Local members of Parliament, including fellow Liberal Senator Zed Seselja, have rounded on Victorian Liberal Tim Wilson for “ill-informed comments” about the Canberra economy robbing Australian taxpayers.
The comments came during a debate in the House of Representatives on Monday on the Morrison Government’s proposed changes to the aged pension and Newstart Allowance.
Mr Wilson, the Member for Goldstein, responded to a speech by Member for Canberra, Alicia Payne, and claimed: “The whole basis of the Canberra economy is, literally, government. The raiding of taxpayers’ hip pockets for the benefit of the few.”
Ms Payne, Labor public service spokesperson and ACT Senator Katy Gallagher, ALP Member for Fenner Andrew Leigh and ALP Member for Bean David Smith issued a statement that Mr Wilson had gone rogue and devalued the important role that the Australian Public Service (APS) plays in our democratic system of government.
They were joined by Senator Seselja, who said many of these types of comments about Canberra were lazy and ill-informed, as well as a scathing Chief Minister Andrew Barr.
The Labor members said Mr Wilson’s comments showed a complete lack of understanding of the Canberra economy as well as the work that the public service does.
“Tim Wilson is at best completely ill-informed, or at worst deliberately misleading the Parliament – even accounting for the ACT public service, a majority of Canberrans work in the private sector,” they said in a joint statement.
They said Mr Wilson had form when it came to Canberra-bashing, saying that earlier in the year, during a panel interview with Mr Leigh, Mr Wilson referred to Canberra as “a massive government bureaucracy” that is “cushioned from the reality of where people actually make money and make investments off their private capital”.
The Labor members said the facts are that:
- More than 62.5 per cent of the APS work outside of Canberra and 70 per cent work in service delivery or implementation roles.
- Canberra has borne the brunt of the Liberals’ cuts to the public service – with 9,142 job cuts since June 2013 and 1,883 in the last financial year.
- Canberra is a town of Government, but APS employment as a percentage of the workforce has decreased from 32 per cent in 2011 to 28 per cent in 2016. Over 5,000 jobs have gone and this doesn’t account for the recent 1,883 jobs cut.
- 25,464 Victorians are employed by the APS, including 560 people in south-east Melbourne which covers Mr Wilson’s electorate of Goldstein.
“The APS is an impartial institution that not only enables his Government to implement its agenda but more importantly works every day to provide crucial services to Australians right across the country,” they said.
“Public servants perform a critical role in our democracy by developing policies and delivering services to help keep Australians safe, regulate corporate conduct and support vulnerable members of our community.
“He needs to stop sprouting the lines fed to him by the Institute of Public Affairs and do his job as a mature MP, as challenging as that might be.”
Senator Seselja said Australia was well served by a professional public service.
“Hard-working public servants in Home Affairs and ASIO help keep our nation safe, those in Treasury and Finance help balance our budget and set strong economic policy, and our public servants in the NDIA help to deliver support to the most vulnerable Australians,” he said.
“Other nations which have corrupt or weak bureaucracies suffer as a result. The public service is not above criticism, but blanket statements like this ignore the genuine, critical service to our nation these Australians provide.”
Mr Barr said he wouldn’t expect anything less from a Liberal MP that flys in, and flys out and sees more of the Chairman’s lounge at the Qantas Club than of Canberra.
“This is a Liberal Government that has a legacy of doing whatever they can to belittle the nation’s capital, and the people that work and live here,” he said.
Mr Barr said the ACT was one of the few economic success stories in this country, with one of the lowest unemployment levels in the nation.
“Contrary to Mr Wilson’s commentary, this is not exclusively driven by the Commonwealth Public Service,” he said. “Over 60 per cent of the workers in the ACT are employed by the private sector. In 2018-19, the growth in the ACT’s economy as measured by Gross State Product was driven by a significant increase in Health Care and Social Assistance, as the ACT Government invests more in public healthcare to support our growing population.”
He said the ACT Government continued to go it alone to support the local economy by investing in major infrastructure projects.
“Mr Wilson seems to be OK with the Commonwealth spending billions of dollars to support employment in other states and territories through infrastructure investment,” he said.
“Despite the ACT’s population growing at one of the fastest rates in the country, the federal Liberal government has largely ignored the infrastructure requirements of Canberrans and those living in the wider region. During the last two terms of the federal Liberal government, the ACT has received just 0.8 per cent of national infrastructure funding.”