Independent senator for the ACT David Pocock says the Federal Government can’t righty describe budget measures aimed at boosting the Australian Public Service in terms of looking after Canberra.
Tuesday’s federal budget included a number of initiatives the government said will help rebuild the APS “after a decade of neglect”.
One measure is the funding of 10,000 more public servants over the next year.
But at the budget breakfast in Parliament House on Wednesday (10 May), hosted by the Canberra Business Chamber and the Institute of Public Accountants, Senator Pocock said the ACT had been all but forgotten in the budget.
“The government will hang their hat on increasing the public service as something they’re doing for Canberra. I still think we’re missing out when it comes to infrastructure and valuing the nation’s capital,” he said in response to questions from Region.
“We’re way down the bottom per capita. We’re dead last again.
“It’s something that I think our local Labor members are going to have to step up on, and we’re going to have to recognise Canberra as the national capital.
“It should be something we’re investing in and be really proud of.
“I think we have this incredible blueprint for what we can be, in the Griffin plan. It’s about adding to that and ensuring that we have a vibrant city and we’re really setting ourselves up for the future.”
The budget included measures to bring more APS consulting in-house, furthering the government’s strategy to reduce the over-reliance on external contractors.
Almost $11 million is being directed towards building the APS’s in-house consulting function.
A further $2 billion will help modernise government ICT systems to improve data security and digital delivery of services.
On budget night, Finance and Public Service Minister Katy Gallagher said the government was delivering on its ambitious APS reform agenda.
“The APS performs a critical role in our democratic system. It should be valued by government and be focused on serving our citizens,” Senator Gallagher said.
“Digital and ICT capability is crucial to deliver easy, accessible and secure services for people and business.”
At the budget breakfast, however, Senator Pocock cautioned against dismissing the value external consultants bring to the ACT’s economy and to the delivery of services.
“It’s all about getting the balance right,” he said.
“It’s about valuing and strengthening the public service without getting into this situation where we have both sides of politics bashing either public servants or contractors.
“There are legitimate reasons to outsource certain functions, for expertise or for all sorts of short-term projects.
“I think the public service is struggling in a whole bunch of areas to maintain talent, given the job market as it is today, and it presents a significant challenge.
“Getting people in, training them up and then they get poached by the private sector and, in many instances, are then re-employed by the government to do work, I think it’s a tough area.”
The IPA’s general manager of technical policy Tony Greco said it was good policy to improve the knowledge and skill base inside the APS.
“We’ve seen examples coming out of Treasury in relation to legislation which I think shows there’s a need for more expertise under the tent,” he said.
“I think there has been a brain drain and I think they have to bolster that expertise and it has to come from within.
“We’ve seen lots of examples where it’s not quite right.”