Standing up for Canberra

Defending the Public Service - Adjournment Speech (May 2012)

I rise once again to defend the Australian Public Service against continued attacks from several fronts. For the past two decades, and now as the federal member for Canberra, I have been an advocate for a strong and stable Public Service here in the ACT. Canberra is built on the Public Service, and much of our private sector is interlinked with it. Without the APS, I believe Canberra as we know it would simply cease to exist. But too often we hear nothing but disdain towards our Public Service and our public servants.

I was dismayed to see the front page of today's Canberra Times, which quoted a new report from Roy Morgan calling for our Public Service to be decentralised and departments moved to the bush. This is something mining magnate Gina Rinehart—friend of those opposite—and the Leader of the Opposition have also endorsed. The report suggests Canberra should be ashamed of its low unemployment rate and embarrassed by its ability to attract the best and brightest—the most highly educated in the country. 'It's like Disneyland,' says Roy Morgan chief executive Michele Levine. I have heard Canberra called a lot of things, but Disneyland ain't one of them. The notion that our public servants here in Canberra do not understand what it is like for people living in regional Australia is absolutely ludicrous.

Firstly, Canberra is located in a regional area. It is located in the capital region. Secondly, Canberra services around 30 per cent of the region in education, health and a range of other services. There are over 22,500 non-ACT residents travelling to the ACT each day for work, and they are from the region. Many people here have come from regional areas, to make a difference to those regional areas. When I was at the ANU most of the people I studied with were from Goulburn, Yass and around the region. So I take heart in the Prime Minister's recent comment, 'I commit to Canberra remaining the heart of the Australian Public Service and the primary location of government departments and agencies.' Canberra can be sure that under Labor, our Public Service will stay strong.

What I would like to know: is which departments should be moved to the bush, as suggested, and when? Would those opposite like to put forward a policy for once, and state which departments they would like to shift to the north of Australia? Maybe they can ask Gina Rinehart what she thinks? Canberra is the home of our Public Service, but it is also a working city with a vibrant community. Moving whole departments out of Canberra would have significant ramifications. Unemployment would go up, the private sector would suffer and the housing market would collapse.

This is more of the same lack of understanding about how Canberra works that we get from those opposite. Too often all we hear from those opposite is nonsense about 'waste' and the need to audit and axe our Public Service. There is no understanding of the important work our Public Service does. Those opposite simply do not appreciate the role played by the APS in upholding, promoting and serving our democracy. The APS is itself an institution of Australia's democratic system of government. So, in keeping the Public Service strong, we are ensuring democracy stays strong as well.

That is the difference between Labor and the coalition when it comes to our Public Service. Those opposite do not see the Public Service as vital to Australian government. We on this side want to make the Public Service the most efficient and effective in the world. Since 2011, we have actively pursued efficiencies in the Public Service—and we have runs on the board, with over $10 billion in efficiencies realised since we came to government. While the approach of those opposite is to run around saying they will 'end the waste' and abolish whole departments, our approach is focused on improving efficiency—not cutting jobs. Our approach is about stability; their approach is just lazy.

And I absolutely reject their view that our focus on efficiency and taking staffing levels back to what they were in 2009-10 is in any way worse than their outrageous plan to slash 12,000 jobs across the board. I mean, can we really believe they will stop at 12,000 jobs? I condemn their plans to make 12,000 public servants redundant should they come to office. Their plan is ill-conceived, based on no clear evidence and totally ignorant of the way our Public Service works. It is a plan that will hurt Canberra's private sector and cause irreversible damage to our region's economy.

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