Communist Party of Australia

We acknowledge the Sovereignty of the First Nations’ Peoples.

The Web CPA Archive Only

Issue #1618      November 13, 2013

Abbott’s wrecker’s ball let loose

Prime Minister Tony Abbott hasn’t waited for the findings of his Audit Commission to set the wreckers’ balls and steamrollers loose on the Australian Public Service (APS). By the time the Audit Commission’s report is handed over, government agencies (including departments) will have lost thousands of staff and vital public services and research will have been savaged.

Government agencies received instructions for the slashing of 12,000 public sector jobs through “natural attrition” on Thursday last week. And that is not all. Abbott has already declared that everything is on the table with the Audit being prepared by the Business Council of Australia’s head. (See “Abbott’s audit: By big business, For big business”, Guardian, #1616, 30-10-2013)

The Coalition government has also increased the APS’s “efficiency dividend” by another 0.25 percent which will take it to 2.5 percent next financial year – an additional 2.5 percent cut in spending by departments which the Community and Public Sector Union estimates could result in 6,250 job losses.

“This is just the beginning of sustained cuts to jobs and services,” national secretary of the CPSU Nadine Flood said. “Tony Abbott needs to come clean with the community. You can’t cut 12,000 jobs without hurting services. These are real people doing real jobs.

“This will knock services around the country for a six. Centrelink queues will get longer, there’ll be fewer people inspecting at Quarantine, and fewer people checking the weather at the Bureau of Meteorology. You name it, it’ll be hit,” Flood said.

In reality it is not about “natural attrition” or staff freezes. It amounts to outright cuts, job losses and the gutting of the APS.

The new instructions are clear: “ … agency heads will take measures to ensure that existing non-ongoing employment arrangements cease at the end of their current term … Only in special circumstances where the work is critical and no suitable replacement is available in that agency or any other, is a replacement possible.”

Where a vacancy arises it is to be filled “by displaced staff from within the agency, or if none are suitable, by displaced staff from across the APS”.

“Agency heads should also consider cancelling non-ongoing arrangements in the case of programs that have been closed or downgraded.” There is no shortage of programs being closed or downgraded! The full hit list is still to be revealed.

At present there are more than 14,000 public servants in “non-ongoing employment”, such as fixed term contracts or a casual basis. They all stand to lose their jobs and the government may even swing the axe before their contract expires.

“Agencies will only engage non-APS staff to fill critical vacancies with the agreement of the Australian Public Service Commissioner.”

“Displaced staff”

The government has not given much information about how staff become “displaced”. A large number of public servants stand to lose their jobs through the merging and downsizing of departments, the transfer of some areas of work to other agencies or decisions to discontinue the work they do. There is a footnote indicating that it includes employees who are identified as “excess or potentially excess”.

There is no indication how long “displaced staff” will be allowed to remain in employment before being driven out or sacked.

The cuts are as indiscriminate as cluster bombs, scattered randomly across the APS, without any planning or prioritising of what would go. A contract ends or someone retires, the position vanishes.

More than 60 percent of the more than 14,000 temporary workers are women and 75 percent of them earn $42,000 or less per annum. A quarter of the temporary staff is under 25 years old. Indigenous employees will also feel the brunt of the cuts.

In addition, these workers are more likely to be found in frontline services such as Centrelink, Medicare and immigration in regional areas, meaning the cuts will hit the most vulnerable in society.


The Victorian model may give some insight into Abbott’s agenda. In December last year, Peter Shergold was appointed by the Victorian government as the project leader for “a revolution in the delivery of public sector services”. Shergold was head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet from 2003 to 2008 under the Howard government and was one of the three “independent” experts hired by Abbott to check on the Liberal’s policy costings prior to the September elections.

In July this year, he produced a report, titled “Services Sector Reform: A roadmap for community and human services reform” which was only released this month, on the eve of the Melbourne Cup, resulting in little publicity.

The main thrust of this report is found in recommendations No. 6: “Delivering services through non-government organisations.”

“While decisions on the most appropriate approach to service delivery should be based on a careful evaluation of the most effective way of creating public value, the default position should be an expectation that an increasing range of government services will be delivered by non-government organisations,” the report claims.

“No matter how it is dressed, this is contracting out our work, and our members should be furious to be not only excluded from being a delivery option, but to be so openly vilified,” CPSU Victoria said. (See “Shergold shafts Service in Sector Report”, cpsuvic.org/news/shergold-shafts-service-sector-report)

Shergold recommends a new funding model that relies heavily on private finance.

“The so-called reform occurs concurrently with widespread public sector job losses. It leads to costly taxpayer clean-ups when social services fail while corporations clear out with the profits. Public Services “being delivered by shifting the government workforce to a lower wage non-government or faith based service provider has been the model embraced by conservative governments across the globe yet their proponents are struggling to point to one success”, the CPSU Victoria notes.

“You don’t need to be a soothsayer to see what’s coming with a Commission of Audit; just take a look at Queensland which is heading towards the wholesale privatisation and outsourcing of public services. Liberal governments say one thing before the election and then go back on their promises after it,” Nadine Flood said.

There are also strong similarities with the scorched earth policies of the former Liberal PM John Howard. He slashed 32,000-33,000 pubic service jobs in less than three years following his National Audit. Later, when the work was not being done, the numbers gradually increased back to even higher than their former level. Abbott has no intention of allowing that to happen.

The aim is not only to cut back services – give them a number one razor cut – but to privatise the remaining functions and services as far as possible.

Howard did this with the former Commonwealth Employment Service (CES). It was replaced by a plethora of large and small organisations including the big charities. The big ones made a killing, rorting the system for what they could, the smaller ones got squeezed out. The end game is the big corporations and corporate church and other charities, and that is essentially what happened.

The unemployed were treated like profit-churning commodities rather than receiving the assistance they required. Staff in a number of these organisations were churned at a rapid pace, underpaid, and there never was any continuity for their clients.

Once the Audit Commission brings out its recommendations for privatising and contracting out, then tens of thousands more jobs will be on the line. Some employees may be able to hang on by tendering to do their own work, but to win a contract they will need to abandon their union negotiated enterprise agreements. They will be competing with corporations, church corporations and other non-union, low-wage outfits, some even using volunteer labour.

The CPSU warns that at least 50,000 public sector jobs could go if a Coalition government followed the lead of Queensland and outsourced large chunk of services to the private sector. That may prove to be a conservative estimate.

The public service is the antithesis of everything that Abbott stands for. He would be happy to bring it to its knees, point to its alleged disfunction and then hand everything over to the church sector and big business outfits like SERCO.

Abbott’s driving philosophy is Christian fundamentalism. He rejects science in favour of faith, and acts like his hero John Howard, relying on “instinct” to defend his denial and inaction over climate change, rather than accept the ungodly concept of human intervention, scientific knowledge and facts in a material world.

He combines blind faith with his capitalist ideology, which leads to his ultimate desire to shrink the APS to next to nothing and let big business and the church and its corporations take over.

These cuts and privatisation are under way. The CPSU and other unions and workers in the public sector require the support of all trade unions, left and progressive parties, community organisations and individuals to put pressure on the government. Write to your MP now and Coalition Senators to indicate your strongest opposition to these changes.

The services that millions of Australians depend upon are at stake. So too are thousands of public sector jobs. This is an attack on our democratic rights. Act now!   

Next article – And then there were twelve

Back to index page