While the CPSU lashes the business-heavy resumes of the APS review panel, the Labor frontbench — who the panel might end up reporting to — are a little more circumspect.
Malcolm Turnbull’s wide-ranging review into the Australian Public Service hasn’t even started yet, but it’s already taking criticism.
The Community and Public Sector Union is concerned that the make-up of the review panel suggests we’re going to see recommendations in line with “neoliberal orthodoxy”.
“A clear-eyed and objective look at the Australian Public Service is clearly needed, but we have real concerns that this review will be subservient to neoliberal orthodoxy and the bizarre and damaging policies the Turnbull government has imposed in pursuit of that extreme ideology,” said CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood.
“This review must be a catalyst to repair the ongoing damage that’s been inflicted by the Turnbull government on public services, regulatory and policy capability, rather than a licence to double-down on those flawed policies.
“Just one example is their whacky policy that the Australian Public Service must be smaller than when John Howard lost office, with an average staffing level cap driving expensive and damaging contracting out and privatisation.”
Flood pointed to the panel’s extensive private sector background.
This includes CSIRO board chair David Thodey — the bulk of whose career was at Telstra — Coca-Cola Amatil managing director Alison Watkins, ANZ’s digital banking boss Maile Carnegie and University of Sydney chancellor Belinda Hutchinson, who also chairs the board of defence contractor Thales Australia.
Then there are the two public sector people: former federal Environment secretary Gordon de Brouwer, and University of Melbourne vice-chancellor Glyn Davis, who made his career as a public administration academic before moving into the public sector, including a stint as director-general of Queensland’s Department of Premier and Cabinet.
“The panel chosen to oversee this review is not an encouraging start, given it includes only one person who has worked in the Australian Public Service while four of the six participants have backgrounds serving multinational corporations,” Flood said, noting Watkins’ membership of the boards of the Business Council of Australia and right-wing think tank the Centre for Independent Studies.
Yet the union thinks the review could be useful if done well.
“This review could provide a valuable opportunity to tackle the major challenges facing the public service and our community, while allowing people to have their say on what we want our public institutions to do and how we make sure we have the people, the resources and the technology to do it,” Flood said.
“What’s needed is a genuine attempt from the government and the senior leadership of the public service to work with the community, people working in the APS and both sides of politics to wrestle with big challenges, making sure we have the policy capability to deal with the changing world.”
‘No judgment on individuals’
For its part, Labor has been critical of what the government might use the review for, but stopped short of criticising the panel members — aware, no doubt, that it has a decent chance of being in government when the panel reports next year.
“The review of the public service shouldn’t be another excuse to cut back further on key services,” said Shadow Minister for Finance Jim Chalmers.
“We’ve got under this government a public service which has been hollowed out, with consequences for advice to government, service delivery to the Australian people, and with consequences frankly for the morale of the public servants themselves,” he argued.
“There are some people on the panel who are good people who we’ve worked with before. We make no judgement generally on individuals on the panel, but I think if the government wanted something good to come of this review, something bipartisan where we could all move forward together, they wouldn’t have just gone ahead and appointed people without any meaningful consultation.”
Andrew Leigh, shadow assistant treasurer and member for the Canberra-based electorate of Fenner, focused on cuts already made to the APS.
“While Labor increased the number of federal public servants while in office — growing from 155,087 to 166,139 between 2007 and 2013 — the Coalition quickly got to slashing it,” he said.
“Tony Abbott pledged to cut 12,000 jobs from the public, but as of January, 14,044 people have lost their jobs. Those left behind to struggle with an increased workload were then blamed for the inevitable failures that ensued.
“The public service has virtually been decimated under the Liberals.
“The Turnbull government needs to show that they support our public servants, rather than just scrutinise.”