Will the Liberals ever stop tearing down Menzies legacy?

Canberrans brace themselves for coalition government budgets. They brace themselves because they're used to the cuts. They brace themselves because they're used to the attacks.

They brace themselves because they're used to the derision. They brace themselves because they're used to the scorn. They brace themselves because they're used to the contempt. Derision, contempt and scorn for this nation's capital. Derision, contempt and scorn for the Public Service. Derision, contempt and scorn for our national institutions. That's what coalition governments mean for Canberra, our nation's capital.

Ever since this coalition government was elected, it has gone after Canberra, it has gone after our national institutions and it has gone after our servants of democracy. We saw it in 1996. The last two coalition governments have had form when it comes to Canberra—our national institutions, our nation's capital and our servants of democracy. In 1996 we saw 30,000 public servants lose their jobs right across the country; 15,000 of them here in Canberra, the nation's capital. What did that mean for Canberra in the mid-nineties? I was one of those 15,000 who lost their jobs under the Howard government, when I was working in the Department of Foreign Affair and Trade. What did it mean for Canberra? It meant that we went into an economic slump for five years. It meant that people left town. We had three federal seats here. We went down to two as a result of the Howard government's stellar efforts. It's only this year that we've managed to get back to a third seat. My electorate is now the largest in the country in terms of population, with 143,000. My colleague in Fenner has the second-largest in terms of population. The people of Canberra, the people of our nation's capital, are the most underrepresented people in the country—currently with two members in the House of Representatives and two senators in the Senate; that's it.

What did we see in 1996? We saw an economic slump. We saw 15,000 Public Service jobs axed. We saw people leave this city. We saw us go from three to two electorates. We saw the local shops close down. We saw businesses go under. It took us five years to crawl out of the mess that was created by the Howard government. The scorn, contempt and derision that was held by the coalition government in the nineties is held now by the coalition government. We are seeing the same form.

What is so extraordinary and perplexing about this is the fact that the founder of the modern Liberal Party, Sir Robert Menzies, wasn't a big fan of Canberra, but when he realised its potential and fully understood its significance to our nation as the national capital he made the investment. To quote him, he 'became an apostle'. He said:

I cannot honestly say that I liked Canberra very much; it was to me a place of exile; but I soon began to realize that the decision had been taken, that Canberra was and would continue to be the capital of the nation, and that it was therefore imperative to make it a worthy capital; something that the Australian people would come to admire and respect; something that would be a focal point for national pride and sentiment. Once I had converted myself to this faith, I became an apostle …

Those are the words of Sir Robert Menzies, a self-confessed apostle of Canberra. What do we have opposite here? We have people who are hell-bent on tearing down the legacy of Sir Robert Menzies and tearing down those great Westminster traditions of service and duty to the nation—and they do it in so many different ways. In the mid-nineties, they did it through the sacking of 30,000 public servants and, since this government has been in, we've seen 16,000-plus public service positions axed—between 3,000 and 4,500 here in Canberra, so at least a quarter here in Canberra, in the nation's capital. The scorn that this government has for the public service, our servants of democracy, is palpable and it speaks in volumes when it comes to budget times. Everyone across Canberra braces themselves for what a coalition government—the now Turnbull government—is going to deliver for our nation's capital, for them.

I remind people listening that Canberrans are the same as everyone else across this nation. Canberrans have mortgages, rent to pay and car loans. Canberrans have dreams like everyone else in the country. They have dreams of going on holidays and spending time with their families and children. They want to see their children and family members thrive and prosper. Like everywhere, they have the same dreams as all Australians. These 16,000-plus jobs are human beings. The 3,000 to 4,000 here in Canberra are human beings with mortgages, rent, car loans and commitments like everywhere else in Australia. I remind those sitting opposite to remember that and to have a bit more respect for their nation's capital, for the vision of Sir Robert Menzies, for the servants of democracy—the public servants who service you as government—and for our great national institutions.

I want to go over the sorts of cuts that we were dealt with in the budget last year under this government. The Department of Human Services lost almost 1,200 positions—a four per cent reduction in its total numbers. The Australian Bureau of Statistics lost over 400 positions—14 per cent of that agency. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection lost 245 positions, which was a two per cent decrease in staff. The Department of Health lost over 240 people. The Australian Federal Police, despite what the Minister for Justice was saying at the time about investing in that agency, lost over 150 people. The Attorney-General's Department lost 100 people. The Department of Finance lost over 60 people. The Department of Education and Training lost almost 50 people. The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources lost over 40 people. The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies lost over 30 people—that meant a 20 per cent loss of that agency's staff. The Australian Electoral Commission lost 24 people. The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions lost 20 people. The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet lost 14 people. TRA lost 15 people. The Australian Skills Quality Authority lost 13 people. IP Australia lost nine people. The Fair Work Commission lost six people. They are public servants—our servants of democracy.

But what did this government do in terms of our national institutions? The Australian War Memorial, the soul of the nation; the National Gallery; the National Library; Questacon; the National Museum; the Museum of Australian Democracy—the repositories of our national story and history, the keepers of our history, memories and story—what did this government do last year to those national institutions? It cut 20 positions from the National Gallery. As we all know, our national institutions are pretty mean and lean outfits. Twenty positions were cut from the National Gallery, the collector and curator of our national story, by this government. The National Library had significant cuts in terms of Trove. It's a campaign I mounted for a very long time. We had 15 jobs lost at the National Archives and another three at the Australian War Memorial. Again, it is contempt, derision and scorn for our public servants of democracy; contempt, derision and scorn for our national institutions, the keepers of our history and our national story, our national memory, the soul of the nation at the Australian War Memorial. It is nothing but scorn, contempt and derision from the coalition government.

I remind those opposite what that actually means for those national institutions. As a result of this government's cuts to budgets and staff over successive years, in my view you are potentially damaging how we collect and curate our national story, because some functions just have to go. Some collections can't be looked after. So what we have here, as a result of your cuts to our national institutions, is that we're not cutting into fat anymore; we're not cutting into bone anymore; we are cutting into vital organs. Your cuts are affecting our future. They are affecting our memories, our story, our history and the soul of the nation.

National institutions cut; Public Service jobs cut; and then, as if the nation's capital hadn't been insulted or derided enough by those opposite, we get the insulting investment in infrastructure. We had an investment in infrastructure in last year's budget of a paltry $3 million out of a $75 billion national spend. That is less than one per cent for the people of Canberra, for our nation's capital. Then we started to take a closer look at where this $3 million was going. With $3 million you can build a lot of bridges or roads or a lot of fabulous infrastructure that will leave a legacy for the nation's future. So I thought: let's have a closer look at where this $3 million is going. It was quite telling in terms of the respect that this coalition government, this Turnbull government, has for the nation's capital. Because the $3 million in infrastructure investment went to lighting and plumbing at Old Parliament House, a temperature control system at the National Film and Sound Archive, shared corporate services at the National Museum, and a business case for an exhibition at the Australian War Memorial. That is the coalition's interpretation of infrastructure. That is the coalition's interpretation of a significant infrastructure investment in the nation's capital: lighting and plumbing in Old Parliament House, a temperature control system at the National Film and Sound Archive, shared corporate services at the National Museum and a business case for an exhibition at the Australian War Memorial.

Don't get me wrong: these are worthwhile investments, particularly in terms of the preservation and curating and collecting of our nation's story and our history. They are important investments, but, when people think about infrastructure investment, they usually think a bit bigger: a bit bigger than a business case, or lighting and plumbing or a temperature control system. They think bridges or roads. They think that a convention centre would be really nice here in the nation's capital. They also think the sum would be a bit bigger too. Three million dollars in the nation's capital out of a $75 billion spend: less than one per cent.

So, again, scorn and derision from this government in terms of our public service, as we saw in 1996; we have seen scorn and derision from coalition governments over decades. In 1996, 15,000 public service jobs were axed here in Canberra, and 30,000 nationally, sending the nation's capital into an economic slump. We see it again with this coalition government, the Turnbull government—16,000-plus jobs right across the nation, 3,000 to 4,500 here in ACT, and we saw all those jobs lost last year not just in the public service but also in our national institutions.

This speech I make is a constant. I make this frequently throughout the year. I make this, because I cannot believe that those opposite do not listen to the legacy of Sir Robert Menzies— (Time expired)

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