By Julian Bajkowski
The union representing Commonwealth public servants has hit out at the release of selected costings by the Liberal Party for the election, warning that Coalition estimates of savings totalling $5.2 billion by culling 12,000 government jobs no longer add up.
The Community and Public Sector Union has called on Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to guarantee that no more than 12,000 public service jobs will go after Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey released figures on Wednesday that pointed to savings of $31 billion.
Public service numbers are fast shaping-up as an important battleground between the major parties amid heightening community concerns that a repeat of Howard-era scale sackings of 30,000 could be repeated in pursuit of a Budget surplus.
Although the federal public service is often portrayed as Canberra-centric, in reality the economic influence of federal public service jobs stretches well into the neighbouring electorate of Eden-Monaro.
Now the head of the CPSU, National Secretary Nadine Flood, is demanding that the Opposition reveal “the full extent of their public sector cuts” well before election day on 7th September.
“Public sector workers and the community who rely on the services they provide deserve a straight answer before they go to the polls,” Ms Flood said.
“The information released today by the Liberal Party does nothing to address their growing credibility problem on public service cuts.”
“Today the Liberals said they would not cut health and education, but for the last year they having been saying the federal health and education departments should be gutted or handed over to the States,” Ms Flood said.
“It looks like it’s the same Coalition plan as Queensland and NSW – small target before the election, big cuts after it.”
The resumption of union attacks on the Coalition’s planned cuts follows a last minute compromise with the Australian Labor Party and over its planned savings measure for the public service.
Although the CPSU formally affiliated to Labor in 2007, the union took the intriguing step of publicly suspending campaign support for the ALP from its membership base in early August, a move that was seized upon by the Opposition as a rejection by the union of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s return to power.
The move also resulted in unintended confusion for many non-politicised public servants over whether or not the CPSU was still backing the ALP after it was given sometimes widespread national media coverage.
The CPSU’s subsequent reconciliation with the ALP over campaign support on the 21st of August received far less coverage even though Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten agreed to a five step program to minimise job losses as a result of the widely loathed efficiency dividend.
"Suspending our election campaign activities was a tough decision, but our job is to be a strong voice for public services and our members' jobs,” Ms Flood said at the time.
“We have worked with government to find a better way to make savings and are confident the new approach could have a real impact on protecting jobs."
Some public servants have privately likened the move to “demanding an upgrade to business class on a plane that is crashing.”
However campaigning difficulties generated by the promise of slashing jobs are by no means confined to the ALP.
Liberal Senate candidate for the ACT, Zed Seselja is facing a tougher than expected fight to land an upper house spot thanks to Greens candidate Simon Sheikh who is a seasoned campaigner after previously heading social action group GetUP!
A nagging issue for Mr Seselja, a former government lawyer, is that he has found it hard to shake the popular legacy of outgoing Liberal Senator Gary Humphries after a bitter pre-selection battle that put many long-term party supporters offside.
A common feeling among many public servants is that Mr Humphries was willing to forgo a degree of elevation through the ranks of the Howard government to protect the interests of his constituency by defending the bureaucracy from the inside.
Mr Seselja’s pursuit of a Senate seat came after he presided over a loss for the Liberals in the ACT local elections, a result that produced a deal to form a minority government between Labor and The Greens following an early vow from the Liberals that they would only govern in their own right.
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