Standing up for Canberra

Public Service Under Threat From Liberal Job Cuts - Adjournment Speech (February 2013)

The electorate of Canberra is under threat. The security and stability of Canberra's south side is under threat from the prospect of another severe economic downturn should the Liberals win government and implement their plan of slashing 20,000 Public Service jobs. Having lived through the last Liberal slash and burn, I fear that Canberra will once again experience an economic slump, an increase in unemployment, a massive rise in bankruptcies and a sharp drop in house prices. I remember well what happened when the Liberals were last in office. I remember well 1996. Then, 15,000 permanent public servants lost their jobs in the ACT. What we are seeing in Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales is very reminiscent of that time.

The conservatives of today have a complete disdain for the Public Service. They do not appreciate that public service should be lauded, not derided, that public servants are valuable and valued people who keep Australia defended, safe, healthy, working and educated. But this disdain of the Public Service has not always been the hallmark of conservatives—quite the contrary. In fact, conservative icons like Robert Menzies in many ways built this city, this nation's capital, as the proud centre of Australian government and public servants. In our centenary we will celebrate the fact that Robert Menzies was a friend to Canberra, a champion of a centralised Public Service located here in the nation's capital.

This is a very sharp contrast to the current crop of conservatives, who use Canberra and the Public Service as their whipping horses. They also fail to understand that cuts to the Public Service in Canberra impact on small business, not just here in the ACT but in the region. The Liberals do not understand that when they cut public sector jobs in Canberra it is our businesses, our volunteer organisations, our community groups and the local shops that suffer. The last time they took the cleaver to the public sector, both business and non-business bankruptcies in the ACT jumped dramatically.

Non-business bankruptcies rose by 17 per cent in 1996-97 and business bankruptcies jumped by a frightening 38 per cent in the same period. Canberra: this is the future the Liberals want for you, a bleak future that will see the slashing of 20,000 public service jobs and the knock-on effect that has for businesses and the community. Many of these jobs will be here in my electorate of Canberra where families have mortgages, where children are enrolled in schools and where small businesses rely on a strong public sector to survive.

My constituents in Canberra's south side do not want to hope that they have a job, an income or a viable small business after 14 September. They want security and they want certainty. They want to know that their jobs are not at risk or that their house prices will not tumble. This is not a scare campaign, because I have seen it before. Like so many Canberrans, I also lost my job when John Howard was elected in 1996. I saw firsthand what happened in Canberra when John Howard came to power and sent our city into a downward spiral. I attended farewells that were conducted in bulk. I counselled many, many friends who lost their jobs and had to leave town to go and find work. For me, my posting was abolished in India. I came back after only a year there, and my husband had to do part-time work for a number of years afterwards. The effect was not just for me in terms of my job loss but also for my husband at the time and for the businesses in Canberra. It has significant spiralling effects, significant ricocheting effects and a significant knock-on effect in so many ways, both personally and professionally, for businesses and for the region.

When those opposite talk about honesty and trust, they should start by being honest and revealing the details of how many jobs will be slashed in the electorate of Canberra and where these jobs will come from. I think the workers and the families of Canberra's south side deserve to know what the future holds for them under the Liberals should they win government. Under Labor, they have security and economic growth and investment in infrastructure for the future, like the $288 million for Majura Parkway—the sod turning on that was on today.

Under the Liberals, the future will be job cuts, an economic slump, empty offices and empty shops here and around the region, where the only growth industry will be removalists. This does not instil me with any semblance of hope, just fear for the people and future of Canberra and the region.

Download a copy of this speech.