By Julian Bajkowski
Federal Opposition leader Tony Abbott has used his Budget reply speech to reaffirm a previous promise to eliminate 12,000 Commonwealth jobs from the public service if elected.
The recommitment to slash public service positions comes just one night after Treasurer Wayne Swan allayed fears of mass redundancies by announcing that only around 1200 positions would not be replaced, a move that has transferred the unpopular burden of sackings squarely to the Coalition.
"We’ve announced that we’ll reduce by at least 12,000, through natural attrition, the size of the Commonwealth public sector that’s now 20,000 bureaucrats bigger than in 2007," Mr Abbott told Parliament.
After substantial scene-setting and backgrounding that resulted in warnings from the federal branch of the Community and Public Sector Union that redundancies were a retrograde step, public servants have seen the dreaded efficiency dividend – a budget cut that must be extracted from existing resources – scaled back from 4 per cent in 2012-13 to 1.4 per cent in 2013-14.
The easing of pressure on Commonwealth public servants was being interpreted as a squib by Mr Swan on what some Coalition sources said were obvious and necessary reductions.
However it is a squib Mr Abbott will find difficult would find hard to make popular in the Australian Capital Territory.
Recently installed ACT Liberal Senate candidate Zed Seselja is facing an uphill struggle after deposing popular and longstanding defender of the public service, Senator Gary Humphries, in an ambush that triggered a highly public backlash from long-term Liberal members.
Mr Abbott’s pledge to remove 12,000 public service positions has done little to allay fears of a repetition of the early Howard-era style “night of the long knives” that saw half a dozen departmental chiefs dispatched that was followed by a structural “downsizing” of the Commonwealth public service that sought to diminish the symbolic stature of Canberra as the centre of government.
In January this year Mr Abbott said that “there certainly won’t be anything resembling a night of the long knives or a bloodbath of the public service.’’
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