When I was seeking election in August last year I made a promise to my community that I would be a strong advocate for Canberra and for Canberrans. Today I keep that promise to defend them against the outrageous attacks on their livelihoods from those opposite. I am, of course, referring to the disgraceful and unnecessary attacks by the member for North Sydney on those people employed in the Public Service.
In my first speech in this chamber I extolled the contribution made by the Public Service to the people of Australia. I said: …we also sleep soundly in our beds because invisible heroes ensure our national interests are protected abroad. Others protect our borders. Some make sure our cities and towns are safe. Others make sure our food is clean and keep our lights on. Some help the sick, the aged, the disadvantaged and the disabled … Public service should be lauded, not derided.
So I am quite frankly dumbfounded and outraged that the member for North Sydney can so casually front the media and talk about axing entire government departments at a cost of 12,000 public servant jobs, many of them in Canberra. What is so chilling is that he does it with such carelessness and disdain, particularly given the coalition's crocodile tears about the loss of 1,000 steelworker jobs and their pretending to be the friends of the Australian worker—as if they care about Australian workers and as if Work Choices had been forgotten by Australian workers. If those opposite are so concerned about job losses, why are they so loud and so enthusiastic about cutting 12,000 jobs from my community? Is it blatant and tiresome Canberra bashing, or is it in the vain hope that no-one will notice the fact that the member for North Sydney, the man who claims to be the alternative Treasurer of this country, cannot understand the budget?
He claims the Public Service has grown by 20,000 positions, but if he understood the budget papers he would realise it has grown by less than half that number and it is the same size it was 20 years ago. Similarly, he hopes no-one notices that his unfunded election black hole has blown out from $11 billion to $70 billion, which is just a minor miscalculation. To put that in perspective, that black hole represents stopping Medicare payments for four years or stopping the age pension for two years. This just goes to show that those opposite cannot read a budget, cannot add up, cannot articulate a policy and clearly cannot lead this country. And this lack of leadership, this lack of understanding, will come at the expense of my community and the communities of Queanbeyan, Cooma, Yass and the south coast of New South Wales.
We need to remember that the coalition have never been a friend of Canberra or the capital region. They have never really been concerned about us. They have form, they have a track record, and we only need to go back to 1996 to be reminded of the potential vision they have for our future. Under the Howard government, 12,000 Public Service jobs were axed in Canberra and 30,000 nationally. The cuts sent Canberra into recession when the rest of Australia was growing. And jobs were not lost just in the public sector; small businesses went under all over the capital region. House prices fell by 30 per cent. Every second house at the south coast was up for sale. The population of Canberra dropped substantially. I know firsthand the effects of a coalition government because I was one of the 12,000 that was axed. How do those opposite imagine that government programs will happen? Through the sheer will of the Leader of the Opposition? Or will the invisible fairies write all that policy, deliver all those services and advance this nation's interests here and overseas?
The experience of 1996 is not so easily forgotten in this town. It is deeply etched in our psyche. And I will make sure this House, the people who serve this House, the people of Canberra and the people of the capital region will never forget. That is why I urge the member for North Sydney to take up the offer by the ACT Chief Minister to meet the Canberrans he plans to put out of work, particularly the business community. I am also happy to organise some of those meetings, because then he may understand that like any community the people of Canberra are decent, honest, hardworking people who, like Australians everywhere, have mortgages, have dreams, have aspirations for their families. Then he may reflect on the fact that a job in the Public Service is just as important as a job in the steel industry. Then he may just see firsthand the direct and indirect impact of his reckless, glib and disgraceful comments.