On Canberra being “cushioned from reality”: an open letter to Tim Wilson MP

Nicole Lawder MLA 24 June 2019 22

Local MLA Nicole Lawder on why Tim Wilson’s comments on Canberra are ‘just not on’.

Dear Mr Wilson,

Canberra-bashing is pretty much a national sport for anyone who doesn’t live in Canberra. In fact, usually, I don’t mind – Canberra is such a lovely place that having a bit of a negative view of it elsewhere stops a lot of people moving here, so we have the place more to ourselves! But when you started attacking Canberra generally and public servants specifically in a recent debate with Andrew Leigh, I was very surprised.

It seems a curious argument that you have made – attacking not just a place but the people who live there.

My biggest objection to your comments was your characterisation of public servants who are apparently too “cushioned from reality” to be able to make economic decisions. Our public servants have the huge responsibility of implementing, operationalising and delivering government policies. Much of this involves crunching the numbers and managing million-dollar government contracts and grants. They work exceptionally hard to budget and deliver essential and trusted services to the Australian people.

Their job also involves making Ministers appear as well-prepared, well-briefed and as competent as possible. When a Minister looks bad, the public service looks bad. When a Minister looks good, the public service looks good. I know, I have worked in the public service, in several different departments. The public service is full of talented and selfless people, many them having left their homes and families interstate to serve the Australian people in Canberra.

Like many public servants, I moved to Canberra when my husband got a Defence posting here. I have lived here ever since, adopting Canberra as my home town. We did not come here by choice; we were sent here through government policy. Looking at my own family, who live and work here, we are a fair representation of the ACT workforce. Of 13 adults in my extended family (our five children, their partners, and one grandchild over the age of 18) two are in the ACT Public Service, three in the Australian Public Service, one in utilities, one is a tradie in the building industry, one is a GP, one a firefighter, one a courier driver, one in the community sector, one a financial adviser, and one a Uni student. A total of five out of 13 workers in the public service is a fair reflection of the Canberra community, considering less than 40 per cent of all Canberra workers are employed in the Federal and ACT Governments.

Rather than being “cushioned from reality”, we Canberrans are living in a two-tiered society. While it is true many Canberrans are well-off, there are thousands of Canberrans that are falling behind. The Canberra Liberals are inundated with stories of Canberrans who are struggling to keep up with the immense cost of living pressures caused by 18 years of high-taxing Labor governments. So many Canberra households are in mortgage and rental stress due to the Labor-Greens government’s artificial inflation of land prices and extortionate increases to rates and land tax. Canberra is now the most expensive place to rent in Australia. Many people have become homeless or rely on the goodwill of family or friends to put a roof over their head. Most Australians probably wouldn’t know that almost 26,000 Canberrans are living below the poverty line while 37,000 Canberrans, including 8,000 children, are living on less than $500 per week.

This is in the Australian capital.

What you really ought to realise is that you sold yourself short in your mischaracterisation of a whole city, and its workers. We are real people who make real contributions and who face real challenges. The argument you made would be equivalent to your debating partner arguing you were a goose, and therefore everyone in Goldstein is a goose. I am sure you and the good citizens of Goldstein would be insulted.

Our public servants are here doing the best they can, often under trying circumstances. Bringing them into a political debate does not help your argument one whit.

You and I share many progressive Liberal values as evidenced in our advocacy for marriage equality. Apparently, we also share a love of gin. But these type of sweeping comments about my home town, the city I love, and its diverse residents, are just not on.


Nicole Lawder is the Deputy Leader of the Canberra Liberals.

What's Your Opinion?

Please login to post your comments, or connect with
22 Responses to On Canberra being “cushioned from reality”: an open letter to Tim Wilson MP
Robert Robert 9:48 am 25 Jun 19

Nicole, thank you very much for pointing out that, against the prevailing view, people in Canberra do work hard. The many years of PS staff cuts and ‘efficiency’ dividends have indeed created areas of high stress.

I would make one small correction however, to point out that it was actually the Howard government that had the highest taxes as shown by this OECD document

bj_ACT bj_ACT 11:26 am 25 Jun 19

Tim Wilson has no real experience of Canberra he just makes uninformed comments without evidence or experience. He’s never sat down with the Tradesmen drinking VB at the Kambah tavern. He’s never out visiting the single mum nurse in her Charnwood rental. He’s not taking over an hour on the Bus from Richardson just to have a job to clean the Parliament House toilets of his fellow politicians. These are all real people I know.

Time to get out of his own Canberra bubble and see life from the working poor in Tuggeranong or the strugglers of west Belconnen.

michael quirk michael quirk 2:00 pm 25 Jun 19

Canberra is more representative of Australia than the bayside suburbs of Melbourne where this right wing t@#$$#r comes from

Andrea Lloyd Andrea Lloyd 2:16 pm 25 Jun 19

Why don’t you tell Seselja then Ms Lawder? Isn’t he a fellow Liberal? Can’t recall him speaking up and criticising his fellow Liberal creep, Wilson? 🤮🤮🤮🤬

Capital Retro Capital Retro 2:30 pm 25 Jun 19

This article authored by a virtue-signalling public servant being paid about $200K a year who is a self-proclaimed advocate for the tens of thousand Canberrans existing below the poverty line.

I would love Canberra too if I earned that sort of money.

Anne Gallagher Anne Gallagher 2:43 pm 25 Jun 19

Well said Nicole. Federal politicians are the ones cushioned from reality

Linda Matija Linda Matija 2:59 pm 25 Jun 19

Well said! How would a politician know what reality is???

bikhet bikhet 3:54 pm 25 Jun 19

I said what I needed to in a response to a previous post:


Ms Lawder has said nothing that would change my mind.

Phyl Holmes Phyl Holmes 3:57 pm 25 Jun 19

Onya Nicole - would liked to have added my name!

James Forge James Forge 4:37 pm 25 Jun 19

So many gullible people believed that stupid and untrue story about "Fat Cats in Canberra" by that idiot Richard Carleton.

Bob Holbert Bob Holbert 4:54 pm 25 Jun 19

I don't think most Canberra public servants are "cushioned from reality". Like a lot of Australians, many struggle to afford housing, pay their electricity bills and haven't had a real pay rise in ages. Those Canberra public servants who are less in touch include, in my experience, some of our well-paid Senior Executives Service officers, but I don't think they are any more "cushioned" than Australia's well paid professional politicians, and they are probably more in touch than the nation's business executives, who seem to get an increasing share of the wealth regardless of business results, and always manage a little golden parachute when the going gets tough. The major beneficiaries of both pay rises and tax cuts.

Jill Howell Jill Howell 5:27 pm 25 Jun 19

Good on you, Nicola Lawder

Ian McLeod Ian McLeod 5:30 pm 25 Jun 19

100% agree. I have worked in the private sector all my life, much of it serving the public sector and as Nicole said, many moved here to make a difference. I have had the pleasure of working with many high level, extremely motivated and competent public servants. It is routine to see emails from around the clock as they work tirelessly and often thanklessly to advance their organisation, support the government and implement policy with frequently insanely short time frames driven by a chaotic poltical environment.

A poltical environment driven, to be clear, by a poltical cohort that rarely leaves its own bubble around parliament house.

If there is any isolation and bubble, it’s the politicians who all come from elsewhere. Not the tireless public service responding to their every random short sighted whim.

I am proud to consult for the federal public service and would happily do so for a long while yet.

Tony Whelan Tony Whelan 5:49 pm 25 Jun 19

Pretty gutless of an MP from another state to slag off people in Canberra whom he knows nothing about.

Jay Annabel Jay Annabel 5:56 pm 25 Jun 19

the irony of a dude like tim wilson lecturing us on reality.

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 6:02 pm 25 Jun 19

According to the previous RiotACT post on Wilson’s comments, he said that Canberra is “cushioned from the reality of where people actually make money and make investments off their private capital”.

The same could be said about most Australians, including in Wilson’s part of Melbourne, bearing in mind that so much of the wealth that pays our way in the world is still generated from mining and primary production.

The denial of that reality, and the associated entitlement mentality does, though, seem to be more pronounced in Canberra – the latter was one of the main reasons for self government (i.e. let Canberrans pay for the high standards of public services which they demand).

Beth Mansfield Beth Mansfield 9:29 pm 25 Jun 19

It's a bit much when one of the cushioned and cossetted federal pillows calls US divorced from reality.

    Beth Mansfield Beth Mansfield 10:53 pm 25 Jun 19

    Ha! Now that's what I call auto correct!

Marcel Bond Marcel Bond 9:56 pm 25 Jun 19

25 years living in Canberra and this is the first time I have heard anything from the position of 'Deputy Leader of the Canberra Liberals'. Here's an idea...if you want to be an effective opposition (and alternative government) how about you actually get out, be heard and have some actual policies.

Tara Maree McInnes Tara Maree McInnes 10:07 pm 25 Jun 19

Thank you Nicole for your voice to the Public sector who are often treated with su ch contempt for choosing secure work to ensure I can care for other family members. I am a labor person but you have given many public servants some dignity from your words so thank you.

Mark FitzGerald Mark FitzGerald 8:23 am 04 Dec 19

So much emotion in this topic. Canberra bashing has been around for decades. Could there be an element of truth to it? As an outsider who has been in town working in the private sector for 4 years, I see it day after day after day. I always think to myself..."These people would not last a day in the private sector away from Canberra". Your pays are in most part higher. Your super is way higher. Your leave days are more frequent, unchallenged and totally accepted by management. Groups of staff constantly walking off site in the middle of the day for coffees. Maybe the PS staff should all clock on and off when they're at work so they can be scrutinized by their supervisor for the amount of output they actually do like all the other working stiffs. As an olive branch, I will admit that the pays and job security in the capital PS system is changing more recently but all in all, you live in a bubble. You just can't see out because of the sheer numbers of you standing together in there yelling how you are not privileged . The problem MAY be that all the little arguments are being rolled into one giant big finger pointing statement that the PS employees take offense to. Then the discussion gets lost in the emotion again. Public servants all over Australia have always had an element of protection about them (re Job security/low level of output etc.) that has attracted criticism. In Canberra, quite uniquely the sheer volume of the PS around us (federal and local) attracts the highest amount of bashing from outside. I've met some amazing 'hands on' public servants in Canberra who punch out huge achievements daily. But not many. Most just want to blend into the background and protect what they have. A safe protected lifestyle in a great big bubble. When you're in the bubble looking out, you can't really see the bubble can you? If I were to be offered a position within the PS I would certainly grab it with both hands and I would shut up, keep my head down, disappear into the background and one day retire with my massive PS super and long service leave and accumulated sick days. Or maybe a massive redundancy payout so I can be re-hired a month later with a massive pay hike. What appears normal to you, is quiet offensive to most hard working Australians. Really. Admit a few things to yourself. As my Dad always said... "it's only a rort if you're not involved". Gimme a government job and I'll shut up. Jezus, Even our bus drivers are the highest paid in the country. FACT.

    John Davis John Davis 8:36 am 04 Dec 19

    Mark FitzGerald , very true, I was a PS for 20 years.

CBR Tweets

Sign up to our newsletter

Region Group Pty Ltd

Search across the site