, but without strong guarantees I wouldn’t trust the federal parties with public schools as both main parties are obsessed with private schools.

The way the UK treats its major cities is a stark warning of the dangers of a unitary state and the importance of keeping as much power as possible close to the people.

William Teach8:10 am 24 Mar 24

“ high rate of immigration-driven population growth.

If the Liberals are genuine about reducing the latter,”

I’ll believe it when I see them enact legislation. Throughout the 20th century the Libs were the party of increased immigration because labor still had to pretend to care about the harm to existing workers, and while since Howard the Libs have managed to take the position of the party that pretends to care they’ve been better at purely symbolic restrictions and cruelty that do nothing but enrich their mates.

If the Libs were serious enough about ending Australia’s overpopulation that might outweigh my opposition to many other aspects of their platform, but for now at least they have zero credibility.

@William Teach
I don’t see that “removing federal interference in state matters” is going to solve anything. It will probably lead to even greater inconsistencies between the states/territories in the various policy areas.

John Koundouzis5:22 pm 22 Mar 24

Katy Gallagher. Candidate for liar of the year. She lied to parliament, lied to Canberra’s population and has been well rewarded for it. Now she is showing the outstanding hypocrisy expected from any politician in this country.

Oh dear! a ‘comment’ lifted straight out of the LNP’s attack manual! I suppose you were one of the consultants that were racking in $’s that were 3 times the salary of a full time employee!

It’s called productivity. One consultant can do the work of 3 public servants. They’re too busy analysing sustainable outcomes on an holistic level with a view to vertical integration in strategic meetings.

@Michael M
A public servant, with ChatGPT, could do ther work of 3 consultants – which is usually how many it takes to produce a report, laden with buzz words and motherhood statements, and contains the exact outcomes for which the executive, who engaged them, was looking.

Well you wouldn’t expect Gallagher to say anything different. I’ve worked in many departments and the waste is beyond belief. Still whatever you reckon Katy. But I suspect consultants will be back soon as they are the ones who know what to do.

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