Prior to the election, this government promised no cuts to defence. However, like so many of the Abbott government's pre-election promises, this promise meant absolutely nothing when it came to the budget. The Abbott government's budget of broken promises will see the Department of Defence hit with some of the largest cuts of any department in the Public Service.
The budget papers proudly boast of the cutting of 1,200 civilian Defence staff. Where this figure came from I am not sure, because the very same budget papers show clearly that the number of jobs being cut in the department from 2013-14 to 2017-18 is more like 2,200. Of course, in addition to this, the government has increased the efficiency dividend, meaning many more jobs could go. The Abbott government has also failed to outline its plans for the future of the Defence Materiel Organisation and the DSTO, meaning many thousands more jobs are still at risk of being cut. To add insult to injury, while hardworking Defence staff have been left wondering if they will have a job at the end of the year, the Minister for Defence has described them as 'fat and happy', showing he has absolutely no understanding of the hardship he is inflicting on these dedicated public servants.
Still, the Abbott government proudly boasts that it has not made any cuts to Defence. It seems to be the case that the Abbott government does not realise that the Department of Defence is actually part of Defence. The fact is that these massive cuts to civilian Defence staff will be felt by the entire Australian Defence Force. Civilian staff are vital to the overall capability of the ADF and include highly skilled, highly specialist staff. Can the government guarantee that these cuts will not impact on the intelligence, ICT or scientific and technical divisions of the department?
The Abbott government seems to think of civilians in Defence as easily disposable but nothing could be further from the truth. As the Secretary of Defence, Dennis Richardson, said, try telling someone in special operations command that a civilian in the Australian Signals Directorate is 'back-end' and, by implication, not particularly essential to the task in hand. Try telling a fighter pilot that civilian engineers and technicians are not essential to their operational capability. Try telling ADF personnel on operations that civilians responsible for their pay and allowances are less than essential.
These massive job cuts also ignore the fact that over the last 10 years under successive governments there has been a deliberate decision to civilianise close to 1,000 ADF positions because they could be done more efficiently and cost effectively by a civilian. The coalition's plan to cut civilian Defence staff by at least 2,200 positions is a broken promise and it will hurt the overall capability of the ADF. And the minister's comments just add insult to injury.