By Julian Bajkowski
Canberra may well be celebrating its Centenary this year, but locals are weighing the prospect of the public service designer city being partly depopulated.
As the election looms, the threat of bulk federal redundancies under a Coalition government has again increased in value as prime political currency among voters there.
Senator for the Australian Capital Territory, Minister for Multicultural Affairs and Minister Assisting for the Digital Economy, Kate Lundy, on the weekend redoubled her attack on Liberal plans to slash between 12,000 and 20,000 federal jobs after Labor’s ACT Branch Conference.
It’s a powerful tactic in a city that is largely dependent on the public service to maintain its population is again contemplating the prospect it will soon suffer public service cuts similar to the 30,000 jobs lost following sweeping changes in the early years following the Howard government’s election in 1996.
So far Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey has only outlined plans to cull around 12,000 positions, however Labor has seized upon Coalition statements that the public service is now 20,000 people bigger than when Mr Howard dispatched from office in 2007.
On the weekend the ACT Brand of the ALP unanimously supported a resolution condemning proposed job cuts, a move that builds upon the federal branch of the Community and Public Sector Union’s affiliation with Labor in the town. It has mass sackings in Queensland and New South Wales to point to too.
Senator Lundy said that the Coalition’s cuts would deeply hurt Canberra.
“We know that and it’s a lived experience if we recall 1996 when the Howard Government came in committing themselves to a small number of cuts and them perpetrating 30,000 jobs disappearing in the ACT and the public service from that point on,” Senator Lundy said.
The tangible fear of mass job cuts constitutes a difficult challenge for Liberals ACT Senate candidate Zed Seselja who must now try and convince Canberra public servants that he will actively fight for their jobs in the party room after dynamiting out incumbent Liberal Senator Gary Humphries.
Senator Humphries was well regarded by elements of the public service for his persistent advocacy for the public sector on behalf of his constituents, collateral with voters that Mr Seselja appears yet to acquire after moved from the role of opposition leader in the ACT Legislative Assembly.
Mr Seselja’s move to federal politics came after the Liberals lost the ACT elections on the back of a promise that he would never form a minority government with The Greens, a pledge that sealed defeat after Labor won seven seats, the Liberals six seats and the Greens four seats.
However those whether those trends will be repeated at a federal level is questionable because most public servants, contractors and consultants rely on Commonwealth agencies for their jobs rather the ACT Government.
That scenario has some speculating that former GetUp! National director and now Greens candidate Simon Sheikh has a chance of taking out the ACT’s second Senate seat following Senator Humphries’ departure amid substantial internal acrimony that still lingers.
Despite Labor’s palpable hatred of The Greens, Senator Lundy wasn’t missing an opportunity to put the boot into Mr Seselja when asked how she rated Mr Sheikh’s chances.
“If you represent a party going into the election campaign which is saying that it’s going to hurt Canberra, it’s going to specifically take jobs in a very arbitrary way out of Canberra, I think that party is at risk and that is the reality that Zed Seselja faces as the Liberal candidate as we head into the election period,” Senator Lundy said.
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