It has been more than five months since the Abbott government was elected. For my electorate of Canberra, for the city of Canberra, for the ACT and the surrounding region, those five months have been dominated by uncertainty.
The Abbott government was elected, promising to slash 12,000 Public Service jobs through natural attrition as a starting point, to increase the efficiency dividend and also to put an indefinite freeze on all Public Service hiring. The coalition was warned prior to the election—it was warned by Labor, it was warned by public servants; it was warned by economists—that natural attrition would not work. Nonetheless, its pre-election promise was that jobs would be cut through natural attrition alone. However, after coming to power the coalition realised what had been blatantly obvious to the rest of us for so long—that there is no way it could meet its target of $5.2 billion worth of Commonwealth Public Service job cuts through natural attrition.
It makes perfect sense that natural attrition simply will not work. Why would any public servant voluntarily leave their job—their secure job—when there is a hiring freeze in place and when the Canberra economy is coming under significant pressure from the government's mass job cuts. They would not—it is as simple as that. Once the government realised the promise of natural attrition was not going to work, it was in a bit of a bind, but rather than deal with the situation itself—rather than making the tough decision—it left it to the Commission of Audit to do its dirty work. Now, like so many other Australians, Canberrans are waiting with bated breath for the Commission of Audit to report. At least we would not have to wait too long—or so we thought. The Commission of Audit was due to deliver its first report in January. However, January has come and gone and Canberrans and Australians are none the wiser.
Do those opposite know the pressure that this uncertainty is putting on Australians? Do they know that Canberra's small businesses are already suffering? Do they know that Australians on the disability support pension are anxious about this issue and fear their future financial security? The Abbott government must stop hiding behind the Commission of Audit. Australians deserve to know what we are facing because currently we fear the worst.
In 1996 the Howard government promised to cut 2,500 Public Service jobs through natural attrition; that ended up being over 30,000 nationwide and 15,000 here in Canberra. When the coalition last held office the Public Service was stripped of 8.2 per cent of its workforce—in five years, under the Liberals, over 15,800 permanent public servants in Canberra. In 1996 both business and non-business bankruptcies jumped sharply after the Liberals took the cleaver to the Public Service.