An election row has blown up over public service jobs, with Labor Senate candidate Katy Gallagher saying any claim from Liberal Senator Zed Seselja that he wanted to see the Australian Public Service staffing cap lifted could not be believed.
Senator Seselja, who is also Assistant Minister for Treasury and Finance, told the Canberra Times that he had been arguing inside the Government for a lift to the Average Staffing Level cap for some time and that it was time for such a change with the Budget returning to surplus.
“[The cap] has been there for some time so I think it’s certainly something I’d like to see and if we come back into government, that is something we do see lift. There’s no doubt about that,” he said.
But Ms Gallagher said Senator Seselja had had plenty of time before an election was called to defend public service jobs in Canberra but had failed to do so.
“More hollow words from a minister who has simply spent the last six years sitting back and agreeing with the Liberal’s APS staffing cap which has crippled government agencies and had a disastrous effect on the implementation of the NDIS,” Ms Gallagher said.
“We have seen Liberal minister after Liberal minister line up over the last six years to take a bat to the public service but Zed has failed to intervene when he had the chance to do something about it. Zed simply cannot be believed when it comes to defending Canberrans, their jobs and livelihoods.
“If Zed really cared he wouldn’t have waited for an election campaign to be under way to stand up for Canberra, instead he would have used his role in government to protect local jobs.”
Labor now says Senator Seselja is in conflict with Finance Minister Senator Mathias Cormann in calling for changes to the cap.
Labor Finance spokesperson Jim Chalmers said the admission was a stunning rebuff for Senator Cormann, who has long defended the ASL cap, and an admission that the cap, and its arbitrary nature, made no sense.
“Scott Morrison needs to urgently clarify whose side he is on in this latest internal Coalition drama,” he said.
Labor has already announced it will abolish the cap, arguing that it had encouraged the use of consultants at greater cost to the taxpayer.
“Abolishing the cap will help ensure more expertise, experience and corporate memory is retained in the public service by encouraging agencies to employ permanent bureaucrats over contractors and consultants,” Mr Chalmers said.
Labor would rein in contractors and consultants, not proceed with the remaining 0.5 per cent additional efficiency dividend next financial year, add 1200 new permanent and full-time Department of Human Services staff, and reducing spending on travel across the public service.
In the 2015-16 Budget, the Coalition committed to capping the size of the Australian Public Service to around or below 2006-07 levels, the last year of the Howard Government, and the decision has been a constant target of the Community and Public Sector Union and Labor.
Senator Seselja said that under the Liberal-National Government 18,400 more Canberrans were in jobs, and the ACT’s unemployment rate was the lowest in the country at 3.5 per cent thanks to our strong economic policies promoting jobs growth.