Turnbull likely to dump Abetz


Happier times … Eric Abetz (far right) after Tony Abbott’s swearing-in ceremony in 2013.

Public Service Minister and loyal Tony Abbott supporter Eric Abetz is likely to be dumped by new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

It is no secret that Mr Abetz is a zealous Tony Abbott supporter – he has been variously described as a member of Mr Abbott’s “Praetorian guard” and a “spear carrier for the Liberal right”. He was one of the hardcore supporters who flanked Mr Abbott on his way to the party room for last night’s vote.

As well, it will probably not play well that Mr Abetz was instrumental in toppling Mr Turnbull in 2009 when Mr Abbott grabbed the top job.

There were rumours in September of a cabinet shuffle and Mr Abetz was named as one of those likely to go but he managed to pull through but with Mr Abbott’s downfall this combination of factors are likely to seal his fate. Mr Abetz’s head is most definitely moving toward the chopping block, if it is not already on it.

There has been no love lost between Mr Abetz, who is also federal Employment Minister, and the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) during the last 18 months of painful public sector pay negotiations partly because of Mr Abetz’s apparent refusal to give ground.

CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood recently said of Mr Abetz after 83 per cent of Human Services staff voted down their proposed enterprise agreement:

“Minister Abetz needs to understand that public sector workers will continue to reject these draconian agreements as long as they continue to threaten their rights, conditions and take home pay.

“CPSU members want a fair resolution to this dispute. If Minister Abetz is serious about reaching agreements with public sector workers he needs to stop the grandstanding and sit down with the union to negotiate fair agreements that protect the rights, conditions and take home pay of these workers.”

Ms Flood said today: “Public sector employees are concerned about government cuts to jobs, services and the attack on their rights at work. As a first priority in the public service, Prime Minister Turnbull needs the responsible Minister to take real steps to resolve this long-running bargaining dispute.  To do that, we need a government which is actually prepared to talk with employees and their unions to try to understand their legitimate concerns. And secondly the bargaining policy which is forcing agencies to cut the rights, conditions and take-home pay of their staff, needs to change,” Ms Flood said.

“The government’s extreme approach on bargaining has left tens of thousands of mums and dads in the public sector in limbo, worried about what is happening to their rights and take home pay, while they struggle in services under pressure from cuts. Any way you look at it, the government’s public service bargaining policy is a smoking ruin that needs to be fixed.”

The paralysis in negotiations led to strikes in June and today Canberra-based staff from the Departments of Human Services, Employment, Immigration and Border Protection and the Australian Tax Office, will walk off the job at 12.30pm for a lunch-time rally and half-day strike. A national strike involving more departments as well as those listed above is slated for later this month.

Mr Turnbull is expected to announce his new Cabinet line-up in a few days and other ministers likely to be on the move include Human Services Minister Marise Payne, who is tipped for promotion.

Meanwhile, Malcolm Turnbull’s reign will obviously see a very strong emphasis placed on digital government, giving a boost to the Digital Transformation Office’s (DTO) new chief executive Paul Shetler and opening up the possibility the DTO will be moved closer to Mr Turnbull in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

This renewed emphasis on improving digital government should drag interaction between government and its citizens closer to the financial services model of ‘straight through processing’, where systems are so refined that no human interaction is required.

Government News Editor Julian Bajkowksi recently interviewed Mr Shetler for Government News magazine’s front cover and outlined Mr Shetler’s philosophy:
“Start small. Deliver to win confidence. Scale as required. Repeat, Shetler defines success as when the DTO isn’t needed anymore because digital capability will be embedded within agencies.”

Mr Shetler has made it clear that he feels government has an ethical obligation to deliver online services properly, particularly because people who use government services have no choice. He has also vowed a commitment to public service when hiring talent to achieve his vision.

“My view has always been that I’m only interested in people who have an interest in public service,” Mr Shetler said. “We’re looking for people who are highly motivated to transform the face of public services. I think that’s a really rewarding thing to do.”

Many public sector workers with families will be fervently hoping that the new Prime Minister will wind back Treasurer Joe Hockey’s plans to end “double dipping” and whip away government-funded maternity leave for those women who already have an employer-funded scheme. It is a move that has a real impact on many parents in the public sector.

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