Standing up for Canberra

Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2015-2016

 The appropriation bills reflect the changes made in the 2015-16 budget. And what a budget it is. It is a budget that preaches spending, even though just 12 months ago Australia was facing a budget emergency. It is a budget that sees tax up, spending at global financial crisis levels, the deficit doubled and growth projections bordering on the heroic. It is a budget that repackages all the unfair elements of last year's budget. The $80 billion in cuts to schools and hospitals remains. The $600 million cut to ACT health funding remains. The $100,000 university degrees remain. The cuts to family payments remain. The GP tax by stealth remains. The $125.6 million cuts to child dental services have now been introduced, and there is another $1 million cut for the seatbelts in school buses. We have seen new modelling from NATSEM and ACOSS that shows the poorest Australian families will be hit by this budget. Nine out of 10 of the poorest families with children will lose out under the budget, while nine in 10 of the richest with children will benefit.

At the core of this budget is the unfairness of last year's absolute stinker of a budget, and, true to form, it is a budget that attacks Canberra and the Public Service. What does this mean for Canberra? Put simply, this budget is just bad news—continued bad news—for Canberra. Eight federal government departments have been earmarked for functional reviews, including the Department of the Environment, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Department of Social Services, the Attorney-General's Department and the Australian Bureau of Statistics, as well as the Australian Taxation Office. We all know that 'functional reviews' are essentially code for even more job cuts.

The National Film and Sound Archive, the National Archives, the National Gallery of Australia, the National Library and the National Museum of Australia will also see more jobs go, and they are all pretty much lean and mean already, so I do not know where these jobs are going to come from. It is definitely going to affect the services that these cultural institutions provide to the nation. The National Gallery of Australia will also lose $400,000 over the next four years.

The Australian Federal Police will lose $220 million by 2017-18 as well as more than 100 jobs. They will go. The Bureau of Meteorology will lose 102 jobs. And the Department of Defence will lose a further 1,150 jobs. That is on top of the 2,400 Defence civilian jobs already axed since the Abbott government came to office.

I just wonder how many of those opposite in the chamber here tonight would feel if they had had 8,500 jobs ripped from their electorate since this government was elected. Eight thousand, five hundred Public Service jobs in Canberra have gone since this government was elected in 2013. That adds to a total of 17,300 Public Service jobs across Australia that have been axed by this government since it came into power. That also includes close to 10,000 jobs in 2014-15 alone, which is a 5.6 per cent cut to the public sector.

Not only are the public servants, these proud servants of democracy, fearing job cuts; the government's campaign to reduce their pay and conditions continues. Protected industrial action is underway at a large number of federal departments including the Bureau of Meteorology, Agriculture, Defence, Veterans' Affairs and even the employment minister's own department

Canberrans have had a gutful, and I have had a gutful. I have had a gutful of the sustained attack on the proud people who serve our nation. I have had a gutful of the plans to relocate agencies to centres outside our nation's capital, despite Sir Robert Menzies's vision for Canberra: to 'build up Canberra as a capital in the eyes and minds of the Australian people'. I have had a gutful of public servants being described as 'rorters' and 'double dippers' and 'fraudsters' and treated as costs rather than people with families and mortgages and car loans and hopes and dreams like every other Australian. I have had a gutful of the Abbott government's demonisation of its own workforce. And I have had a gutful of the government's sustained attack on the integrity of the people who serve our nation.

It was absolutely astonishing to see the Prime Minister, almost two weeks ago, accuse hardworking public servants who had accessed the government's Paid Parental Leave scheme as well as their own workplace scheme of doing wrong, of rorting, of committing fraud—it was suggested that they had committed fraud— of double dipping. The fact of the matter is that the Abbott government's change to Paid Parental Leave will leave thousands of Canberra women, and 80,000 across Australia, worse off. That includes public servants. That includes Australian Defence Force and Australian Federal Police personnel, teachers, nurses, private sector workers and anyone on an employer funded scheme.

In addition to their pay and conditions being continually attacked, in addition to their reputations being constantly sullied by this government, in addition to the jobs being cut—17,300 since this government was elected, with 8½ thousand here in the ACT alone—I am tired, as are public servants themselves, of public servants being constantly berated and used as political pawns by this government. I would like to read from an email I received in the last week from a public servant in my electorate. To ensure that her identity is protected, I will only use her first name, because so many public servants are afraid to speak out at the moment for fear of losing their job. The environment is particularly toxic here in terms of job security, and people are frightened about speaking out against this government's sustained attacks on the Public Service, the sustained attacks on its integrity, the sustained attacks on their job security and the sustained attacks on them as individuals and the pay and conditions that they have fought so hard for over many years. They are frightened. They are frightened to speak out. So, in reading this email from one of my constituents, I will only use her first name out of fear that she will be hindered professionally. Alex has written to me:

I did really want to talk to you about how frustrating it is to be a public servant at the moment. I know we're supposed to be politically neutral but we're also effectively gagged. It's a horrible feeling to go to work every day and have zero respect for your 'big boss' and his leadership team. I feel like I'm able to see both sides of the story most of the time, but the way the government constantly lambasts us and publicly disrespects us (particularly women!) is both mortifying and infuriating when we can't stand up for ourselves. I know I'm not the only public servant who feels disempowered in this way, but what can we do short of joining the union (which I've done)? Any sage advice gladly received …

This is the story across the board here in Canberra. I will now read from another email, also received in the last week. Again, I will mention the person's first name only, to protect their identity. This is from Kelly:

I am a public servant, have always been proud of my role. The current pressures and job cuts are destroying me and everyone around me. We work incredibly long hours, under enormous pressure. The demands continue and the resources continue to be cut. The lack of job certainty and career prospects breeds a toxic environment of fear and back stabbing. This is unsustainable. Yet, the job market outside of govt is also strained and employment is hard to find. This govt is having the worst impact on society that I have seen in my adult life.

And another, received today:

I too have had a gutful of the Abbott Government's attack on the Public Service and the lower end of town. When I was a Public Servant I suffered under the Howard Government's attack and was given the big push back in '89. Fortunately at that time both my children were working and my wife still had a job so the stress of losing my job was not a major problem. But my Daughter does work for the Dept of Health, has 2 daughters in High School and is the major bread winner in their family and my wife and I worry about the prospects of her losing her job under the reign of Captain Tony.

Eight and a half thousand Canberrans have been sacked by this government, and thousands of others now have little to no job security and certainty. These are the people that defend our nation and that secure our borders. These are the people that educate our children, that care for us when we are sick, that keep us safe at night and that support us when times are tough. These are the people that advance our interests overseas, that research, develop, implement and communicate the government's policies, that brief the government, that write its submissions, that prepare the government for question time. These are our proud servants of democracy, and their treatment by this government is appalling.

Before I went into business, I was a public servant. Before I came into this life I had my own business, and before that I was a proud public servant. Like all public servants, I joined the Public Service to make a difference and improve the lives of Australians. Public servants in Canberra and right across the country sign up to make a difference to their country and to improve the lives of Australians. I was immensely proud of the work I did in policy making, in communication, in researching and writing submissions and briefs, in representing our country overseas. Like Alex and Kelly, I took my job seriously, because, as I said, it was about making a difference to our nation and improving the lives of Australians. And, like the 17,300 public servants who have lost their job since this government was elected, in 1996 I also lost my job. That was when the last coalition government was in. The coalition has form on the Public Service. It has complete disdain for the Public Service, for Canberra, the nation's capital, and for Sir Robert Menzies's vision for the capital. It has complete disdain for these people who work to ensure that the government can achieve its goals, who take their job seriously, who treat it professionally.

As I said, coalition governments have form. Back in 1996 the coalition government promised to get rid of 2,500 Public Service jobs through natural attrition. That ended up being 15,000 jobs here in Canberra and 30,000 jobs nationally. The impact on Canberra was extraordinary. It was phenomenal. It was frightening. People left town. We went into an economic slump for five years. House prices plummeted and businesses went under. Bankruptcies, both business and nonbusiness, went up to historic levels. Our population fell. Our local shops closed down. It had a devastating effect. If 15,000 jobs are taken from one city, it cannot but help have a devastating effect on the city. That was then. It took five years for Canberra to get out of that slump. During that time, not only were those jobs cut, including mine, but the Public Service and Canberra were completely derided, denigrated and demonised by a coalition government. We are seeing all that repeated now by this government— demonisation, derision and denigration of the Public Service, of the proud servants of democracy, of the people who serve our nation, of our nation's capital, Canberra.

I have had an absolute gutful of the way that coalition governments use Canberra as a political punching bag. Shame on you. Shame on you for what you do to this capital every time you get into government. I want Canberrans and public servants to know that they may feel as if they are gagged, and I know that they do. We have heard those letters from Alex and Kelly. I want Canberrans and public servants to know that I am listening. I hear your concerns. I will stand up to you. I will defend you when the Prime Minister denigrates you, when he derides you, when he demonises you and when you are accused—to use his own words—of being a rorter, a fraudster and a double-dipper. I will defend the important work that you do every single day. I will defend your pay and conditions. I will defend you, the proud servants of democracy, and I will defend this city, our nation's capital, that I love. I will defend it from this terrible government and this terrible budget.

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