ACT Election Column | By Member for Fraser Andrew Leigh | The Chronicle 16/10/12


Public Servants are vital for growth

Some use it as a jibe, but I’ve always been proud of the fact that Canberra is a ‘public service town’. When the global financial crisis hit, public servants helped save Australia from recession. When natural disasters strike, it’s public servants that make sure victims get their payments. Australia is smarter, healthier and environmentally cleaner thanks to the work of public servants.

So it’s worrying to see the pattern of public service cuts from Liberals around the country. In New South Wales, Barry O’Farrell slashed 800 TAFE jobs and cut 15,000 public servants over two budgets, after saying before the election ‘we will need more public servants, not less’. In Victoria, Ted Baillieu has cut firefighting services and 5,500 public servants are facing job losses. In Queensland, Campbell Newman cut 14,000 public sector workers after telling them before the election that they had nothing to fear from him. Premier Newman has also cut Breastscreen Queensland and the Premier’s Literary Awards.

Federally, the Liberal Party went to the last election with a promise to cut 12,000 public servants, and are now refusing to rule out axing 20,000 Canberra public servants. When in Brisbane and Perth, Tony Abbott talks with glee about how he will cut back on the ‘Canberra public service’.

Given all this, you’d expect to see Canberra Liberal leader Zed Seselja condemning Liberal Premiers, and standing apart from Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. Yet rather than running a mile from Mr Abbott, Mr Seselja chose last week to run with him for a lap of Lake Burley Griffin. It was just a photo opportunity, but it symbolised his willingness to stand with the job-cutters rather than the job-defenders.

Labor has a very different view about the public service. In August, Prime Minister Julia Gillard spoke proudly of the importance of the public service to delivering reforms like the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Locally, Chief Minister Katy Gallagher has worked as a disability support worker and industrial advocate for public servants. It’s hard to imagine a more passionate defender of Canberra’s public servants.

The Gallagher Government has made hard budgetary decisions, but you see a clear ideological difference between the parties. While Labor targets efficiencies, Liberals cut jobs. And while Liberals attack public servants, Labor understands the true value of a strong public service.

Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser, and is writing a weekly column on the ACT election from a Labor perspective.

This article appeared in The Chronicle on 16/10/12

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