By Julian Bajkowski
The war of words over the scale and pace of downsizing in the Australian Public Service has sharply intensified after Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment, Senator Eric Abetz hit out at the former Labor government over plans to axe Department of Human Services call centre staff in Tasmania.
After months of ostensibly sticking to its election job cuts target of 12,000 APS positions, the Coalition government has now started to conspicuously up its attack on the jobs toll from the pre-existing efficiency dividend – with Senator Abetz labelling them the “result of the Australian Labor Party making savings but not telling the Australian people about them and the consequences.”
Senator Abetz’s attack is a tactical shift for the government which had previously campaigned hard on the need to reduce the both size public service and the cost of bureaucracy but pledged that any cuts would come via ‘national attrition’ or staff turnover.
Although credible estimates and analysis of the impact of Labor’s efficiency dividend pointing to job losses of more than 14,000 have been around for more than a year, the Abbott government is using official estimates provided to it from the Department of Finance following its election as the basis for its timeline of receiving job cuts information.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has already sought to kick the government’s 12,000 job cull target into touch by sending it to the National Commission of Audit to examine – rather than seeking to add it to the 14,500 number.
But as the redundancies start to pile up in regional areas as well as Canberra, the blame game has begun in earnest.
“Make no mistake: that total of 14½ thousand people—and I do accept…that each one of those 14½ thousand people is a person and is a breadwinner with aspirations; chances are with mortgages and with loans that they seek to pay off—that Labor said needed to be removed from the Australian Public Service unfortunately has that consequence,” Senator Abetz said during Question time in the Senate on Monday.
Senator Abetz was responding to a question from Labor Senator Lisa Singh, a fellow Tasmanian, asking for confirmation of “assurances [DHS] gave staff in April 2013 that there were no plans to ‘move existing staff from, or close the ICT functions in Hobart’.”
“Am I happy about it? No. But Senator Singh, you and the Labor Party were the architects,” Senator Abetz said, adding that “this was in the pipeline courtesy of the policies that Senator Singh and others voted for.”
Senator Abetz said that “the government is in active discussions” with the Community and Public Sector Union on the matter of the Tasmanian DHS Call Centre job cuts.
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