Opinion: The shame of slicing public servants

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PRIME Minister Kevin Rudd has decided to lop off 800 top positions, almost all in Canberra, to help pay for his dropping the carbon tax and bringing the Emissions Trading Scheme forward.

But that’s small change beside the Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s plans to axe at least 12,000 commonwealth public servants. And that’s just for starters.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has decided to cut 800 public service jobs, mostly in Canberra.
Kevin Rudd “has decided to lop off 800 top positions, almost all in Canberra”, according to Macklin.

Whole departments will disappear; the ACT economy will take a shuddering thump to the gunwales while the rest of Australia chuckles up its collective sleeve.

I must, of course, declare an interest. Like most “CityNews” readers, many of my extended family members are in the public service so I have a stake in their welfare. But this means that I also know just how hard they work and how proud they are of the job they do, not just for their own satisfaction but for Australia.

And they have a great deal to be proud of. There has rarely if ever been a breath of corruption surrounding themselves and their colleagues. They are totally conscientious; they deliver the best possible advice to the government of the day (however little it is appreciated); and they conduct themselves with decency and discretion that should make us all proud. What’s more, the perennial “efficiency dividends” have meant that, in some cases, two people are now doing the work that kept six fully employed a few years ago.

Yet their political masters feel perfectly comfortable in taking the axe to them. And what’s worse, no one jumps to their defence; and certainly not the people who depend on them for the social services (in the broadest sense) that keep Australia ticking along so seamlessly.

Tony Abbott "plans to axe at least 12,000 commonwealth public servants", says Robert Macklin.
Tony Abbott “plans to axe at least 12,000 commonwealth public servants”, says Robert Macklin.

There was, of course, a great opportunity in this year of our centenary as the Australian capital to celebrate 100 years of magnificent public service. That, after all, is what Canberra is about. If ever we should tell the capital’s real story, now is the time.

Yet so far, the only Centenary event that has engaged the attention of the rest of Australia has been a blow-up turtle with tits! And the effect was to produce a collective sneer, not just from our wider community but overseas as well.

Now, it is entirely possible that the Centenary organisers have developed a series of events for the rest of the year that will raise the profile of the public service to a level of genuine appreciation among our compatriots. It may well be that some of the luminaries from a glittering cohort that includes Atlee Hunt, John Bunting, “Nugget” Coombs, John Crawford, Neil Curry, Alan Westerman, John Menadue, and more recently a range of immensely talented women, beginning with the pathfinder Elizabeth Reid, will leap from their drawing boards into the public gaze.

If so, then they will have done a splendid job. If not, well, I guess there’s always the bicentennial. By then Australia might have forgotten the turtle with tits.

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Robert Macklin
Journalist and author. Contact robert@robertmacklin.com

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