I’ve got to hand it to ACT Liberal Senator Gary Humphries, he went into the lion’s den and survived today at the Community and Public Sector Union’s ACT Senate debate.
Gary put up a decent fight in the war on public service jobs against Labor’s own union princess Kate Lundy and former community sector heavyweight Lin Hatfield Dodds, but I suspect it may have been futile in a room loaded with Labor.
Ajudicated by ANU Professor John Warhurst the debate focused, surprise surprise, on the public sector and more specifically on the number of public sector jobs retained by federal governments over the last two decades.
Humphries got the ball rolling with a crack at the CPSU, saying they hadn’t organised a debate in 2007 (they did in 2004) because “one party wanted to take a meat axe to the public service” and it wasn’t the one the unions wanted to interrogate.
Reiterating the new Liberal policy of “natural attrition” over two years, Humphries denied the party had a history of cutting back on public service jobs saying the highest rate of job loss was in 1995 under the Keating Government.
Senator Kate Lundy was quick to return fire saying Humphries was “misleading and tricky with facts”, pointing to the 10,070 PS jobs lost in the infamous retrenchments of 1996.
“What we are looking at here is a test of credibility,” Lundy said, outlining the interdependency of the ACT public service workforce and the local economy. (Pointing to the ACT economy is always a winner because in the post GFC era it’s looking pretty damn fine.)
While the size of departments and projects “ebbs and flows,” she told us, “overall numbers have stayed relatively the same” and a “stable employment base is critical”.
Greens Senate candidate Lin Hatfield Dodds used her opening speech to blatantly campaign, fair enough really given that she is a newcomer to the table and had no role to play in the “he says she says” bickering over job- cut numbers.
Lobbying for a “strong and capable” public service, Hatfield Dodds brought out some “visual aids”, that is three A4 sheets of paper with the famous Green triangles – instead with the letters APS spelling out the following:
- A – About people
- P – Protecting Canberra’s jobs
- S – Strengthening democracy
While she was speaking at a thousand words a minute, Hatfield Dodds got her point across loud and clear: the Greens like public servants because they are experts in making stuff happen and getting stuff to happen is what makes democracy work.
Then Darren Churchill, from the Democrats, stood up on the floor and Prof Warhurst foolishly handed him a microphone.
Churchill wanted to stand at the podium, but they wouldn’t let him, so the Democrat gave an incomprehensible rant until the good professor snatched back the microphone.
The next half an hour was really an exercise in political tennis with Labor and Liberal hitting job-cut numbers back and forth with the Greens screaming on the sidelines.
Things aside job cuts touched on: mental health, climate change, individual contracts (all parties say they will never bring them back) and the sacred jobs of IT workers.
At the end, Lundy heckled Humphries during his closing statement: “Stop playing games, Gary!”
And the CPSU asked him why Giulia Jones and James Milligan, Liberal candidates for the seats of Canberra and Fraser, had not replied to debate requests.
No one was declared a winner.